Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Story Ten, Celia XVII, Emmett X

“I’ll miss you, Cici.”
Emmett Delacroix

Tuesday night, 7 April 2009, AM

GM: It’s not like feeling spent after sex. It’s more like feeling full after a big meal. A big meal that she fought tooth and claw against another predator to claim for her own. There’s bloody rips and tears all over skin. Some on his, but fewer. He didn’t take off his clothes and there’s not even blood on them. She’d see it in the dark if there was, with her sharp new senses, and definitely smell it too. He didn’t rip and shred her clothes like Veronica: his cold was relentlessly focused, deliberate, destroying exactly what parts of her he meant to. Her dress is intact, but it’s soiled with coppery-smelling red streaks and stains. She looks like a mess, next to him. He looks pristine. Immaculate.


He turns away from her. Stares out over the midnight city. The teeming streets. The glowing lights. The soaring skyline. The high wind blows against his unblinking, expressionless face.

Then he speaks. It sounds like a crack across a glacier.

“This will all be mine.”

His voice is powerful and low. It’s the first time she’s heard it. Actually heard it.

Celia: She does not presume to touch him. She wants to. To reach out, to tuck herself against his side, to stare out over the city with him. She remains half a step behind, off to one side. Comfortably close. Her wounds do not bleed, though they are bloody. She aches. For him, she aches, beyond the mere inconvenience of her bodily senses. It’s deeper than all that.

It’s a terrible, terrible thing he has done to her, to give her these words, this secret.

She takes a moment to find her voice once it settles inside of her.


Her expression will never be as flat as his. She will never be that cold. But the single word, unpacked, asks everything she needs to know: has she been stolen from him by an enemy, or has he delivered her to a friend?

Was she given or taken?

GM: His head does not turn away from the prize below. The city lights glitter like distant jewels. So far and yet so close.

“There is a place for you in my new order.”

“Tell me what he is planning.”

Celia: “To cover for you. Me. My Embrace. The harpy. They told her August.”

There’s a pause. Her eyes shut briefly. A place is vague. It could mean at his side. On his lap. At his feet. He did not answer her question.

“Did you tell me to kill him?”

GM: “No.”

Celia: Who was in her house? Who touched her? Who replayed the scene from so long ago that the idea it could be anyone but him is… unfathomable?

“He said it wasn’t him,” she offers.

GM: “Inform him I believed you to be Alsten-Pirrie’s childe, Embraced illicitly. She is to feign that I possess blackmail over her until such time as she and my sire are ready to use the knowledge of your existence against me. My demands of Alsten-Pirrie will be a source of intelligence to my sire.”

“Do not trust him. He is a serpent in the grass. His concern for you is but meant to cultivate your loyalty.”

The words are cool, intoned without inflection.

Celia: “And yours?” she dares to ask. Her voice is carefully neutral.

GM: He turns from the city. He faces her. He does not step closer, but his frigid gaze seems all too close, all too intense. She knows what lurks within its depths.

“Have you shared with him what you have shared with me?”

Celia: Sex? Blood? Obsession?


GM: He does not move. He does not look away.

“Could you share with him what you have shared with me?”

Celia: There’s no hesitation.


GM: “Earn his trust. Rise in his favor. Assist his intrigues against the Baron and Prince Vidal. Do so genuinely. The prince’s rule must be broken before the new era may come.”

Celia: Celia nods her head in acknowledgement and deference. “Yes, of course.”

GM: “Maxen Flores’ continued position is useful to me. Tell me how they will move against him.”

Celia: “They’ll know that I told you.” But she does so anyway: the tapes, the media connection, the political scandal. It’s enough to ruin him, they said.

GM: Donovan questions her as to exact specifics and particulars. Then he says,

“I am forewarned.”

Celia: “He doesn’t need his children to serve you. Or his ex.”

GM: “His usefulness is impaired without his offspring.”

There is no hate or passion to the words. Just simple, clinical assessment.

Celia: “His ex. My trust.”

GM: “He will surrender both and share custody of his children.”

There is no kindness in her sire’s achromatic eyes. There is no concern for their welfare. Or for his prize pawn’s. He might as well be switching to a different brand of drain cleaner.

Celia: “Thank you.”

Her eyes move past him, to the city. The city that will belong to him, the change that she will help bring about. His city. Hers no longer, for she is his, and if it were hers she would offer it up to him. She has fallen, and he has caught her. Her gaze moves back to his face, the eyes that she does not shy away from looking into.

“And my disappearance?”

GM: The city looks quieter, now. Still. Dawn is coming soon. A new dawn.

That’s always the quietest time of night. After the real crazies have finally worn themselves out, but before the sun’s rays yet tinge the horizon. It’s a subdued time. A time for waiting.

“Do as you will.”

Celia: She has more questions. More things she wants to know about him, about his plans, about everything. Would you have come back for me? echoes inside her mind. She wants to speak with him until her curiosity is sated. But she doesn’t ask. It’s better this way, safer not to know his secrets. If she doesn’t know she can’t tell, can’t ever be used against him.

She tells him that she understands. That she will do as he said.

GM: “Maxen Flores’ former wife will retract all politically damaging allegations. She will blame the Roberts and Cherry campaigns for any that become public.”

Celia: “She is owed. For what he did to her that night.”

Both nights.

GM: There is only that same expressionless look. Celia’s mother means nothing to this man. This Kindred.

Celia: She looks away. At her side her fingers curl into a fist, then uncurl.

“Do you know,” she asks slowly, “what he’s done to his family? To her?” She looks back to him. “To me?”

GM: “He taught you strength.”

Celia: “Was that your plan?”

She sounds more curious than confrontational. Her tone has lost its edge, dropped back to polite respect. As if they aren’t discussing the beatings, the abuse, the trauma that she underwent.

GM: “An advantageous byproduct. Maxen Flores’ former wife will receive monetary compensation in return for her cooperation in clearing his name.”

Celia can tell, from the flatness to his voice.

The money means nothing. Her mother’s suffering means nothing. Her mother’s compensation means nothing.

Just another ‘advantageous byproduct.’

Celia: Her thoughts threaten to spiral downward. Was she, too, simply an advantageous byproduct? Had he meant to Embrace her, or is he now just taking advantage of his mistake? Why didn’t you come back for me?

But he is ice. He does not care for her feelings. She keeps them tucked away inside where he cannot see, where they will not threaten to spill over into her mouth and then the air.

He put her where he needs her. Trust him.

“A favor,” she says at last. There’s no malicious ill will in the request, no grander idea to pull one over on him. Just simple practicality.

GM: Suddenly, the city’s lights aren’t distant but within-reach prizes. The skyscrapers are the ants now, not the people, all spread out below Celia like a gold tapestry. One that’s steadily drawing closer.

Because she’s falling. Falling thousands and thousands of feet as the night wind races against her body.

Celia: She doesn’t scream. There’s just the wind whipping past her, the ground looming ever closer.

Like last time.

GM: Suddenly, her sire’s arms are beneath her back and knees. The wind dies. Her fall stops.

“Rendered,” he states coolly.

Celia: Only this time he’s there. This time he keeps her from splattering, his arms beneath her, and there’s some small, growing part inside of her that is incredibly aroused. Her arms go around his neck, but her eyes stare down at the city below them.

“Rendered,” she repeats, faintly. Then she laughs, because what else can she do, and tucks her face against the rock that is his chest.

She’s falling, and he’s got her.

Tuesday evening, 7 April 2009

GM: Celia breaks the news to her still-bedridden mother. She accepts it, meekly. Like always.

She asks in a small voice if her ex-husband is going to pay her alimony. But she does not press for it. Child support, the insurance lawsuit, and her wages no longer being garnished gives her “plenty of money.” She will not press for more. She will not rock the boat.

She will comfort her children, during their days with her. She will try not to upset him. She will be a good ex. She will not cause problems.

She will recant her statements to the police. To the custody judge. She will ask for the restraining order to be rescinded. She will make whatever public statements he needs, to protect his reputation.

And maybe she should forget about dating. So it doesn’t confuse the kids. She is grateful to have them again. “That’s all that matters. The kids.”

It’s hard not to think back to the fire she showed outside the apartment with Em and Stephen.

“…and I’ll tell anyone, anyone who asks, there wasn’t any abuse,” she nods.

Her still-bruised and still-swollen face looks relieved.

No, not just relieved.


Celia: Celia tells her Maxen probably won’t be paying alimony. But there’s more money coming in, the money that Donovan promised. She tells her about it without mentioning his name or the deal that she struck with him. She tells her mom, too, that if she hadn’t agreed—if Celia hadn’t agreed—her life was forfeit. She has no doubt that Donovan would have killed Diana. Chosen her father over her.

It stings, that thought. Even when she isn’t with him her mind is. She wants him. Hates him. Loves him.

I’ll be a good ex, her mother says, and inside Celia is thinking the same. I’ll be a good childe.

But there will be no lifting of the restraining order. Maxen will not be allowed to see her, to touch her, to speak to her. Even without crying “abuse” there is cause for a woman to have no wish to see her ex, and Celia is not heartless. Not yet.

She tells her mother that dating is her own business, but points out that if the kids grow up without any healthy relationship models they might end up more damaged. Food for thought, at least. Celia thinks she should find someone nice, someone that cares for her. Maybe someone older, who doesn’t have children of his own, or whose children have already left home. Older men can be attractive, too, and generally have more manners, more to offer, more stability. That’s what Diana needs. Stability. Love.

GM: “But… but sweetie, I have to see him… dropping off and picking up the kids…” her mom protests.

Celia: “Third party,” she says shortly. “You are not seeing him ever again.”

GM: “I… I don’t want him to think I’m being hostile.”

Celia: “Maxen can think what he wants.”

GM: The fear in her mom’s eyes looks as if she cares quite a bit what Maxen thinks.

“But, the kids shouldn’t think that. It isn’t a good example for them.”

Celia: “That you’re standing up for yourself and refusing to see him? You’re right. What would they think if they knew their mother had a backbone?”

“Teach Sophia to bow to the men who will abuse her. Teach Logan and David that they can be abusive and it’s okay.”

GM: Her mother hangs her head.

“It… it is, sweetie… we might not like it, but that’s how it is…”

Celia: “You do not get to be weak. You do not get to give up because of a setback. You are out from under him and you will not live your life afraid of him. You have given that man twenty years. It’s time you live for you now.”

“You want to know what the children think? They think they want their mother to be happy. They want her to set a good example for them, so they learn what to do. Children learn from their parents. If Maxen isn’t going to show them how to be people then that falls to you. It’s all about the children, right? Then be the parent that they need.”

“They need your love. But you can’t love them if you don’t love yourself. Never seeing Maxen again? That’s an act of love.”

GM: “She’s right,” sounds a quiet voice from behind Celia.

It’s Emily. She still looks pretty pale. She sits down on the bed next to Diana.

Celia: Celia reaches out to put an arm around Emily. She gives a gentle squeeze, grateful for the support.

GM: Emily leans heavily against her. “My mom lost custody of me when I was 11, for a bunch of shit. I wrote to her, called her, a bunch of times, when she was in prison. She’d ask me to mail her things. Send her money. But she never really engaged with any of the things I tried to talk about, besides commissary, and when she got out she disappeared. Ignored all my calls and letters. I tried for years.”

“Oh, you poor, poor thing! I’m so s-” Celia’s mom starts.

Emily holds up a hand to cut her off. “I’m over it. Wasn’t trying to make this about me. My point is… you’re disrespecting yourself. When someone’s being shitty and you keep trying to be nice to them. ‘Turn the other cheek’ is dumb advice.”

“You’re disrespecting yourself when you keep trying and trying and trying and they don’t.”

Celia: Celia takes Diana’s hand in hers.

“He’ll get his, Momma. He will. Sometimes, the best revenge on a man like that is to just live your life. To not be afraid. To not cower at the mention of his name. He’ll know you’re happy, and that he lost. That he couldn’t break you. One day he will pay for every single thing that he has done. I promise you that. But now? Now you focus on you. Getting better. Rehabilitation. Happiness.”

Both of these women, they’re hers, and despite what Donovan wants, what Savoy wants, what Maxen wants, she will protect them. Keep them safe, even if she’s failed them in the past.

GM: Celia’s mother gives the two a weak smile as she squeezes her daughter’s hand. Maybe their impassioned and urgent words are getting through to her. Maybe they’re not. It has been hard, these past months.

But they have time.

Celia has an accord with her sire.

Perhaps that will be enough to heal.

“There’s… someone else I have to live for, too,” her mom finally says.

Emily shakes her head. “You should live for yourself right now. That’s the best thing for your kids. They’ll be able to tell, if you’re doing that.”

Celia: “Think she means you, Emmy. Welcome to the family.”

GM: Her mom looks confused. “Oh?”

Emily looks away, her cheeks immediately red.

“Oh!” Celia’s mom exclaims.

She wraps her arms around Emily, pulling the girl into a hug.

“I’m… my fault, I didn’t bring it up, say anything about my mom… I thought maybe Celia could bring it up…” Emily starts embarrassedly.

Celia: “I did,” Celia says pointedly. “I think the pain meds are messing with her memory.”

GM: Celia’s mother wilts under her daughter’s look.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s my fault.”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says, laughing, “it’s okay. You went through some stuff. Memory is bound to be spotty. But we talked about it, Em.”

GM: “I can have a bad memory,” her mom nods, smiling as Celia does. “The meds and all this stress don’t help.”

“But, forget that.” She squeezes Emily reassuringly. “The answer is yes. Of course you can live with us! Of course you can be part of our family! You’ve been here for us, like a rock. We’d love nothin’ more than to be here for you.”

Emily slowly looks up at her. Doesn’t quite make eye contact. “You… you mean that? You’ll…”

Her voice is small, like it’s a stupid, childish ‘I believe in Santa Claus’ fantasy she should know better than to say out loud.

“…be my mom…?”

Celia: Celia wipes at the dust debris that somehow got into her eyes. She looks over Emily’s back at Diana, nodding encouragingly, discretely.

GM: Celia’s mother seems to miss the look altogether. She has eyes only for Emily right now.

“Of course I will, sweetie! I’d love to be your mom!” she exclaims, squeezing the woman tighter. “Any girl as wonderful as you should get to have a mother. See, I even called you sweetie, just like Celia. It’s official.”

Emily cries.

But she smiles, too.

Celia: Definitely dust. She looks away, wipes at her face, sniffs into the sleeve of her shirt.

Family isn’t who you’re born to. It’s who you choose. And this is who she chooses.

Wednesday evening, 8 April 2009

GM: It’s not until tomorrow when the three talk again that Celia’s mom says she has “an announcement.”

“We got a little distracted, yesterday,” she smiles, rubbing Emily’s cheek.

Celia: “Good news, Momma?”

GM: “Yeah… Mom, is it good news?” Emily smiles back. She’s leaning against Diana’s shoulder. She’s been like velcro, since yesterday.

Their mom happily looks between them. “Yes, you two. It’s very good news.”

“It’s a little scary. But it’s very good news.”

She lowers her voice, as though it’s a secret.

“I’ve got a bun in my oven.”

Celia: “What.”

GM: Emily gives a faint frown. “It’s a little early to tell.”

Celia’s mom shakes her head. “I’ve baked a lot of buns. I just know. And I’ve missed my period.”

Celia: “Is it… Maxen’s?”

GM: She’s quiet at Celia’s question.

“I’ve never been with another man.”

She looks away.

“I’m sorry, that’s… not true. There will be no secrets in this family. I have been with Maxen and one-”

Celia: “I know,” Celia cuts her off, “you don’t need to explain. Are you keeping it?”

GM: She trails off at Celia’s question. “Of course, sweetie! What else would I do with it?”

Celia: “He can’t know. He can’t get his hands on this child, Mom.”

GM: “You could take a pill,” Emily suggests quietly. “It’s early enough you could still do that.”

Their mother shakes her head. “Oh, sweetie, I couldn’t ever. That’s murder.”

Celia: “He does not get to know,” Celia repeats, more firmly. “You can’t hide the fact that you’re pregnant or going to have a child, but you can hide whose it is if you’re dead set on keeping it.”

GM: Her mom’s face pales.

“Oh… oh my god, you’re right… he’ll know…”

“Isabel will definitely tell, from what you’ve said about her,” Emily agrees grimly.

Celia: “He’ll ruin it. And you.”

GM: Her mother puts her hands over her mouth.

“Maybe… if he knows… he’ll want me to take care of it, with diapers and feedings and all…”

Celia: “He won’t,” Celia says flatly. “He’ll want to keep it. Demand custody, if he knows that it’s his.”

Or will he? The fact that he got her pregnant means that they had intercourse, which is proof of the rape happening. It’s… something to keep in her back pocket, at least, in case things don’t work out.

“Do you want the child, Mom? Forget about him. Do you want to keep it? Last time this happened it resulted in your life being ruined. And if you want to keep it, I’m not going to fight you on it. Fighting ruined your relationship with your mother, I’m not going to let it ruin ours. So think about it, and tell me: do you want it?”

GM: “Yes, sweetie! With all my heart!” her mom exclaims. “You and your brothers and sisters have all been blessings, every one of you. This baby is God’s way of showing good can still come from bad, that wonderful things can come from tragedies. Just like you did.”

Celia: “Then you keep it. But Maxen does not get to know. Nobody gets to know. We will find you someone that you can pretend is the father, and the relationship can fail as it needs to, and he will never get his hands on this child.”

GM: “But… but sweetie, if he thinks I’ve been with another man…” her mom whispers. Her eyes are wide with fear.

Celia: “You are not married to him, Mom!”

GM: “It’s not his business who you’ve been with!” Emily exclaims, angrily.

Diana looks between them. “It… it doesn’t matter, you two, that’s not how he’ll see it…”

Celia: “He’s never going to see you.”

GM: “But he’ll know! I can’t hide this!”

Celia: “And if Isabel tells…” Celia trails off. If Isabel tells, she’ll rip out her tongue.

“You can and you will.”

GM: “Logan is 11,” says Emily slowly. “Kids aren’t always good at keeping secrets.”

“They can be, if they think it’s really important.”

Celia: “If you don’t make a big deal out of it, they won’t care.”

GM: “But this could get out. Guys like him… tend to pry into ex’s lives.”

Celia: “I will handle it.”

“This is your first step into doing something for yourself, Mom. If you want to keep it, it’s for you. Not him. And if you don’t want to… I know someone who can… who will help. Painlessly.”

“No one will ever know. You won’t have to raise another child of rape. You won’t have to worry about Maxen coming after you.”

GM: Her mother adamantly shakes her head.

“Life is life, Celia. Maybe this is even why God let… what happened to me, happen.”

Celia: “Then you keep it a fucking secret if you want to keep yours.”


“Or we say it’s mine.”

GM: Her mom blinks. “To the kids, you mean?”

Celia: “You have months of recovery ahead of you. We can draw it out. Once you give birth, you can see them again, and surprise, Celia had a baby.”

GM: “But what about you, sweetie?” her mom asks concernedly. “Your dad will want to see you, and you’re not pregnant…”

“He doesn’t get to see her either,” Emily says flatly.

Celia: “He won’t want to see me,” Celia says flatly.

GM: “Huh. Great minds,” remarks Emily.

“But I need to see the kids,” her mom says. “I can’t leave them with him, for nine months…”

“They’re staying with him half the time anyway,” says Emily.

Celia: “Then, what, you want to run back into his arms? Raise the baby with him?”

GM: Her mom doesn’t say no.

Celia: “Mom!”

GM: “Maybe… that would be easiest…”

Celia: “No.”

“He’s not going to smack you around again.”

GM: “Fuck. No,” says Emily.

Celia: “I will gut him if he touches you.”

She’d already promised to.

Tuesday night, 7 April 2009, AM

GM: There’s wind again, beneath Celia’s feet. Motion. They’re not thousands of feet up. They’re on the building’s roof again. Celia is standing to his side as he surveys the sprawling city below.

There is no pleasure on his face. No anticipation. His mask-like visage is as ice. There is no sign of what he is thinking.

Save for where he is looking.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a time. Her dead heart has finally ceased its gushing after another drop from thousands of feet in the air. She has finally set the giddiness aside. There’s danger here. She is all too aware of it, aware of the fact that she has pushed and pushed since she met with him this evening, skirted the line of insubordination when he just welcomed her into the fold. Custody. Her trust. Mom.

And this is it. The final thing.

“You don’t want to owe me,” Celia says after a time. She gets it. It scares her, the fact that she cannot just call on him if she is ever in deep trouble, but she gets it. “And you don’t care about my mother. You’ve made that clear. But I do. I care about her very deeply. I’ll play your game. I’m yours. But keep your dog on a leash. If Maxen goes after her. If he touches her.” She lets the words hang between them. “He doesn’t need a punching bag to be useful to you.”

GM: The dark man does not turn away from the building’s ledge.

“He will be supplied other amusements.”

The words are as bereft of significance as a single mote of light in the glittering sprawl below.

“I owe you nothing for noninterference with my property.”

His voice is cool.

“I will not show restraint towards you a second time.”

Celia’s still on that ledge with him.

But it’s a long, long, long drop down.

Footsteps away.

Celia: The night is not half so cold as him.

She puts the matter to rest. Diana is free. There will be no more monsters in her life.

None but Celia.

She steps closer to her sire. Her eyes trace the planes of his face, the hard lines of his body. The ledge calls her. Beckons. Danger, adrenaline, the heady rush of ecstasy. Like falling. Like him. She turns her eyes out across the city. She knows the truth of it now. Anything for him.

She wants to touch him but she’s afraid he’ll take her hand off at the wrist if she does.

She’s silent instead. She is thinking the same thing as him.

“This will be yours.”

Wednesday evening, 8 April 2009

GM: “Sweetie, please don’t… please don’t try something, if he gets mad,” her mom begs. “We don’t want to lose you.”

Celia: “I’m not afraid of Maxen.”

“Decide what you want to do, Mom. Keep it and pretend it isn’t his, or say that it’s mine.”

GM: “You should be!” Her mom looks even more scared at those words. “Please don’t do anything… anything that’d upset him!”

“And… he is your father, sweetie,” she reminds, almost gently, as Celia uses his name.

“I thought family was who we chose, not who we were related to,” says Emily. “He’s un-chosen himself in so many ways it’s not funny.”

Celia: “I will not entertain the thought of calling him ‘Dad,’” Celia says to her mother. “He is not a father. He is garbage. He is nothing to me.”

GM: “Celia… he saved your life,” her mom says quietly. “He stood for you, when no one else would.”

Celia: “And then he summarily beat me and verbally abused me and tried to kill you. Twice.”

“Tell me why I should waste one more moment of my time on him.”

GM: “I’m not saying you should do that, sweetie, I’m just saying… he raised you. He was good to you, when it counted. You can call him your dad, even if he isn’t a very good one now.”

Celia: “No.”

“Make a decision about what you’re doing with the child. I’m not wasting my time debating what to call him.”

GM: Celia’s mom gives a fretful look, but doesn’t press her daughter further. She’s always hated arguments.

“Well, I… I suppose we should…”

She trails off. She looks more anxious the more she thinks.

“We don’t need to decide right now,” Emily interjects. She rubs Diana’s shoulder. “You’ve been under a lot of stress, and we have time. Mom. We’ll figure it out.”

They always do.

Thursday evening, 9 April 2009

GM: Em’s been in and out Orleans Parish Prison like Sami’s vagina at this point.

But he has to say, that was one of his best and worst stays.

He vaguely remembers being swarmed with police attention, after the detective arrested him and brought him in. (“Just tell the truth, kid. You don’t have what they want anymore.”) Beyond the usual strip search and coughing while he spread his naked legs so they could look for contraband up his posterior, there was a lot of time in the interrogation rooms with menacing figures in dark suits. He doesn’t remember a whole lot. He was so tired and they had so many questions. He repeated his story over and over and over, past recitation, past exhaustion, until the words were just sounds devoid of meaning, and even he can barely recall what he said.

He dimly remembers feeling terrified beyond all reason, beyond all sense, his usual snark dying in his throat like a bad joke even a giddy drunk wouldn’t giggle at. But that maybe Maman would, if she could see him there.

But now he feels calm. All of his worries have been assuaged. The past week has actually been a lot less strange than he thought. He was high. He was imaging a lot of details. What even were those? It was just regular, run of the mill rapes and murders like he always finds himself so involved in, and he really is better off not thinking too deeply about these things. Bert Villars got him off scot free. It was a case of mistaken identity. Who cares what this was about. He was lucky not to take a drug test and get charged with a felony for those lines of coke he did and all those bags he did in fact have intent to distribute. (Well, maybe, if he didn’t just get high on his own supply.)

He can go back home now. He can just forget.

It is so much better to forget.

Celia: She is waiting for him when he arrives home. The door is still locked, and he hadn’t given her a key, but she is waiting for him all the same, sitting on the couch with a Webflix movie playing in the background and a bottle of absinthe on the table in front of her. Just one glass, so it’s not quite an echo of last time, but it’s close.

His house is cleaner. Tidied. There’s a meal waiting for him in the refrigerator from next door with today’s date on it. The Shrimp and Eggplant Pierre he’d ordered the night they’d gone out together. How long ago was that? It feels like a lifetime. So much has changed.

She’s dressed in her own clothing this time. Leggings, dance skirt, some sort of gauzy blouse that hangs open over the tank top beneath it. She looks… different. Like she’s trying to recreate who she was from memory. A mirror image, just off. Her makeup is flawless, though, as ever, and there are no bags to be seen beneath her eyes. Her hair hangs loose around her shoulders.

But she’s still. So very still. And she’s waiting for him.

Emmett: When he opens the door he looks tired. There are bags under his eyes heavy enough for both of them, and his hair hasn’t been cleaned or combed. He doesn’t look like he did, either. If she’s a mirror image of herself, he’s what stares back from a scum-covered pond. He’s wearing clothes he got back upon release. They are not good clothes. A duffel bag hangs off one shoulder. It looks heavy.

Emmett blinks when he sees her. Emotions vie for prominence on his face. Surprise. Relief. Excitement. And then chagrin. Regret.

Weariness. The same as it was before.

“Hi, Cici,” he croaks, after a long moment, and sits down on the couch, dropping the duffel bag along the way. “Whatcha watching?”

He’s distant from her. Not very far, close enough to touch—but he doesn’t. Not yet.

Celia: Cici. The familiar nickname makes her smile. But like all things, it’s fleeting. It dies at the sight of him, wilts right off her face. She’s on her feet in an instant, reaching toward him with hands that she belatedly realizes are as cold and dead as the rest of her. Pale. She stops herself before she can complete the movement, folds her limbs back beneath her to reclaim the seat on the couch next to him. The TV continues in the background, but it’s easy for her to drown it out.

“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here…”

“Hey, Em.” Her voice is soft. Then a little more sure as her lip curls when she looks him over. “You look like Hell.”

“…I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

“Drink?” she gestures vaguely toward the bottle of liquor. There’s already a sugar cube inside the glass for him.

Emmett: He tries to smile. It makes him look a little better, like a devil instead of a skeleton. He pours for himself, watching the sugar cube try to bear up under the tide of expensive, quality poison. He doesn’t offer her one. It tastes like a nice memory. Like her.

“Thanks,” he says, and the question comes out before he can tell it not to. “Who’s your real dad?”

He knows. Or thinks he does. They seemed nothing alike the first time he met her, and honestly, he half-wonders if Emil is just fucking with him. But Emil doesn’t have nearly the sense of humor he does.

So he needs to hear it, before he tells her.

Celia: That was not what she had expected if her confused, slow blink is any indication. Her head tilts minutely to one side.

“Maxen Flores,” she tells him. Her eyebrows lift. “We had a whole conversation about him. Are you okay?” Concern colors her voice.

Emmett: He shakes his head. “No. I mean, I’m okay. I mean, I’m not, but what I mean is, your real father. The one you probably don’t tell anybody you know about, which is why you didn’t mind the idea of forcing Maxen to fuck you. Because it isn’t him.”

He doesn’t sound angry, or bitter. But he does sound certain.

Celia: The amusement fades from her face. She appraises him in quiet contemplation. After a moment her eyes shift to his drink, then back to his face.

“Are we playing a game again, Emmett?”

Emmett: He closes his eyes. “Did I ever tell you about my uncle? My mom’s brother. She can’t stand him, which meant I thought he was the coolest uncle ever. He taught me every dirty trick I know, or at least, most of the important ones. We used to be close, until I killed his son. Jermaine. The guy I told you about. My other cousin.” He lets that sink in for a moment. “Jermaine Landreneau.”

He takes a long, long sip of absinthe.

“He’s the reason I’m into films, too. Good old Uncle Ron.”

Celia: If there had been any color to fade from her cheeks it would have done so. She’s quiet. She lets him talk. At the mention of the word film her facade cracks, and she’s just a teenager again. She swallows, and her eyes move away from him.


The implication catches up with her a moment later. Her eyes close. Breathing doesn’t help, it never does anymore, but she tries it anyway. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

“We’re cousins.” There’s a brief exhale that might have been a laugh. “We’re cousins,” she repeats, and then she can’t stop it, the laughing. It’s too funny not to laugh. It has to be.

Emmett: He looks at her for a moment, sipping his drink.

Then he starts laughing too. Mad, uproarious laughter, the kind that only comes at a funeral or a pregnancy reveal. “Cousins! Because of course, we are.”

Em’s eyes water. He drinks more absinthe, starts snorting it up halfway through. “Holy fuck, Celia. My cousin. You’re my cousin.”

They must look like cousins, now.

Sharing a family joke.

GM: Half-cousins, anyway. Or is that even a thing?

Ron was definitely a half-brother, to Em’s mom. Her worse half. Maybe that made it better.

Celia: Once she starts laughing she can’t stop. Then he’s laughing, and that just makes the whole thing even funnier, because of course they’re cousins. Of course they are. She’s glad she wasn’t waiting for him sans clothing; she’d thought about it.

Somehow the memory of waking him up with a handjob is worse than the other.

“Well. Fuck.”

What else is there to say, really?

GM: Maybe how awful she looks. Sick, or something.

Has to be.

Well, not awful.

Good, to be honest.

Really good.

Too good.

Good in all the wrong ways, like an overlarge china doll.

Flawless. But aren’t flaws what make people human?

Emmett: He laughs along with her until it peters out. “Yeah. Yeah, fuck.” He wipes tears from his eyes. “Emil told me, by the way. Don’t know how he knew.”

He clears his throat, eyes the screen. Oh, it’s that movie.

The one where everything that happens happens again. And again. And again.

“You don’t look so good yourself, cousin.”

“Well,” he amends, “different.” He coughs. “I thought about you, inside.”

Celia: How the fuck would Emil know? She never told him. She can barely recall that long ago conversation in the basement she’d had with him.

“Pete told me you came through. I didn’t realize, until after, where you ended up.” She inhales, shakes her head. “I tried to get to you. He told me he took you in. Said you were too hot to approach, though.”

She doesn’t respond to his comment on her appearance.

“I’m sorry. For you getting put away for that. That… it shouldn’t have happened.”

Emmett: “It wasn’t so bad,” he tells her without feeling. “And it wasn’t anything to do with you.”

They watch the movie in silence for a while. It’s a good one.

“Things are different now,” he says. It’s not a question. “Emil said we probably wouldn’t be seeing much of each other. Is… is that true?”

She can see it, now that he’s closer. The pallid skin. The anemic exhaustion. The way his eyes droop as they try to follow the screen.

He’s been drunk. Not on something, but by somebody.

Somebody like her.

Celia: Her lips press together in a thin line. Hers. He is hers and someone fed from him. Like everyone else in her life that she has let down, failed, couldn’t be there for. Patch one hole and another tear opens. She never thought she’d have to worry about Em.

“He’s probably right,” she says after a moment. “I have some… new friends now. Dangerous people. You know the other night? When you came to get me, the couple I told you about, who… killed the guy?”

Raped her.

“People like that. Who just take what they want. After everything we did, it still wasn’t enough, because he wanted it to go a different way.” She sounds bitter. Her arms cross. She can’t even tell him everything, she has to be vague, even though she’s pretty sure he already knows.

Unless she brings him into it.

No, no, terrible idea.


She eyes him where he sits across the couch from her. It’d be easy.

And yet she came here to say goodbye, not tap open a vein.

Emmett: His eyes look curiously blank as she talks about the couple. He shakes his head. “Bad trip,” he mutters. “Thought I knew things… but I didn’t. Don’t know anything.”

He slumps a little in the sofa. She must have interrupted him on his way to bed, judging by the exhaustion in his eyes.

“You’re gonna be okay?” he murmurs. “I didn’t fuck you up?”

Celia: Is it weird if she hugs him now? She moves anyway, scooches across the couch until she’s next to him and rubs a hand up and down his back. Nothing weird here. He’s so frail. It almost breaks her heart.

“You didn’t fuck up anything, Em. Best cousin slash friend I could ask for, really. We’ll just keep the, y’know, real dad stuff on the down low, tell Emil to mind his own business. Who shows up like that anyway?”

She probably shouldn’t touch him. She pulls her hand back.

Emmett: She pulls her hand back, but he’s already drooping into her, not like a lover but like a child, like a scared little boy who’s seen the monsters under his bed and just wants to sleep a dreamless, quiet sleep.

“I’m not very good,” he whispers, and he’s crying softly. “I’m not very good. But you’re the best cousin I’ve ever had, too.”

“Ron said so. I’m… bad seed. Everything I touch… ruined.”

Celia: “Oh, no, Em. Em, no.”

The words come out low, crooning, and she dismisses the voice in the back of her head telling her not to touch the frail humans like him. She gathers him into her arms. It’s no easier than it would have been a few weeks ago, but he’s exhausted and weak and she’s got his tear-streaked face pressed against her shoulder and her hand rubbing his back in seconds.

“That’s not true. I’m fine, see? Everything is fine. It’s all okay. I’m just going away for a while, you didn’t ruin me.”

Except he did.

He’d said the same thing to her that night, too.

Emmett: “Will I… will I see you again?”

He’s fading fast. The monster in her can tell. Tired prey.

Celia: “Of course you will.”

It’s a blatant lie. She has no idea, but she can’t do this now. She has to get him to bed before he turns into a midnight snack.

“Tell you what,” she says brightly, “why don’t you go rinse off your jail time, I’ll heat up dinner for you, then you can go to bed.”

She stops breathing other than to speak. Starts moving him off of her.

“We can figure it out in the morning.”

Emmett: “Bed,” he repeats. “I might just… bed. Yeah. Morning.” He slouches off of her and heads softly to his bedroom.

He stops, though, at the door, and looks over her shoulder. Maybe some part of him knows she’s lying. Or maybe he’s just delirious.

But he says, “I’ll miss you, Cici.”

Celia: Maybe, some day in the future, she won’t feel anything anymore. Maybe if she says enough goodbyes her heart will break for good.

“Me too, Em. Me too.”

She waits until he turns away again. Then she’s gone, as quietly as she had come.

Emmett: Gone, before he hits his bed.

Gone, before he groans and tosses his way onto his back.

Gone, before he closes his eyes and dreams of monsters and the things they do to each other.


Tuesday night, 21 April 2009, PM

Celia: The call she makes to Stephen is a long time coming. They’d been in touch, briefly, while she settled everything with her mother, Maxen, and her sire. Now there is no more putting it off.

She makes the call at 9:00 PM from her new phone. His number still isn’t saved, but there’s a call history that shows it’s her most frequent contact.

GM: He picks up immediately. “Celia! What’s… what’s up?”

Celia: “Hey, Stephen. How’re you? Any word from your stalker?”

GM: “I don’t care about her right now. What’s happening with your dad? When can you be back?”

What happened with her dad?

Like most powerful men, he won.

Oh, the tapes came out. But he denied them. So did Diana, with a carefully made up face when the reporters came calling. Lots of concealer.

So did Isabel.

It’s hard to make allegations of domestic violence stick when the victims deny it happening.

It still broke the news. There was no way to put a lid on that.

There were calls for Senator Flores to resign.

He said the tapes were doctored. Fake.

There were other tapes, too. They were leaked to the press around the same time and showed assorted other politicos (Democrat and Republican) “raping” a very similar-looking teenage actress.

Isabel vehemently denied the rape allegations, too. She always stood by Daddy.

People aren’t idiots. Plenty, enough, seemed to think they were real. He’s probably the most publicly hated man in the legislature, now. There were even protests outside Audubon Place.

But there were high walls and armed guards to keep the riffraff out.

Celia: “He won,” she tells Stephen. There’s bitterness in her voice. She’d made it happen and she hates herself for it. She’d had him. Bent over. Dead to rights.

And she’d given it up.

She doesn’t have to tell him the story. He’s seen the news.

GM: “I know,” he says quietly. “I’ve followed the news. I’m… so sorry, Celia.”

“You must be so angry at your mom and sister.”

Celia: “We knew Isabel would lie. That’s all she does. Lies for him.”

GM: It came out soon, that actors were the ones in the tapes. Not the real Flores. Everything had been perfectly set up. The actors. Paper trails. Alleged ties to the Cherrys and Roberts. Maxen has filed a defamation lawsuit.

Everything prepared in advance of the media leak.

All thanks to Celia.

Celia: “I just feel like it’s all my fault.”

Because it is.

GM: Some silver lining. His rumored bid for governor is probably a long shot now. Safer candidates the party can turn to.

“It isn’t your fault. You did everything you could, Celia.”

Celia: She really did, didn’t she?

Everything she could to serve herself.

Her laugh lacks humor. There’s nothing funny about this. She broke two people and backed out when she finally had the chance to bring him down.

“I think I’m going away for a while,” she says at last. “Until the fire from my dad dies down.”

GM: “Where do you want to go?” Stephen asks.

“I’m graduating soon, from Tulane. I’ve been accepted to a fair number of law schools.”

“We could pick a city. You could finish cos school and do salon work there, while I learn to be a lawyer.”

Celia: He’s too good for her.

Much too good.

Any thought she had of bringing him into this goes out the window. He deserves more than slavery to evil monsters straight out of horror films.

She presses the phone against her cheek with both hands, ignoring the burning in her eyes. She doesn’t have to breathe so there’s no sniffle for him to hear.

“You shouldn’t be weighed down by me,” she finally says.

GM: “I’m not being weighed down by you.” She can hear the frown. “There’s plenty of law schools as good as Tulane. Better, even.”

“I’ve spent all my life here, anyway. I’d enjoy seeing more of the country.”

Celia: “Like where?”

GM: “You tell me. Where do you want to go?”

Celia: “How certain are you that this is what you want? To be with me?”

GM: “I’m totally certain, Celia. I can have a great legal career in lots of cities.”

“There’s also how I love you.”

Celia: “But without law school. If you had to be with me. Forever. Like literally forever. Would you do it?”

GM: There’s a pause.

“…this is a terrible way to ask me to propose, if that’s what you’re doing.”

Celia: She can’t help but think of Donovan. She’d flush, but there’s no one there to see, and she closes the page in her notebook that has his name scrawled a dozen times around a pair of dark and stormy eyes, a cape, an S.

Her answering laugh is weak, watery.

GM: “For real, though. Let’s talk in person.”

“This is a big conversation to have over the phone.”

Celia: “Tonique?” she suggests. “Twenty minutes.”

GM: “You’re back in town?” he asks with some surprise.

“Okay. Twenty minutes.”

Tuesday night, 21 April 2009, PM

GM: One third of an hour later, Stephen’s there at the cozy brick bar. His face lights up when he sees her, though it’s shadowed by concern too. Deep concern. But he sweeps Celia into an immediate hug.

She can hear the thum-thump of his heart. Smell the tang of his lifeblood, so sweet with concern for her.

Celia: “Stephen.” Her arms go around him automatically, but there’s warmth in her voice that isn’t in the rest of her. She holds him close to her, presses her face against his chest. “I’ve missed you.”

GM: Feeling like that doesn’t come along every night. He’d be a sumptuous vessel.

He holds her close. “God, I’ve missed you too.”

“I’m so sorry how this all panned out.”

“I really thought we had him dead to rights.”

Celia: She can’t be this close to him. The temptation to sink her teeth in is… too much. She pulls back as soon as is socially acceptable, pats the stool he’d been sitting on.

“We did,” she sighs. “We did. He… must have more people in his corner than we realized.”

GM: “You get used to the bad guys winning as a lawyer, and things not getting wrapped up with a neat little bow.”

“But the arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice.”

“And until it does, this is a good place to be.” He glances around sardonically at the bar. “Buy you a drink?”

Celia: “Did you forget I’m underage?” she smiles a sheepish smile. But she’d picked this bar because they card, and she… no longer drinks. Nothing that’s on the menu, anyway.

“Coke is fine.”

GM: “Oh. Right.” He chuckles and orders two Cokes from the bartender.

“Do you want to go somewhere to eat, too?” He looks at her concernedly. “You look like… things have been rough. Really rough.”

Celia: That offer is too tempting. But she shakes her head, waves off his concern.

“Rude,” she says with a smile, “but I know what you mean. I’ve… seen better days.”

GM: “I think that’s a good idea,” Stephen says. “To just get away for a while.”

He sips the Coke.

Celia: “I agree. Oh, God, do I agree. But Stephen… I…” she trails off, helplessly. “I love you. I do. But I’m broken. You know that, right? That I’m a broken person, that I come from a broken home, that everything I touch… it breaks too, Stephen. Everything. I ruin people.”

She can’t help but think of the very same conversation Em had with her that night her life went to shit.

“I don’t want to ruin you. And I will. A day, a month, a year, it’ll happen. I can’t do that to you.”

GM: “What?” Stephen frowns.

“Look, Celia, no one’s perfect. We’re all broken, to varying extents. Everyone’s got issues.”

“But we get by. And maybe we make the people we love a little less broken.”

Celia: “That’s the problem, Stephen. I don’t want you to get by. I want you to do amazing things. I want you to go off and… and break up the mob, and put bad people away. Bad people like my dad. And you can’t do that if you’re stuck with me. You can’t.”

GM: Stephen looks at her.

“…are you breaking up with me?”

“Because that’s bullshit.”

Celia: She opens her mouth. Closes it. Looks away from him.

GM: “That’s bullshit!” he repeats, angrily. “I can do that, if I’m with you! We’re the people who got your dad’s name in the newspapers, all the talking heads saying he can’t run for governor, and those protesters outside Audubon! Tell me that’s not something worthwhile!”

Celia: Her eyes find his face again.

“That was you?”

GM: “Yes! We pushed your mom, remember? Got her to talk to a lawyer and report the abuse to the cops? That’s what kicked all of this off.”

“Yeah, he’s still a senator, because your mom decided she’d rather stick by her abuser. But we still made a difference. This isn’t the end.”

“I told you that I don’t expect I’m going to take down the Mob, when we first met. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

“But it is going to happen. That’s how the law works. It’s slow, and it’s frustrating, and there are so many roadblocks and half-victories and stupid technicalities that sometimes you want to throw up your hands and call it quits. But eventually, we or our kids or our kids’ kids finally get it right. Justice wins out.”

“That’s worth it. And if it isn’t, what the hell is?”

Celia: She hates herself for what she’s about to do. But he deserves better than this. Better than her, who threw it all away, who had Maxen in the palm of her hand and then tossed it aside when her sire came calling.

Too good for her. That’s what she tells herself.

“I cheated on you,” she finally says. “I went out, and I got drunk, and I went home with some guy I didn’t know. And I woke up in his bed, naked. I cheated on you. And then I lied about it when you asked. Em? The guy you saw me with? I called him to come get me instead of you because I couldn’t look at you after what I’d done. So there you go, Stephen, that’s why we can’t be together. Because I cheated on you. Like a… like a whore.”

He deserves better.

GM: Stephen stares.

He looks like Celia just punched him.

“Wow,” is all he says.

Celia: She wouldn’t know. She can’t look at him now. She wishes the floor would swallow her.

GM: Her (former?) boyfriend doesn’t say anything. She can feel his stare. It’s not a knife, like Donovan’s. Like Veronica’s. Like any of the other Kindred’s. She’s weathered worse.

But it hits right where it hurts most.

“So this was before you said you loved me?” he finally asks.

“Yeah. It was.”

“You called Em to get you. Because you couldn’t look at me.”

“So that whole moment. In the car. It was all just… a lie.”

Celia: She closes her eyes. Takes a breath. It doesn’t do anything. She doesn’t feel any more calm, any more level.

It’s easier to lie here. To tell him that it was a lie. That she never felt anything.

But that’s the lie, isn’t it? Because she did feel something. Does feel something. Still feels something, despite everything.

Let him hate her and it’ll be easier, won’t it?

He’ll move on. Find a nice girl. Settle down. Do great things.

And she’ll play with monsters.


“I’m sorry.”

It’s all she can give him now. An apology. For doing what she did. For not doing what she wants to do.

It’s the right thing. It has to be.

GM: “Did you use a condom with him?” Stephen asks, his voice sharp. “Was that his baby you took a pill over?”

“His baby, and not mine? That I beat myself up over you getting an abortion over?”

Celia: She looks as if he just hit her. She reels backwards. Slides off of the stool.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I am. I would… I’d do anything to take back the last few weeks. And I can’t. I have to go.”

She moves past him toward the door.

GM: Stephen grabs her arm.


Celia: The presumption. The gall. How dare he.

It comes up, snarling and snapping inside of her. For a moment she’s afraid it has won, afraid that she’s about to tear him to pieces.

But instead of the Beast it’s the Beauty. Jade. Hard. Cold. And very, very angry.

She jerks her arm out of his grip.

“It was my mistake to bring you here,” she says, “and it will be your mistake if you make a scene. Are you another Maxen Flores, to put your hands on a woman?”

GM: There’s apprehension on Stephen’s face, for a moment.

But not enough to drown out the furious red.

“Are you another Maxen Flores, to treat the people you say you love like shit?” he shoots back.

Celia: “I could have lied to you for years, is that what you’d prefer? Ignorance? At least you know, now.”

GM: “Why the fuck would you do that!?” Stephen fairly explodes.

“Hey, you kids, ease up,” a bystander interrupts. People in the bar are starting to stare.

“Oh, fuck you too!” snarls Stephen.

“Right. Time for you guys to fi…”

Celia: Celia grabs Stephen by the arm this time.


GM: No one stops them on their way out.

“Why the fuck would you cheat on me!?” Stephen repeats, his face livid.

Celia: “Because my daddy beat me and your love will never be enough to undo nineteen years of emotional abuse.”

GM: “That doesn’t even make any… no! You don’t get to hide behind that!”

Celia: “He raped my sister. Do you think he did any less to me? Do you think he treated me well when he wasn’t calling me names, that stupid was the worst of it? I told you that you’re better off. I cheated on you to prove it. So walk away, Stephen.”

GM: Stephen looks like Celia just hit him again.

But the red starts to drain from his face.

“Celia…” he starts. His voice is shaky. He plants his hands on her shoulders.

“You need help.”

Celia: “I know.”

GM: “Tell me you’re…”

He suddenly pulls her close against his chest. His voice is a tremble in her ear.

“Tell me you’re getting help. You need… you need help.”


He sounds like he’s starting to cry.

Celia: This is bad.

This is bad, bad, bad.

She doesn’t pull away. She nods, the movement small against his chest. She closes her eyes to keep the flood down. Even cheated on, lied to, he still cares.

Moments like these, she hates them for what they did to her.

GM: He holds her. For a while, he just cries.

He smells delicious. He does care. You can’t fake taste like that, in the blood. You can’t fake real sorrow. Vulnerability. He’s so open. She has taken so much from him already.

She could make him, them, feel so good…

His hands stroke her hair before he manages,

“Tell… tell me how. Where. When. You’re getting help.”

Celia: It’s a struggle to keep herself in line.

She can’t. She can’t. She can’t.

She hasn’t fed like this, not out in the wild, not on her own, not without someone watching in case she loses it. She can’t do it to him. It’s wrong.

But it’d be fitting, wouldn’t it? First time.

She can feel them in her mouth. Fangs.

“I saw a… therapist. Her name is Mel. She helps. Explains. Listens when I talk to her.”

He’s so close.

“She mentioned relegating. Medication.”

She can hear his heartbeat. Smell his tears. Feel his warmth.

GM: She feels his warmth. His pain. His desperation. His love.

Against her arms.

Against her breasts.

In her mouth.

In her mouth.

Celia: He’s right there. It’s so easy. Shift him slightly, open her mouth, let the fangs come out. Pierce his skin, like had been done to her, like she has done so many times before. She bites. Sucks. Drinks.

He’s sweet. Figuratively. Literally.

She swallows it down. A second, two, she doesn’t know. She wants more. There’s never enough. She could bite again. Deeper. Tear his throat open. Isn’t the carotid right here somewhere? How quickly it’d come out then, pour all over her, drench her in it, leave her full and sated.

But this is Stephen. She came here to end things, not to end him.

She keeps a lid on it. Pulls back, licks the wound as she goes. Her lips find his.

Then she’s gone.

GM: “Celia…!” he calls after her.




Like those blood dolls at the Evergreen do.

She could take him, as one of them. He’d enjoy it. She knows he would. He’d make fewer crying noises.

More happy noises.

Her own little toy.

Celia: Her own.



She almost stops. Almost turns back to him. He’d love her. Forever.

Isn’t that what she wants?

Then she remembers what is was like. The fear. Not knowing if she’d live or die. Bargaining for her life because she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Never knowing if this word would be her last. Balancing on the edge of a knife, and neither side is a win.

No. No, no, no.

Not Stephen. He’s too decent for that. Too good. Too pure. She’d been pure, too, when she met him, and he’d been gentle and soft and nice. There’s no niceness where she’s going. His body might live, but his soul would die.

She runs. She runs as far and as fast as she can. She doesn’t look back.

But she knows.

She knows.

She can never outrun what she is.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XVI
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline I

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XVI
Next, by Celia: Story Eleven, Celia I

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett IX
Next, by Emmett: Story Twelve, Emmett I

Story Ten, Celia XVI

Celia Flores

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

GM: Celia settles Emily and her mom back in at their hotel. Savoy leaves a young ‘blood doll’ named Ginger to watch over them, mainly to call in case anything happens.

Celia and Pete meet back with Savoy and Preston at the Evergreen. The French Quarter lord glibly inquires as to his grandchilde’s well-being before he and Preston lay out the facts of the matter. They are not certain if Donovan had Vidal’s permission to Embrace Celia, which puts her unlife in danger. They are not certain if Donovan is going to come looking for her, and if he does, whether he will seek to “correct” his mistake—that is, by killing her—or if he will seek to use Celia as a pawn towards some unknown end. As they are not certain of Donovan’s goals and motivations, this makes it difficult to guarantee Celia’s safety or leverage her existence against her sire. Therefor, “until the time is right,” Savoy believes it best that the truth of Celia Flores’ identity be concealed from the Camarilla at large. Aliases are common in Kindred society. Perhaps she has a name she’s attached to.

Celia: She volunteers the name Jade.

She asks if Donovan is even aware of her existence, or if the whole thing was a mistake. Then she poses the same question she asked Pete earlier, aware of its dangerous and reckless nature: if he’s aware of her, why not just ask?

GM: Preston repeats, in a voice that makes Celia think back to her father calling her stupid, that they do not know the answer to her first question.

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment, stewing.

GM: “You could ask him,” Pete finally answers her question. “It should also go without saying that’s one hell of a gamble. He might try to take off your head.”

“Or he might not. We don’t know.”

Savoy doesn’t seem opposed to the idea of Celia seeking him out and asking her sire, though, if she truly wishes to. “Your Requiem is yours, my dear, to spend as you will. All we can do is give you tips on how.”

Celia: “It’s not that the answer to the question doesn’t exist, Ms. Preston, it’s that you don’t have all the facts.”

She crosses one leg over the other. Looks between Preston and Pete.

“Because we do know. He had an opportunity to end me and he didn’t. Does Donovan strike you as the type of Kindred to make a mistake? Has he ever been anything less than deliberate?”

Her gaze shifts to her grandsire.

“Lord Savoy, if you’re amenable, I may have a solution that would put him in an awkward position while preserving our own, while putting the matter to rest.”

GM: Savoy gestures grandly for Celia to proceed.

Celia: “The harpy. She wants me. She started, the other night, and only stopped when her companion told her she couldn’t. Put it into her head that someone might get to me before she does. She’ll go to the prince to ask for permission. If he gives it, we know that Donovan did not have permission, and if he does not give permission, then we know that I’ve been spoken for.”

GM: “He may refuse her for other reasons,” states Preston. “He has granted exceptions to the general Embrace moratorium, but it is only expected to be broadly lifted upon Katrina’s fifth anniversary.”

“That’s true, Nat. But he also might say yes, and that would tell us quite a lot.” Savoy strokes his half-beard. “Veronica is a jealous creature. She’ll take the bait.”

He grins at Celia. “And we’ll all have to watch out for this one! Sharp minds and pretty faces are a dangerous combination.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her grandsire, pleased that he is pleased.

“There are two complications I foresee. The first is if he does say yes and she comes to find me already Embraced. The second is the deal she and I have. There’s a brief window of opportunity.”

GM: “If Donovan hasn’t been granted permission, she could publicly claim you as hers,” Pete muses. “If we wanted to hide you from him, making Celia Flores disappear would have to be a thorough job. Any friends and family who knew you were still around would be a security risk.”

Celia: Emily. Her mom.

There’s a new, predatory thing that’s curled inside her. It’s possessive and protective, hardens her eyes as she looks to the detective. Mine.

She chokes it down. Tells herself that isn’t what he meant, that they don’t have any answers, that no one is a liability. Yet.

“They’re contained until we find out,” she finally says in a carefully controlled voice. “Ginger has them. Lord Savoy, you mentioned your people found me. If you can tell me how and when, perhaps we will have a better idea of why events occurred as they did, and what his thought process was.”

GM: Preston also brings up that they and Veronica stand much to lose from Pete’s suggestion. Why would the harpy waste permission to create her own childe to cover for one that isn’t even hers? Pete responds that it’s all a matter of leverage. Even if it isn’t readily feasible, it is an option to consider.

GM: Savoy answers that he felt Celia’s Embrace through their shared blood ties. “The Blood always tells, my dear. Always.” He supposed that the emotions he sensed could have come from Camilla Doriocourt, Donovan’s other childe, but he had “a hunch” that they didn’t, given their “flavor and intensity.” He didn’t have the faintest clue who or where Celia was, so he turned to “sorcery for some answers,” with a nod towards Pete. He then dispatched his “fastest ghoul” to retrieve Celia, who dredged her up from the Gulf of Mexico and stuffed her into a body bag. This was only just before dawn.

Celia: Celia points out that if Veronica is given permission to Embrace her, they have bigger things to worry about. She’s met the woman multiple times. She’s confident that if Veronica gets what she wants, in this case Celia, she’ll be willing to play ball. Plus, she adds, it’ll give Veronica something over Donovan, which might also appeal to the woman, since he can’t call them out on their ruse without outing himself.

She asks Savoy if he’d mind explaining what he means by “flavor and intensity.” She’d like to match it up with her experience that evening.

GM: Preston states that Celia is the equivalent of one man’s child asking another man to claim her as his own. Veronica hasn’t gotten anything, so far as Celia. Pete says it’s true that she would be getting something over Donovan. That might be worth it.

Savoy felt a panoply of emotions. Pain. Ecstasy. Longing. Terror. All very unusual ones to feel from the impassive Hound Doriocourt.

Celia: “And from Donovan?”

GM: “Not a thing, my dear. But he’s always been a hard one to read.”

Celia: “I saw him,” she says, “for the first time when I was eight years old. Again at fourteen. And once more, prior to my Embrace, the night my father was arrested. I went back into the house alone. I thought he might be waiting. Was it him, Lord Savoy, who pressed the gun into my hand and told me there is only one way to keep a man like my father down, or was that an agent of yours? Perhaps that, too, will tell us what we need to know.”

GM: “Oh? That’s interesting. Killing your father certainly doesn’t appear to be in Donovan’s interests, but I never gave any of my agents such an order,” Savoy muses.

Celia: “Perhaps a third party, then.” Or proof that three times she was in his arms, and three times he did not take her out. Proof that he wants, or wanted, her.

Celia: After a moment, she moves on.

“My deal with Veronica ends shortly. Tomorrow evening is the third night. After that, I… believe I’m hers, is what she said.” She looks to the three of them in turn, finally settling on Savoy. “How complicated will things get, with us?”

GM: “Cui bono,” says Pete. “Who benefits.” Savoy tells him to look into the matter, though both Kindred frankly admit they don’t expect much to come of it when Pete lacks access to the ‘crime scene.’ Does Celia still have the gun?

The three Kindred ask some questions about the nature of Veronica’s “deal” with Celia.

“Ah, that little trick. A useful thing,” Savoy smiles. “I suppose she’ll have to rescind it!”

Celia: In fact, she does still have the gun. Sort of. It’s at her friend’s place, the one who met Pete at the House of Blues. She’s sure she can retrieve it, she tells them.

She tries not to beam at Savoy when he mentions making Veronica go back on her deal. That means he, at least, wants her. It’s a vain effort, though; she can’t help but smile prettily for him.

GM: Pete asks the address, frowns, then says it’s possible Donovan could have the apartment under surveillance and be expecting Celia or Emmett to return. Still, this is Savoy’s territory, not the prince’s. They can deal with any “snoops” and retrieve the gun.

“Could also use her as bait, if we feel like having a chat with Donovan,” Pete muses. “This is the most advantageous place to do it. Our home ground.”

Preston dispassionately observes that Veronica certainly wouldn’t rescind her hold over Celia for free, or even be inherently inclined to. Celia is costing them social capital. What is she bringing to the table to make such an expenditure worth it?

The French Quarter lord looks almost hurt. “Quite a bit, Nat. Just look at that smile!” he grins at Celia. “Who could ever say no to a face like that?”

“And that’s all before the hold she may give us over my prodigal childe, or her own so clearly demonstrated potential.” The French Quarter lord smiles confidently. “Whatever it takes with Veronica, my hunch is that we’ll all come out well ahead.”

Celia: Celia tells them, in no uncertain terms, that she is decidedly not afraid of serving as bait for Donovan. She also mentions, to Preston, that perhaps if they hold off on this footage of her father until they discover what Donovan’s plan is, they can use it to a better advantage.

“If he wanted me, and I was unsanctioned, then we simply offer to sit on that knowledge in exchange for Maxen, and we’ve got ourselves a political tool. And yes, there is the potential that Maxen becomes a double or triple agent, as we’ve said before, and if he ever ceases being useful to us then we destroy him. Since we did not work overly hard to obtain and groom him, there is no net loss. It gives Donovan the time he needs to obtain the appropriate permission for my Embrace, and when I’m officially introduced… well, we’ve an ear in two places, then. Or there’s a falling out and I defect. Like sire like childe.”

Of course, she adds, he could simply take her out and remove the threat, but they won’t know how likely that is until they find out his motivation.

GM: “You see, Nat?” Savoy chuckles. “Our ’investment’s’ paying for herself already!”

Celia: “Then who,” she asks with a smile, “are we contacting first?” It makes sense to her to go after the gun first, to see what Pete can learn, and only bring Veronica into the cover story if necessary after they find out about Donovan.

GM: Going after the gun, Pete raises, may also flush out Donovan if he has surveillance measures over the apartment. If they want to go that route, he thinks it’s best done after Veronica petitions Vidal for permission to Embrace, so that Celia can better know where she stands with her sire.

Celia: Celia understands the point Pete is making, and is happy to concede to someone who knows more about the political climate and ins and outs of Kindred society. But they do need an answer from Vidal sooner rather than later, or they risk Veronica just waiting until her deal is up with Celia and coming for her.

GM: Savoy drums his fingers in thought.

“Let’s invite Madam Alsten-Pirrie over now. Lay things out for her.”

“Sir?” invites Preston.

“If she goes to Maldonato and asks permission to Embrace Celia, she’s our dupe. If she’s in on this when she goes, she’s a co-conspirator.” He winks at Celia. “Jot this down in your notes, my dear. Kindred can forgive you for hurting them. But they can’t ever forgive you for making them look foolish, even if it’s just to themselves.”

“She could also divulge what she knows to the seneschal and be rewarded,” states Preston.

“I suppose she well could, Nat. We’ll just have to buy her loyalties first!” Savoy chuckles.

“Luckily, we’d already wanted to do that. We’ll just move up the timetable, now.”

Celia: “What do you offer a woman like Veronica to buy her loyalty?” Celia had done it with brushes and a bottle of perfume.

GM: “Kindred,” corrects Preston. “We are no longer women.”

Celia: “Kindred,” Celia repeats. “Thank you, Ms. Preston. I won’t make the mistake again.”

GM: “Madam Preston,” Savoy’s steward corrects again. At an inviting look from her boss, she continues, “‘Miss’ in its unmarried form is used to address female neonates due to its connotations of youth. ‘Ms.’ in its marital-neutral form is a modern construct and older Kindred may assume ‘miss’ in its unmarried form is being used instead. Many older Kindred also dislike ‘Ms.’ as a marital-neutral female honorific.”

Celia: “I should have picked up on that in regards to you calling her Madam Alsten-Pirrie,” Celia acknowledges. She dips her head in deference to Preston. “My apologies, Madam. Thank you for correcting me here, among friends, and not allowing me to look foolish in front of others. Would it be appropriate to call you steward, and he warden,” a nod toward Pete, “or have I gotten that wrong?”

GM: Savoy nods approvingly. “Manners will get you far in the Camarilla, my dear.”

“Kindred who hold city- and Camarilla-wide titles, such as prince or seneschal, are to always be addressed by their proper titles,” answers Preston. “With the exception of harpies, whose positions are not formally awarded. Kindred who hold titles exclusive to their clan, covenant, parish, or other social unit may be addressed or not addressed by these titles as appropriate. Standards for propriety vary significantly by the social unit in question. Mélissaire is better-suited to instruct you as to the particulars.”

Celia: She smiles politely. “I will ask and learn, then, so I do not embarrass myself further. I would hate to repay your hospitality by making a social blunder.” Her smile turns to her grandsire, and there is more warmth there than had been prior. “I look forward to flourishing under your hand.”

GM: Savoy raises Celia’s hand to his lips and kisses it tenderly.

“True beauty flourishes anywhere, my dear. But I’ll count it my privilege to see it flourish here.”

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

GM: Celia spends the next hour and change receiving further tutelage from Mélissaire before she’s summoned back up to the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. Savoy and Preston are discussing matters. Her grandsire remarks approvingly on her attire (Mélissaire called servants to get “something tasty” of Celia’s choosing to wear for Veronica) as Preston takes her leave: this meeting should “feel personal.”

Celia: Celia did her own makeup, of course: something to give life to her complexion, to make her look less like the walking corpse that she is. A little liner, a little mascara, a lot of blush. The outfit isn’t something that she would have worn in life, not in Daddy’s view, but now… now it feels natural. The dress is short, shows off her long, lean, toned legs. The way she tilts her head at Savoy is appraising, predatory, and all to pleased to be on the receiving end of his praise. She kisses his cheek (no smear left behind; she’s good) and sinks into a chair to wait.

GM: Celia looks better and worse in the mirror than she expected.

She’s so pale. She looks like a morbid china doll. She looks hard. She looks cruel. There’s a hungry, predatory cast to her features, and her eyes are glassily distant. She looks a little like Veronica. Maybe more than a little.

But mostly, she looks like Jade.

“Of course,” Savoy remarks idly as she seats herself, “a dress is just scraps of cloth, given shape and beauty by the woman who wears it.”

His fangs peek out just past his smile.

“And you do wear it, my dear. Death suits you.”

Celia: She’ll have to make it a point to ask Mélissaire if there are rules against attaching herself to her grandsire. His lap looks so empty.

“You’re too kind, Lord Savoy.” Her lashes brush against her cheeks when she looks down. The jade bracelet catches her eye, and she turns it over on her wrist. “I imagine your silver tongue gets you into trouble with your admirers.”

GM: The elder Toreador chuckles as brushes a stray hair from Celia’s face.

“The best admirers are always trouble, anyway.”

Trouble steps out the elevator.

Her nails are green tonight, matching her eyes, and she wears a longer ankle-length red dress. She seems to swim through the form-hugging, sequined garment as she walks, six-inch heels making her hips sensually sway.

When she sees Celia, her eyes flash, her fangs jut out, and she shakes with a too-familiar-looking fury as what can only be the same monster within Celia rages with her.

But she doesn’t tear apart the surroundings, this time.

She stands still.

She eyes the other Kindred in the chair. There is deference in his house.

Savoy smiles benignly and motions for Veronica to take a seat beside them. Mélissaire pulls out her chair.

“Madam Alsten-Pirrie,” he begins soothingly. “You’ve every right to be furious that Celia’s not yours. She was rightfully yours. Our interests in this matter are aligned.”

Veronica stares at Celia. There is something very, very dangerous smoldering—burning—within those emerald eyes.

Her head slowly tilts back towards the elder Toreador at his voice.

“How so, Lord Savoy,” she half-whispers, half-hisses.

Celia: Celia stares right back. There is longing in her eyes, an unspoken apology, a desire for something beyond what fate has handed her. Only after Veronica looks away does Celia turn to Savoy as well. She waits for him to speak first, as agreed, tongue flicking out to moisten her lips.

GM: “She’s been stolen from you, you see,” Savoy replies, “by my prodigal childe. I’d like to take him to task, for what he’s done. We could use your help.”

“Need it, actually.”

Celia: “Need you,” Celia speaks up. Her gaze has returned to Veronica. It’s unclear if she’s talking about herself or them.

“He took me,” Celia continues, voice soft, “when I wasn’t his to take. I didn’t want him. I wanted you. To be yours.” It’s even true: she’d thought about what it would be like to belong to the green-eyed goddess, to wake up in bed sandwiched between her and Pietro, to let them drink from her and drink in turn until they’d all had their fill. She’d wanted to be their toy, to trail after her in her impossibly tall heels, to seat herself on her lap and let the goddess touch and tease and treat her how she wanted.

She moves now. Her steps take her across the rooftop garden, hips swaying in her skintight dress. The thing inside of her purrs the closer she gets, and she recognizes it for what it is: Jade. It’s been in there all along, it’s what made her take action against Maxen and stare down Xola while he ate an unborn fetus. Jade wants Veronica, wants to be Veronica.

She pauses just before the Kindred’s chair. Her eyes flick down toward her lap, then back to her face, and she lifts a single brow a fraction of an inch, tilts her head minutely to one side.

GM: Veronica doesn’t say yes.

But she doesn’t say no.

She smells like Sycomore, up close: vetiver, sandalwood, aldehydes, tobacco, violet. But her lap doesn’t feel like it did last time. Celia the kine truly was just a toy to poke, prod, stick fingers into, and laugh as she made “happy noises” in response to sensations the dead women are equally dead to. There’s a tension, a coiled energy, not just to Veronica but Celia—Jade—too. This isn’t a mouse in a cat’s paws. It’s two big cats draped over each other, and neither is feeling entirely friendly.

Veronica’s eyes meet Savoy’s.

He nods.

Fangs pierce Celia’s neck.

Celia: It’s not the same.

It’s not the same, and Celia hates it. Prior, she had been a toy. Unwilling, perhaps, but something for the Kindred to bounce around and show off and slide her talons into. She may have even come to like it, for all that they would call her slave. That still-human Celia side of her wanted to curl up on Veronica’s lap, kiss her neck, sink into her embrace.

Now, though, she is no helpless, large-eyed doe. That purring thing inside of her wants to play, like she had seen Veronica and Pietro play, only with more claws and teeth and less fucking. It recognizes what Veronica is, but more than that it knows what she is: powerful, graceful, predator. Its purr becomes a growl when the two points of Veronica’s fangs sink into her skin, then slides contentedly back into a lazy, lustful sigh.

GM: Veronica doesn’t bite deep, but rips her fangs across Celia’s skin, leaving thick red trails. She flings Celia to the grass and falls on her, snapping, biting, ripping those claw-like nails along her skin. Celia feels her own Beast snarling in simultaneous arousal and defensiveness as her back hits the ground.

“Let’s get the hot tub started for these two, Fabian. I have a feeling there won’t be many clothes left anyway!” Savoy amusedly calls.

“Right away, sir,” answers the tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole ghoul. His white tuxedo becomes a blur of motion as he rapidly gets the French marble jacuzzi ready. It’s soon bubbling invitingly.

Celia: She’s seen this before.

It’s the only thought that keeps her from curling her lips back and snarling at the woman in turn, that she has seen this before. Pietro was limp when she did it, happy to be her underling, and maybe Celia would have been too. But Jade is made of sterner things. Jade bites too, and her freshly polished nails dig into Veronica, but rather than push she pulls, yanking the Kindred closer to bite into her shoulder.

GM: Veronica snaps and rips at the skin, pulling off wholesale strips that she lets hang before sucking dry of the blood. She pins Celia down with one hand, pulls a breast out of her dress with her other one, rakes her nails across it, and presses it to the younger Toreador’s mouth.

Celia: There’s no contest. As soon as the blood is presented to her she quits her struggling and flicks her tongue across the flesh of her exposed breast, then eagerly begins to suckle. The red spills into her mouth and she moans, burying her head in Veronica’s chest.

GM: Veronica laps up the blood flowing from her neck, then slaps her across the face, hard enough to turn her head. She flips Celia over, shreds apart her clothes, shreds her skin, laps the flowing blood. She plunges her nails up both holes and laps at the blood flowing from there.

It… hurts.

Celia: She howls. Her nails shred the ground in front of her, fingertips digging into the grass and soil beneath it as her body is assaulted. Her lips curl back over her teeth and she snarls when Veronica violates her. Some obscene part of her mind thinks of a long ago conversation with a whore that said it hurts, and another thinks of cats and their barbs. That makes her the bitch, then. Even the tongue lapping at her torn flesh doesn’t fog the pain, and the sound that comes from her is inhuman. No longer pinned, she kicks out and scrambles away, only to fall back on the Kindred with fang and nail tearing apart her red dress to get to the ebony skin beneath.

GM: Celia can feel the surge of feral rage, too, as her Beast howls in her ears. It will break loose. It will not suffer such pain without consequence. The dress tears off easily under her still-preternatural strength.

Three nights.

Might as well use them to their fullest.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

GM: Nothing is left of either Kindred’s clothes after their ‘lovemaking.’ The two look disconcertingly like Celia’s mother: blood, cuts, and abused flesh everywhere, but instead of black and purpling bruises there’s shredded skin and mangled fang marks. The two sit in the hot tub, Celia again on Veronica’s lap. Their blood turns the warm water and intoxicating pinkish shade with an aroma to match. It’s impossible not to stay aroused, even with their Beasts momentarily sated and glutted upon one another’s vitae.

Celia: This is the lap of luxury Celia had been looking for. Warm water gurgles around her body, taking the sting from her broken, torn flesh. It will mend. The scratches, the bruises, the hanging flesh: it will all mend.

She is content to curl on Veronica’s lap, lips at her neck, nipping and nuzzling while the Kindred touches her how she will. Her legs drape over either side of her partner’s, thighs spread, breasts bared, and there is no shame as she stretches luxuriously before settling once more. Half-lidded eyes look for her grandsire, though just as important to her now is the beauty beneath her.

GM: Savoy strips off his fine clothes and joins the pair in the hot tub. His pecs and abs aren’t especially developed, but he’s lean, taut, and wiry. Celia may not be sure exactly what she was expecting. It doesn’t look as if he led an especially pampered mortal life: his frame seems held together by gristle and grit, with tight, hungry-looking flesh marred by several nasty scars, burns, and whip lashes. He isn’t beautiful, next to Veronica. He’s short, standing only to eye with Celia when her heels are off, he’s scarred, and he doesn’t have anything close to a six-pack.

But confidence is everything. He plops down next to the pair, arm around Veronica’s shoulder, with a sense of easy presumption and casual aplomb that says: ‘I am just as beautiful as you both.’ He obviously is not. But he walks as though he is. His body language doesn’t try to overcompensate or actively sell them on the idea: he just seems to totally believe it himself, and that’s all that matters. It’s hard not to give him a second look, to search for the hidden beauty in his features that he so clearly takes pride in. His face is handsome enough. His beard gives him a rogueish look. His smile is infectious. His scars seem intriguing, even dashing, rather than ugly: perhaps it’s all in how one carries them. His skin looks hearty and hale, too, not at all like Celia’s china doll complexion. One might almost think he was still alive.

Celia: Confidence is everything. Power is intoxicating. Lord Savoy has it, and it comes off of him in droves. It is bewitching, the easy arrogance with which he carries himself, and Celia’s eyes roam his body to learn its story before he dips beneath the water. One day she will ask him the secret of his scars. One day she will have stories for each of them, know who it is who gave this man his history, and pay them back in kind.

She’d wanted him earlier. She’d thought his lap looked empty and now here he is, presented to her in all his glory. She does not ask for permission. The two are close enough that a quick shift of her hips as her astride them both, head tilted back and neck exposed as she rests upon two shoulders. She’d been shared before, and here she is again, offering herself.

GM: “See? Look how diplomatic this one is,” Savoy smiles, running a teasing finger along Celia’s throat. “Offering herself to us both so no one feels left out.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t join in for the fun earlier, Lord Savoy, if you wanted to feel included,” Veronica purrs. In contrast, the harpy is sculpted chocolate perfection, with long legs, ample hips, and full, round, perkish breasts that all but seem as if they could bounce. She turns Celia’s head away, pressing the younger Toreador’s face into her damp, blood-streaked hair.

“That was much too personal between you two to intrude on,” Savoy chuckles. He doesn’t pull Celia’s back back, but teasingly weaves several strands of Veronica’s bloody hair into the corners of his grandchillde’s mouth. “You just needed to fuck it out.”

“Yes,” answers Veronica with the faintest of growls. “You do just need to fuck it out, sometimes.”

“But what dirty language to hear from your mouth, my lord.”

“We all know the same language, my dear. It’s all in when and to whom we speak it.”

“This is where milord flatters me by saying I’m important enough to swear around, isn’t it?”

Celia’s grandsire only grins. “Would you deny it if I did say so, Madam Alsten-Pirrie?”

“No,” she purrs. “I wouldn’t.”

Celia: If Celia is disappointed that Lord Savoy did not take her up on the offer she does not show it. She tucks her face back against Veronica’s neck, using her tongue to clean away the blood the water did not steal. She is quiet, content; this is a conversation for the two of them to hash out the details. Savoy has more experience handling the harpy, and this next bit might be… tricky.

She uses the time to trail her fingers down Veronica’s body, admiring the sculpted perfection she finally has an opportunity to touch.

GM: Indeed, Celia feels as if some of the hardest work has been done already. Veronica certainly seems in a more amiable mood after a good fucking. The two get down to business.

Savoy tells the truth: Donovan Embraced her. They don’t know why. He doesn’t dwell overly long on the fact of Celia’s Embrace, next to the fact that the sheriff has fucked Veronica. He doesn’t directly propose how they should verify whether Donovan did so with Vidal’s say-so. He raises speculative questions, remarks “what a pickle” they’re in, and leads the harpy down such a conversational path that she can ‘think’ of the idea to ask Vidal for permission herself and claim it all as her own.

He slaps his knee and roars with belly-deep laughter. Oh, yes! Wouldn’t the irony be simply delicious if she stole back her own stolen childe? What a pickle Donovan would then be in! Poetic justice at its finest. Veronica sneers that “we’d certainly have him taking it up the rear.”

Assuming, of course, that he Embraced Celia without permission. But Savoy agrees it’s useful to know even if he did. Still helps them plan what to do next.


He flatters Veronica outrageously, too, plying her with compliments and adulation they both know are exactly that. But it’s all so much fun that neither of them wants it to stop. The harpy’s ego is enormous. She loves hearing how beautiful, witty, and powerful she is, even when she sneers that “you’re just buttering me up.” “The butter is there, my dear. Should it not be proffered for the worthy’s consumption?” Savoy smiles.

They arrive circuitously around the topic of what’s to become Celia. Savoy lets her bring them towards it, too. Having his grandchilde blood bound to Veronica obviously presents “complications.” He doesn’t elaborate what those are, which they both seem to grasp.

“Of course, my dear, you did claim her rightfully, and she did accept your deal willingly,” Savoy muses. “What if we help get you something else that’s rightfully yours in exchange?”

Both Toreador’s eyes meet.

They don’t say anything.

But hunger smolders in Veronica’s.

“When will it happen?”

Savoy strokes his half-beard. “Hmm. I’d expect by 2015. It’s a nice and even number, isn’t it, one decade after Katrina?”

Those emerald eyes continue to smolder.

“I suppose you’ve got yourself a deal, Lord Savoy.”

The lord of the French Quarter grins. Veronica extends a hand. They shake—and Celia feels her bargained powers wilt away to nothing, like a starved plant bereft of sun and water. She’s weak again. Frail again. Clumsy again, with concrete blocks for feet.

Robot dancer.

Maybe this is what her mom felt like after the ‘accident.’

Celia: She hadn’t realized what it would mean to have them taken away from her. Only a night in and she’d already gotten used to being strong, fast, sturdy, able to turn heads and get her way with a thought.

Now she is nothing. Sticks and bones and ugliness, all awkward angles, a frail doll. Her face falls. Tucked as it is against Veronica’s neck they cannot see it, the way her eyes close, the two short breaths she takes as if the air will do anything to calm her, to keep herself from crying out at the loss.

But breathing does nothing. She is dead. She’s left with a sense of loss so profound that she cannot put it into words, as if part of her is gone. She is a minnow in the pond with sharks again, no magic of her own.

No, that’s not right. Her actions brought her here. Not Veronica’s. Not Savoy’s. Hers. She has that going for her at least; how many of their kind did she run into and handle before her life was finally stolen? She has her wits, her clever tongue. That will be enough until she can get them back.

And she will get them back.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

GM: Celia spends the rest of the night receiving further lessons on Kindred society from Mélissaire. Her sire’s herald and Fabian also set her up with plush living quarters in the Evergreen (what she’s learned is called a “haven”) until “something more permanent” can be arranged. They also provide her with several changes of clothes that range from modest to racy.

“You’ll be able to go out shopping, ma’am, once this whole business with your sire is cleared up,” Savoy’s herald declares airily. “That first shopping trip after the Embrace is always something special… lots of new Kindred find that it leaves them feeling, we might say, bolder.” There’s a mirthful smirk at those words.

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it,” Celia says with a smile of her own. The plan, she has learned, is to lay low until they hear back from Veronica, which leaves her with few options in regards to going out. Safer for all involved, really. Even so, she has people she wants to talk to, things she wants to do, and for all Mélissaire is delightful company and extraordinarily knowledgeable, she’s not the company that Celia wants.

She asks the ghoul if they’ve heard anything from Ginger, and if she’s allowed to bring someone over.

GM: “She hasn’t called,” answers Mélissaire. “But let’s give her a ring, why don’t we? I’m sure you’re worried for your mother.”

The ghoul gives a call. Asks.

“She’s awake now,” she answers. “And by all accounts, very eager to see you, despite the late hour. Would you like to do that, ma’am?”

The ghoul also asks who Celia wants to bring over. She says no to Emmett Delacroix, unfortunately. “I’m afraid he’s just too great a person of interest to the sheriff, ma’am. Once this has all died down will be a better time.”

Emily is actually, perhaps unsurprisingly, still konked out. She lost a lot of blood.

Celia: “Can we at least make sure he’s okay?”

She’d be happy to see her mom, if that’s available to her and if it’s allowed. Pete had mentioned something about security risks, though, so she’s a little wary of involving the woman further if she doesn’t need to.

GM: “Of course, ma’am. I’ll have someone check right next thing,” answers the ghoul. “And don’t fret about seeing your poor mother… right now she’s safely tucked away from everything, and doesn’t look as if she’ll be getting out of that bed anytime soon. The warden doesn’t see any problems in your seeing her, at least right now.”

Celia: “Then yes, I’d like to see her.”

GM: The ghoul drives Celia to the hotel. She’s a very good driver. Traffic seems to just flow around their car (they take something more subdued than “my usual favorites”), and she drives with one hand while making frequent eye contact with Celia in the back seat. Somehow, though, the Toreador doesn’t feel unsafe.

Celia: Celia admits to curiosity around the ghoul herself: how long has she been a ghoul, and how long has she been with Savoy? Does she enjoy it?

GM: “That would have been, hmm, 1859?” the sultry-faced woman muses, then chuckles faintly. “I’m afraid the dates blur together after a while. I’ve been with your grandsire, though, since 1895.”

“And oh, yes. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Besides the extra perks, it’s really not that different from how I’d have spent my mortal life. Placage was what it was.”

Celia: “But that’s… one hundred and fifty years. Are you older than him?”

GM: “Oh, no!” the ghoul chuckles. “Why, he’s been around since before this city was just mud and swamps… you have to be pretty old, to make it to where he has.”

Celia: “I probably shouldn’t ask you about him. I don’t want to look like I’m prying. Just curious, mostly, since I came from him via his childe, and I haven’t had a chance to speak to him about it.” She leaves it out there, though, lets her words hang.

GM: “They say curiosity kills the cat. But we’ve both always liked cats,” Mélissaire smiles. “But he doesn’t make a secret of where he’s from. He was a courtier at Versailles, in his breathing days. He’s related to the Bourbons, though he’ll never tell you himself—he likes to play coy about it. I think he might even be one of Louis XIV’s bastard sons, brothers, or uncles… those royals really got around.”

“In all the years I’ve known him, though, he’s never confirmed that—at least around me. Like I said, I think he just enjoys playing coy.”

Celia: “What do you even do for all that time?”

GM: “As a Kindred, ma’am?” She chuckles. “Oh, all sorts of things. The Requiem gives plenty of things to worry about, but boredom sure isn’t one of them.”

Celia: “Hmm.” Celia taps a finger against her thigh. New clothing, to replace what Veronica had shredded, but she’d dressed down for her trip to see her mother, and at Pete’s prior insistence had taken a extra scarf for herself for her trips outside. It’s tied neatly around her face now. “What about Donovan?”

GM: “His past? He’s a man of mystery, I’m afraid. Only Lord Savoy, Prince Vidal, and Seneschal Maldonato likely know for sure, just who he was, but they haven’t seemed talkative about the subject.”

Celia: “Did you deal with him much, when he was Embraced?”

GM: The ghoul nods. “I did, back then. He was very cold. Very hard to read, and I like to think I’m pretty good at pegging what makes men tick.”

“He just showed up at Lord Savoy’s court one night, no explanation beyond that he was your grandsire’s new childe. He never seemed unsure of himself or his footing. He seemed born for the Requiem.”

Celia: “Lord Savoy never talked much about him prior?”

GM: “No, not so much as once.”

“Elders like him have to play things close to the vest.”

Celia: “How long ago was that, do you know?”

GM: “Sheriff Donovan’s Embrace, you mean, ma’am?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “He showed up to Lord Savoy’s court in 1896, though I suppose it’s always possible he could have been Embraced earlier. He seemed very sure of his footing, like I said. Most neonates are usually at least a little uncertain.”

Celia: “Hm. Something to think on.” She smiles in the mirror at the ghoul. “What about you, though? What do you get up to when you’re not driving fledglings around, with all that time on your hands? Any plans for the big 150 this year?”

GM: Mélissaire actually laughs at Celia’s last question.

“I expect Lord Savoy may give me an extra treat or two, in celebration, but he has far more important things to think about—and to keep me busy with. No rest for the wicked,” the ghoul smirks.

“But when I’m not driving fledglings around, I’m usually driving myself around—Lord Savoy is generous enough to indulge my taste for cars.”

Celia: “I should have asked for a car instead of a pony,” Celia says, nodding. “That’s where I went wrong when I was eight. Smart woman, Mélissaire. Maybe you can show me your faves sometime.”

GM: “Eight’s a little young to drive a car, so I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself, ma’am,” the ghoul chuckles. “And yes, this drab little sedan is absolutely dreadful. But I’ll not argue with the warden about avoiding attention.”

Celia: “Remind me once we’re done being discrete. We’ll go out in something flashy. Very ostentatious and loud. For your birthday. Get into some trouble drag racing some locals, maybe.”

“What’s your dream car, Mel? Can I call you Mel?”

GM: “I’ve had customers call me worse things,” the ghoul smirks. “Mel is just fine, ma’am.”

“My dream car is just like the one you’ve described—ostentatious and loud, and since I can’t decide between red and pink, maybe hot pink. But the main thing I’d want it to be is custom-built, from the tires up. One of a kind. It’d be a mystery to everyone but me and the mechanic, how to handle it. Everyone dreams about Ferraris, but men with real money like to brag about classic, only-five-exist-in-the-world cars. A wholly unique car would be my dream car.”

“And that’s very kind of you to invite me, ma’am, but I am just a half-blood. You have much better things to do with your time than spend it around your inferiors like that.”

“Young Kindred usually take a little while, to come to terms with that. But we are less than you, and we are here to serve you.”

Celia: “It’s probably hard,” Celia says after a moment, “to be the one to welcome the new Kindred into the fold, teach them the ropes, endure their affection… and then lose it when they start to think the same thing, when their attention is caught by other ideas and distractions.” Shiny new toys. Like the pony she had gotten when she was eight and summarily forgotten about. “But if you don’t mind, please call me Celia when we’re together like this. Ma’am makes me feel old.” She wrinkles her nose.

GM: “Hmm, that’s tricky, as Lord Savoy has instructed me to teach you how things are, ma’am,” says the ghoul. “I’m afraid that’s something you’ll have to get accustomed to… every ghoul will call you ma’am.” She smiles. “But cheer up. You might get older, but you’ll look just as young. Forever.”

Celia: “Best we didn’t disappoint Lord Savoy, then.” There’s no trace of irony in her voice. “Any tips to remaining on his good side?”

GM: “From what I hear, ma’am, you’ve been doing a stellar job at that already,” Mélissaire smiles. “Be fun. Be witty. Be a delight to be around. And be useful, too. There’s always a place for a smart and ambitious neonate at the lord of the French Quarter’s side.”

Celia: “With your instructions, how could I fail?”

GM: “That’s just the idea, ma’am,” Mélissaire replies with twinkling eyes as she pulls into the hotel’s lot.

“But for what it’s worth, so far as your sire… Lord Savoy never told me to give him any lessons on Kindred society. Not a one. Seems he had it all down pat by the time he was introduced.”

Celia: “Thank you, Mélissaire.” Celia smiles at the ghoul.

GM: “I live to be of service, ma’am,” Mélissaire smiles back.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

Celia: Celia’s mom end up in a suite at the Hotel Provincial.

Two king beds, a kitchen, a couch. What more can her mom ask for, right? Her health, maybe, but Celia dismisses that thought. She can’t. She hates seeing her mother in pain, struggling to breathe, but she can’t fix her. Not yet.

Not until Maxen is dealt with.

GM: They make their way to Celia’s mom’s room. The ghoul knocks. A redheaded woman comes out and bows her head deferentially. She doesn’t say anything at Mélissaire’s look. The two wait outside while Celia goes in.

The room has a large bed, IV drip, ventilator, and some medical equipment. Celia’s mom still looks terrible. Her face remains the same black, blue, and purple mass of bruises as earlier, and her eyes still look almost too swollen to see through. There aren’t any bandages around her foot, though.

When she sees Celia, her eyes widen like she’s seen a new dawn. She immediately starts struggling to climb out of bed.

Celia: “No, no, Momma, stay there.” Celia crosses the room to her mother, gently pushing her back down onto the bed. She seats herself beside her, brushes her hair from her face. It’s the same scene as six years ago.

“I’m sorry, Momma. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there for you.” She hates to see her like this.

GM: Celia’s mom tries to wrap her arms around her daughter. Tears squeeze from her eyes as she hugs Celia tight.

“O… C… elia… I thou… I thou… you migh… be… dea…”

She weeps as she holds her daughter close. She holds Celia like she never wants to let go again.

“O… my ba… by… oh my ba… by… oh, thank God…”

Celia: She doesn’t laugh. She can’t. Her mother’s words are true. There’s a fuzzy, painful feeling at the corners of her eyes, as if she wants to cry as well. But tears don’t come. She wraps her mother up in her arms and holds her tight, careful not to jostle her.

“No, Momma. I wouldn’t let him win like that. I love you too much to let him separate us.”

GM: But the tears do come. Celia can feel them trickling down her face.

They leave red, coppery-smelling stains on the sheets.

Celia: That’s new. Celia keeps her mother’s face pressed against her chest to hide the red liquid leaking from her eyes.

“Are you comfortable? Are you okay? We had to hide you so Maxen… so he doesn’t come back.”

GM: Celia’s mom tries to hug her at eye level at first, and run her hands along her daughter’s back. But she doesn’t resist, when Celia lowers her down. She softly cries into the vampire’s chest.

“I’m… m… sorry… I’m so… sorry…”

Celia: “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything.”

“Hush, Momma. None of this is your fault. None of it.”

GM: “Ohh… Celi… so glad… you’re… safe…. okay…” she croaks.

“I was… so… scared… what he’d… done… if he’d… you…”

Celia: “He didn’t get a chance. I’m safe. It’s going to be okay.”

“I have to call your doctor though, okay? Just one minute, Momma. I’ll stay right here with you.” She pulls the new phone out of her pocket and calls Pete.

GM: Celia’s mom sniffs more apologies into her chest. The phone picks up after a couple rings. “Yes?”

Celia: “Hey, it’s me. Sorry to bother you. I, um. I need advice. About my mom. I’m here with her. She looks… I mean… is there enough? With the other? Can we fix this?”

GM: “There’s plenty,” Pete repeats. “But from what I hear, this isn’t your mom’s first time in the hospital.” He pauses for a moment, then says, “Better you don’t go down that road. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”

Celia: “You think just the one time would be… bad?”

GM: “How would you explain it?”

“There is no explaining it.”

Celia: “I know.” She’s quiet a moment. “Thanks. That’s why I called you. I figured you wouldn’t steer me wrong.”

GM: “Do what any human would do.”

With that farewell, Pete hangs up.

Celia: A human would fix it and say fuck the consequences, Celia thinks. Or at least she would have. She puts the phone back in her pocket and rubs her hand along her mother’s back.

“How’re you feeling? Can I get you anything?”

GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t try to raise her arms. She runs her hands along her daughter’s waist.

“I’m so… so glad… you’re… okay… sweetie… you’re o… kay…”

“I prayed… I prayed…”

Celia: She doesn’t know what to do. There really is no way to explain a sudden healing. Pete’s right. If she does it once she’s going to have to keep doing it, and then where does that leave her? With a mother that’s a ghoul. A mother that’s less than, inferior. All her life she’s been told she’s less than, first by her mother and then by her husband; Celia won’t be the one to give her a lifetime of that, a lifetime of servitude.

She’s grateful for the chat that she and Mélissaire had on the way here, that the ghoul laid things out for her. Without that she might have ignored Pete’s advice and done it anyway.

Now, though, she just holds her mother close. She won’t have her forever, she knows, so she won’t squander the time she does get.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

Celia: Celia thanks Mélissaire for her very candid chat on the status of ghouls within Kindred society. She says that she was thinking of doing it to fix her mom, but that she isn’t sure her mother would be able to handle being seen as “inferior” when she’s been hearing it all her life, and Celia doesn’t want to be the one to make that decision for her.

GM: “That sounds to me like she might be able to handle it entirely too well,” Mélissaire remarks. “But you’re very welcome, ma’am.”

Celia: Celia tucks that away for further consideration.

Once she’s back in the car she dials Stephen’s number from memory.

GM: More than a few rings go up at the late hour before the phone is finally answered.

“Hi, this is Stephen,” her boyfriend greets the new phone’s number in a sleepy-sounding voice.

Celia: What do you say to your mortal boyfriend after you die? She should have thought this out.

“Stephen. Hi. It’s Celia.”

GM: “Celia! Oh my god!” Stephen exclaims, instantly fully awake.

“Where are you!?”

Celia: “I’m… safe. In hiding. I had to get a new number. A new phone.” She takes a breath she doesn’t need. “Mom told me… you were at the hospital. With her.”

GM: “Yes, I was. Celia, what happened?”

“I’ve been trying to find you!”

Celia: “I had to disappear. Until everything settles down. I finally got ahold of a phone to call you.”

GM: “Where are you?”

Celia: Celia looks at Mélissaire. She raises an eyebrow, points at her phone.

GM: The ghoul shakes her head.

Celia: Her face falls.

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry. I’m safe. That’s all I can say. And… I need you to be safe, too. In case he comes after you. Is there somewhere you can go? A hotel? My grandmother’s house? I heard what you did. With the kids. That was really good of you.”

GM: “I’m not scared of your dad, Celia. He’s small potatoes next to the Mafia. But what’s going on? What happened, with your mom and dad?”

“With you?”

Celia: She tells him. She tells him how she made the decision to leave her mom’s place to take care of Emily, how her dad came back and kidnapped her mom once they were gone. The things he did to her. She doesn’t mention the toes, or the vampires, or her own fucked up sense of justice she bestowed. Nor does she mention her death at Donovan’s hands. Just that she went in and got her mom out. She implies she had a weapon, but not what it was.

She turns it back around on him, though.

“You disappeared last night. From the dorm. I thought your stalker finally got to you, and you were really out of it. Are you okay?”

GM: Stephen listens raptly the entire time, sometimes interjecting with questions, but mostly waiting until Celia is finished. She’s perhaps chosen well to forestall him, though, when she hears his frown.

“I… I’m a little out of it. Just came down with something. From stress, maybe.”

“But, Celia, look. Why don’t you come to my dad’s house?”

“It’s secure. I’ll stay there with you.”

“Your dad would have to be insane to try anything on us there.”

Celia: “Your dad’s house?” Celia echoes, looking again at Mélissaire.

GM: “And even if he is, there’s private security and my family has guns.”

Mélissaire shakes her head again.

“You’ll be safe there,” Stephen repeats.

Celia: “I… I can’t tonight. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, I’m sorry. I want to be with you right now. I really do. It’s more than just my dad, Stephen. There’s a whole… thing, a whole thing with…”

She looks out the window. She can’t tell him. She hates that she can’t tell him. This is the end of their relationship, she knows it, deep in her gut. She can’t keep up appearances. She loves him now, sure, but she just spent time with Veronica, she just fucked Em, she would have given herself to Donovan if he’d just asked. She did give herself to Donovan, only he didn’t take her, not the way she wanted him to. That’s not love. That’s her looking for whatever affection she can find. He’s too good for her.

“I can’t,” she says again.

GM: “Celia, are you hiding in a hotel somewhere? Your dad can hire an investigator, or do the legwork himself, if he really wanted to. Follow the paper trail.”

“But what thing? What are you talking about?”

Celia: “It’s not a hotel. I’m not in the city right now. I had to leave. I’ll be back, just not… not right now.”

GM: “What’s going on?” her boyfriend repeats. There’s an edge of fear to his voice. “Your dad will be in jail soon, at this rate. You don’t need to run. My family can keep you safe.”

“Or your grandma, if you’d feel safer with her. She also has guns if your dad is lunatic enough to try something on a judge.”

Celia: “As soon as he’s in jail, Stephen. As soon as he’s dealt with. I’ll tell you everything, okay? I’ve been—I can’t tell you over the phone. But there’s a reason for everything, I promise. Please, Stephen, please trust me.”

GM: “He’s…” Stephen seems to fumble for words, then says, “how are you even going to know he’s in jail, anyway, if you’re not in the city and it’s not in the news?”

Celia: “I have someone who can tell me. That’s literally all I can say. Do you think I like doing this to you? Do you think I like being vague and not being able to tell you? I hate it. I hate that I can’t just be with you, that I can’t let you put your arms around me and keep me safe because that’s all I want right now, I just want to be near you and I can’t and I’m sorry, okay, I’m really, really sorry that this has to be like it is, but please, please, know that I’m thinking about you, that I love you, that as soon as everything is over I will come to you, okay?”

GM: “I…” Stephen sighs. “I guess there’s nothing I can do about it either way, is there?”

“I hope you’re making the right decision, Celia.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again.

There isn’t a choice, but she doesn’t tell him that.

GM: “I really hope you are. I want to put my arms around you too, so you can feel safe and we can watch Batman movies and bang in public and just do normal college things, without this giant shadow of your dad just looming over everything. He’s finished after this, Celia. Okay? You’re going to come back and he’s going to prison.”

“I love you too. Call me again today, okay?”

Celia: “Tomorrow night,” she promises, and some part of her that wasn’t already dead dies inside at his words, because she knows it will never be the same. She knows she won’t be able to love him like he deserves, and they won’t be able to watch Batman movies, and she can’t bang him in public and do normal college things because she’s already dead. She’s dead. And she was stolen from him, from Veronica, from her mom, from her family. She was stolen from her life and she hates him for it, she hates him, he didn’t have to do this, all he had to do was keep her dad from being a piece of shit and he killed her instead, he didn’t even stick around, she could have burned in the water and he wouldn’t have cared because he’s a giant piece of shit and she hates him, she hates him, she hates him, she just wants her fucking life back.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, PM

GM: The next night, Mélissaire says that Ginger says that Emily wants to see her. She’s specifically threatened to “tell your mom” if Celia doesn’t see her.

“We have people who can disabuse her of that idea, if you’d like,” the ghoul airily remarks.

Celia: “She say what she wanted?”

GM: “The blood doll only said she wanted to speak with you.”

Celia: “No. This needs to happen. I’ll talk to her.”

GM: A short drive later, they’re there at the hotel again. Emily’s still in bed. She looks terrible too, just in a different way than Celia’s mom. Her tan complexion isn’t much more colorful than a sheet.

“How could you do that,” she croaks.

Celia: “If you brought me here to yell at me,” Celia remarks, “don’t bother. You’re not very fierce in a bed.”

GM: “How could you do that,” she just repeats.

“She’s. She’s your mom.”

Celia: “Your scholarship is safe. I took care of it. I wasn’t choosing my money over my mother. I was choosing your future comfort over her. I was choosing you. Again. Which is what got me into this mess, because instead of staying with her the night she was kidnapped, I went to help you. And I’d never want to make you feel bad for it, so you don’t get to make me feel bad for this.”

GM: Emily just stares at that for a moment.

Then she starts crying.

Celia: Celia stares down at her, the words she’d been about to spit dying on her lips. She sinks onto the bed with her friend and former roommate, pulling the girl close.

“It’s okay. I fixed it. I fixed her. I’ll fix this.”

GM: Emily cries into Celia’s shoulder. “Why… why would you do that… why would you pick me…”

Celia: “Because you’re my friend,” Celia says to her, rubbing her back. “Because I care about you. Because I love you, Emmy. Because you’re my family too. I told you that. I told you. I would do whatever it took to get you through this. I didn’t think it would end up the way it did. And I hate that my mom got hurt. But you needed me, too, and I’m not going to throw my hands up and walk away when you need me.”

GM: Emily leans against Celia for a while. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t wanna hurt her. That’s, that’s the last thing I’d have wanted…”

Celia: “It’s not your fault, Emmy. It’s not your fault at all.”

GM: “What… what’d you mean, anyway, my future comfort?”

Celia: “I wanted us to get a place together. And to be able to take care of you, so you don’t have to work as much, so you can focus on school and becoming a doctor.”

“My daddy is good for one thing, Emily, and that’s his money. I’ve been saving for months.”

GM: “Oh.” Emily’s quiet a while. “Well… I guess no loss, anyway. I was, I’d still like, to move in with you and your mom. She probably needs help, with the kids and everything…”

Celia: “Probably.”

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with Maxen.”

“Stephen had my grandmother take the kids.”

GM: “I know. I was there, with Stephen. He said your dad’s finished, after this.”

“That domestic violence makes it basically impossible, to keep custody.”

“My… birth mom got into a DUI with me and that was it for us.”

Celia: “She was driving with you in the car?” She sounds incredulous. “What the fuck is wrong with people?”

GM: Emily just gives a hapless shrug against Celia’s shoulder.

“Wasn’t the first time. Didn’t mean to bring her up. Just that… some stuff is pretty much an auto-lose. So far as custody.”

Celia: “They buried it last time. But I think, with what we have now, he’s finished.”

GM: “And, the lawsuits. Stephen talked with me about those. How much money you and your mom could squeeze out of your dad, and the insurance company.”

Celia: “And she’ll be better off for it. Able to actually live again. You didn’t see it before, Em, when she was… living in squalor. It was bad.”

“She’s going to be happy, finally. They all are. No more living in fear.”

GM: “I’m glad. She, you, all deserve it.”

Celia: “So do you.”

GM: “I’m… thinking of dropping out.”

Celia: “What? Why?”

GM: “It’s just… it’s just been so hard.” Emily looks away. “There was that exam, I’ve missed even more class, I still feel like… crap, I’m in trouble at work, missing shifts, and just…”

Celia: “What would you do instead?”

GM: “Just… find another job, maybe. Save up…”

Celia: “For what? Like, what’s the end goal?”

“What’s your vision? If I had a magic wand and could wave it, what would you want in five years?”

GM: “Med school,” Emily says immediately. “I’d be in med school, becoming a doctor.”

Celia: “Then you don’t get to drop out.”

GM: “But it’s just… it’s like climbing a greased slide.”

“Maybe I should just take a while off, save up money, until things are… better.”

Celia: “Yeah. You’re right. It’s hard. It sucks. And it’s what you want.”

“So you don’t get to give up. There’s never going to be a good time in your life. To do this. To do anything. Nothing is ever going to properly align. The stars don’t do that. Fuck the stars. You want this? Then do it. Go for it. Work for it. And I will be there, every step of the way, and we will get you through it.”

“And if I have to push your ass up that greased slide then I will.”

“One semester. One semester where I cover your living expenses and you don’t work and you focus on school. And if you still want to drop, fine.”

GM: Emily’s face furrows. “How are you gonna do that, if you spent all your money…?”

Celia: “It’s a bit of a selling your soul to the devil bargain.”

She smiles, to show she isn’t serious.

GM: It seems to take a minute to kick in, like an internet page trying to load on a shitty connection.

“Oh,” Emily says with a somewhat weak-feeling smile. “You had me worried.”

“How, though? I don’t… want you to hit up your mom for money, to cover me…”

Celia: “I’m not. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got you covered.”

“Promise me, though. You’ll give it your all. No… frivolous whatever. No trying to work five jobs at a time.”

GM: “How?” Emily repeats. “That doesn’t make sense. You picked… me over your mom, because money, but then you were able to pay for her and now you’re saying you can pay for me. Where’s this money coming from?”

Celia: “I have good credit,” Celia tells her. “Just good credit.”

GM: “Good credit doesn’t cover that much,” Emily says dubiously. “Look… I want to believe you, that sounds wonderful. But it wasn’t on the table, what, yesterday? When your mom’s toes were on the line. What’s changed?”

Celia: “I didn’t have access to it yesterday. Just… trust me, okay?”

GM: “I’m scared to do that,” says Emily slowly. “I’m scared you’re going to make some other horrible decision and pick me over something else that you shouldn’t. I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want your mom to lose her feet, just because of me.”

Celia: “My mom isn’t going to lose her feet over you. I promise. It’s not so scary as that.”

GM: “Your brothers and sisters, your mom, Stephen, whatever. I don’t want anyone to get hurt for me so you can do this, okay? I’d rather just drop out and save up, than do that.”

Celia: “No one is going to get hurt.”

“I have a… okay, can I tell you something? You can’t tell anyone.”

GM: Emily nods. “I won’t. Promise.”

Celia: “Maxen’s dad isn’t really his dad. And I’ve been in contact with my grandfather. And he’s… he likes me.”

GM: Emily’s eyebrows raise. “Oh, wow. Your biological grandpa, you mean?”

Celia: “I guess so.”

“I was surprised, too.”

“But we met, and it went well, and he said if there’s anything he could do for me…”

“And this is something he can do for me.”

GM: “That’s… a lot of money, for me not to have to work.”

Celia: “It’s living expenses. You’d be living with me. It’s an extra meal or two.” Celia shrugs.

“It’s already happening, and now you’re just coming with me. And I have to let him know, but if you want the opportunity, then it’s yours.”

GM: Emily thinks. “Don’t we want to live with your family, though? Your mom’s probably going to really need the help, especially with her recovery. You don’t just bounce back from something like this. It can take months.”

She pauses.

“Oh. And there was…”

Celia: “What?” Celia prompts.

GM: “She had an STD test. The redhead, Ginger, said that she took one, and that she’s clean.”

Celia: “Oh thank God,” Celia breathes. “I thought you were going to tell me something terrible.”

GM: Emily gives a faint smile. “Can be good news too, right?”

Celia: “I’ll take all the good news you can give me. How’re you feeling, by the way?”

GM: “Like… crap still, to be honest.”

“Ginger’s been bringing me a lot of Vitamin D foods. Eggs.”

Celia: “That’s good of her. We’ll get you something for school, too. A note or… something.”

GM: “But, okay. If you’re up front with your grandpa, that he’s basically paying for me to concentrate on school…” Emily pauses. She looks less than entirely happy with the idea, but finally says, “I’m okay with that.”

Celia: “He’ll love you.”

GM: “I hope so. I don’t wanna be a mooch.”

Celia: “He’ll probably put you to work around the house a little,” Celia admits. “But not in a weird way. Not like you’re doing now.”

GM: “I’m okay with that,” Emily quickly says. “That’s why I want to help out, with your mom. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“I want to earn my keep. Whatever he wants.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to him, give him a heads up. You sit tight and get your strength back for now, okay? You look like a ghost, Emmy.” Celia laughs, kissing her cheek. “And keep Momma company. A day or two, then we’ll get everything settled.”

GM: Emily gives a rueful look at the ghost remark, but nods at Celia’s request. “I have been. We’ve been able to talk. She’s been out of it, a lot, but we’ve talked.”

He brow furrows again.

“She also said you were going to cos school, and that college was just to keep your dad from being upset?”

Celia: “Uhhhh… well. Yes. I’m almost done with it. Graduating soon. I guess with my dad out of the picture I don’t need to keep up the ruse.”

“For esthetics. Skincare. Makeup. Waxing. That kind of stuff.”

GM: “It… hurts a little you didn’t tell me, to be honest. I’d have been totally behind you.”

Celia: “Honestly, Em, I didn’t tell anyone. Couldn’t risk it getting back to my father. It had nothing to do with you. Mom spilled the beans to Stephen, too. We had a fight over it.” She sighs, pressing her fingers to the bridge of her nose. “Said something about meeting my psycho dad and I couldn’t even tell him about Cos school, and I just… all my life, you know, my dad just told me I’d never be good enough, and then I met Stephen and he’s on his way to law school, and I can barely stutter out that I’m a dance major…”

It feels nice to pretend to be a normal teenager again, even if it is a lie.

GM: “Your dad’s full of shit,” Emily says flatly. “You’re pushing me not to drop out, Stephen says you pushed your mom into fighting for child custody and the lawsuits… that’s insane you’d ever think you’re not good enough, when all I’ve seen you do is push people to be better.”

“And dance majors can be amazing people anyway, your mom is one.”

Celia: There is it again, the feeling she has that she might start crying again. She doesn’t deserve these people in her life.

“Thanks, Em. I think I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that he’s a piece of shit and full of shit.”

GM: “Pieces of shit can’t be full of anything except more shit.”

Celia: “You’re right,” Celia says, laughing.

GM: “But I’m glad he got you to go to Tulane, at least, or we wouldn’t have met.”

Celia: “Me too, Emmy. Me too.”

Monday night, 6 April 2009, PM

GM: Celia spends the next several nights between the Evergreen and the hotel. Mélissaire is able to procure a (fake) doctor’s note at Celia’s request with little issue.

“Although really, ma’am, if you just want your friend to do well in school… there are many ways to arrange that.”

Most of Celia’s nights are spent receiving further lessons from Mélissaire. Monsters have many, many rules they play by. Perhaps it helps them feel less like monsters.

Or just gives them extra ways to be.

Maybe both.

Savoy considers the amount of money for Celia’s friend to be a trivial request when she brings it up. Of course he’ll pay for Emily’s living expenses. He also advises that she move Emily and her family to the French Quarter. “They’ll be safer here, my dear. In case your father or Donovan ever comes after them.”

Celia: Celia is blown away by his generosity. She promises that she will make sure his investment is repaid in full, and she thanks him for both that and the advice to move to the French Quarter. She passes that along to her mother.

She also inquires as to what Mélissaire means in helping Emily do well in school.

GM: Savoy chuckles at Celia’s reaction. “Money is easy for us to come by, my dear. We’ll need to get you some more in your pockets!”

Mélissaire amusedly explains that Kindred powers can be exercised to simply make Emily’s professors give her higher grades. It really is quite trivial to push someone through the higher education system as a Kindred.

Celia’s mom, who’s still having difficulty talking, weakly says she’d prefer to live in the Garden District. It’s so pretty there, with all those old houses and gardens, and right by McGehee. She’d love to live in the Garden District again. But housing doesn’t appear to be an immediate topic on her mind. She wants to see her other kids. Emily said they were at her mom’s…?

There is also some bad news, Pete reports. Without the immediate threat of scandal, Maxen seems to have gone to his “friend in the shadows” for help with his family. He has regained custody of Celia’s brothers and sisters.

“I’m afraid your grandmother didn’t have a chance, once Kindred got involved,” he says grimly.

Celia: “When are we going to hear about Donovan?” That’s what prevented them from leaking the information about Maxen.

GM: “Tomorrow night. That’s when Madam Alsten-Pirrie has a meeting with the seneschal.”

Celia: “If it’s bad news, take him down. Just. Destroy him.”

GM: “I feel bad for your brothers and sisters. They’ve been bouncing between homes like ping-pong balls.”

Celia: “What do you think, then? That we should have leaked this earlier?” She wishes they had. Then this part would be over with. Her family would be settled.

GM: “I think it’s better to have waited. So much rides on what answer the seneschal gives.”

Celia: She’s grateful for that answer.

GM: The next night, she gets another one. Veronica delivers it at the Evergreen’s rooftop garden next to Savoy and Preston.

Her emerald eyes flash.

“He said yes,” she purrs.

“I should plan to release her in August. When the general Embrace moratorium is lifted.”

Celia: “That’s five months,” Celia points out. “What… what do I do until then?” She looks around at each of them. “Does Celia Flores have to die? Withdraw from school? When do we move against Donovan?”

For all that she had been looking for this answer, she hadn’t actually considered it would come back this way.

GM: “Donovan may move to kill her regardless,” Preston raises. “He dropped her into the Gulf of Mexico. Her presumed disappearance must eventually have an explanation.”

Celia: Celia isn’t quite sure what to say. There are too many questions, not enough answers. Finally, she asks, “do we confront him, then? I serve as bait, as discussed, and we go from there? Or… what’s the play?”

GM: “Tell us, my dear,” Savoy says invitingly. “Donovan is your sire, and this information is fairly politically damaging. What do you most want from him?”

Celia: “You know more about him than I do, Lord Savoy. You have a firmer handle on how his mind works, what he might have gained by this illicit Embrace… and also what he stands to lose.”

“Because I guess,” Celia says at length, “our question boils down to this: does he know what he did to me, or am I an accident? If the latter, is it of greater political gain to let him know now, or is he the kind of Kindred to best be surprised? The question then comes up, do we want Maxen as our own pawn, or do we want to destroy him now and just take him away from Donovan?”

She finally looks to her grandsire.

“What would best serve you, Lord Savoy? You have been playing this game much longer than I.”

GM: The French Quarter lord drums his fingers. “What do you think, Madam Alsten-Pirrie? The slow knife, or the quick one?”

The harpy’s green eyes smolder. “I want quick.”

“But slow will bite deepest.”

The three deliberate pros and cons back and forth. Saving this for a “more opportune moment” may be of greater benefit in the long term. Politics, like everything, is timing. But if they save this, and still don’t know how much Donovan plans for or knows about Celia, they are effectively ceding what happens to her mortal identity to him. He’ll likely have questions (to put it mildly) if she shows her face again.

If they want to sit on this, Celia will need to change her name and face by the time she enters Kindred society. There are ways doing both. But would she wish to?

The alternative is for them to confront the sheriff now and attempt to place him under thumb with blackmail.

Celia: Would Celia die, she asks, or just go away?

GM: Preston repeats that is effectively up to the sheriff, and whether or not he believes Celia is currently dead.

If he does, he will likely attempt to fabricate a story for her disappearance. There are ways, though, they could potentially influence whether he makes Celia die or go away.

Celia: What about Maxen, she wants to know. Are they going to move on this now?

GM: “We can move on him now or later. We can ruin him or try to suborn him. All independently of what becomes of the lovely Celia Flores,” says Savoy.

GM: “My only interest is ending his usefulness to Donovan. But he’s your father, my dear. He’s hurt you and your living family very badly. How would you like us to proceed?”

Celia: “Destroy him.”

“End his usefulness. Then, when Donovan has thrown him out with the trash, I’ll end him.”

Celia: “There are two of him,” she adds after a moment. “I saw them, the night I was Embraced. Two Maxens.”

GM: Veronica’s look of approval at Celia’s initial words is all-too evident.

“So end them both,” she sneers.

Celia: Her smile shows teeth.

“Fun for each of us.”

GM: “I don’t care about your kine daddy. Kill him twice yourself and have fun with it. Lilith knows I’d like to have done that to some people.”

Celia: “More for me, then.”

GM: “Curious,” remarks Preston. “Value may be found in ascertaining why, in fact, there are ‘two Maxens’ before seeking to end them.”

Celia: “Of course, Madam Preston. I’ll find out.”

Celia: Celia finally looks back to her grandsire.

“You asked, Lord Savoy, what I want with him. Answers. That’s what I want. I want to know why he did this. What he hoped to gain from Embracing me when he immediately abandoned me. But a fledgling’s curiosity isn’t worth tipping our hand, is it? So unless you’d prefer a meeting with your childe now, Celia Flores can disappear.”

GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard.

“It’s mainly your safety that concerns me, my dear. If Donovan knows that we know about your Embrace, what’s he going to do? He’s not in any realistic position to silence us, so the most he can do is silence you and hope that will be enough. We could take proof of your existence—a vitae sample, a video recording, a tape with our voices on it—that clearly shows you’ve been Embraced. We could have it ready for some friends to covertly pass along to the prince at our leisure. He’d be in trouble with the prince whether he destroys you or not. Proof of your existence can remain safely under lock and key, beyond his reach.”

“So, we might tip our hand.” The French Quarter lord smiles. “Sometimes that truly doesn’t matter. A fledgling’s curiosity may not be be worth a great deal to me—but a grandchilde’s more than is.”

He stares at Celia somberly and rests his hand upon hers.

“If you want answers from your sire, my dear, we will help you get them.”

Celia: “It’s… silly, I think, to cling to my kine family. To be angry that he let my father destroy them. To want vengeance for my mother’s suffering. And yet that is what calls to me. I think, in time, these instincts will die. Soon I won’t care about my mother, my father, my siblings. But always I’ll wonder: why? Why did he pick me, why did he Embrace me? Was it a whim? A hope that I’d perish in the Gulf, burnt by the sun? A vague plan to come back for me, only you got to me first?”

Her hand shifts, fingers closing around his.

“I just want to know, Lord Savoy. I am yours, I feel that in my heart, but I just… want to know.”

GM: “Your heart aches, Celia,” Savoy says softly, patting the top of her hand with his other one.

“But if you’ve entrusted it to my keeping, we’ll just have soothe it.”

Tuesday night, 7 April 2009, AM

Celia: They said that she couldn’t see Em. That if she used his house she’d need to make sure the mortal was well in hand, out of the way. He hadn’t been back since that night, since the night she had woken him up by sitting on his lap, naked, and promised more of it in the future. He’d told her, after she explained the deal she’d made to him without using the word “fang” or “vampire,” that she could come back to him. That he would keep her human, keep her sane, keep her from losing her mind. Some part of her will always treasure that memory, his offer. And some part of her will know that he did not have a choice, that he was caught up in the same feelings of ecstasy and bliss that had ensnared her when Veronica and Pietro had offered the same thing.

It is different now, to be here without him. The house looks the same as last time she was here. Her leggings are discarded in one corner. She is sure that Em has not been back. Better for him this way, to heed her warning to lay low. Better that he not get caught up in any of this. Better that he is safe. He has paid the price already for knowing her, though perhaps he does not realize it.

They had prepared well. Taken the samples that Savoy said they needed, taken recordings, gotten proof that she exists. Proof that will take down Donovan if he moves against her. Even so, she wishes for the speed, the strength, the durability that she had before. She wishes that Veronica had seen fit to bestow it upon her again.

I’m fast, she’d told the detective that night.

Not fast enough.

She hadn’t been. Not then, and certainly not now. Now she feels more breakable than ever, for all that she is immortal. Mélissaire had told her exactly what would kill her, and despite the fact that Savoy’s agents are two seconds away, she knows that Donovan can end her and be gone in the time it takes them to show.

She came into the house alone, in view of every agent that Savoy and Donovan and whoever else had watching the place. She’d been concealed from head to toe, all the better to hide her identity, and only once inside the living room does she pull the extras from her body. She is left in a dress that can only be described as “wispy.” Somewhere between blush and gray chiffon, it fits her through the waist and billows out around her with every step and stray puff of air. It, along with her makeup, makes her look young. Alive. Innocent, if such a word could ever describe the Beast that lurks inside of her. Heels give her extra height, but for all the care that she took with her outfit she still feels naked. Exposed.

She stands in the center of the room and waits.

GM: Celia stands in Em’s living room for a while. Her feet don’t get sore. The heels change her gait, but there’s no discomfort or impetus to sit down or shift her weight from foot to foot. Just another inconvenience of not being a walking corpse that’s gone, like eating and sleeping and shitting.

She stands.

She waits.

Celia: She is patient. She can wait. All the time in the world, Savoy said.

GM: She waits.

She waits.

She waits.

Then, sensation around her waist. Emptiness beneath her feet. Air rushing past her. Then solid ground, again. She’s gone from Em’s apartment. She’s on the roof of a skyscraper, hundreds and hundreds of feet up. Distant sounds of traffic echo from below. Wind blows through her hair and rustles the hem of her flimsy dress. It’s cool out, this high up, at this hour of night, but there are no goosebumps along her skin. The kine below look like no more than ants, little bright dots inching about their lighted, tunnel-like streets. She feels a world apart from it all.

They feel a world apart from it all.

He’s standing across from her.


He isn’t tall. But he’s dark. So dark. His black clothes and black hair seem to blend seamlessly into the night air, leaving his bone-pale hands and face floating in the gloom like a ghost. There is no makeup to disguise his pallor, to paint any semblance of life over this corpse. Celia stands out from the darkness in her pale garment, but he is one with it.

Beauty and beast?

No. They are both monsters. Her predatory senses see into the gloom, this time, can trace the outline of his form. Neither of them have a heartbeat audible to her so-sensitive ears. That new part of her, that dark and snarling impulse to do nothing but fuck and kill, appraises him silently, sizing up the rival predator. She feels it unsheath the too-long, too-sharp canines in her mouth.

No. She merely hides her monstrosity. He does not.

She is beautiful. A beautiful beast.

He is a beast, but beautiful too, in his own way. Veronica is an ebon sculpted goddess, oozing sensuality. Savoy a smiling rake, all casually debonair confidence. She supposes he is like his sire, in that he is handsome, enough. But no one would ever call him handsome. Not if they had stared into his eyes, for what they saw would make them flinch away as their skin crawled, and yet… perhaps they would desire him, too, as she does. Power is the greatest aphrodisiac. And he is power. He is the dark man, at once terrible and captivating, yet distant and unreachable, who might pluck her from a place she had thought herself safe and deposit her here, naked and vulnerable to the night’s tender mercies, without a flicker ever crossing his icy visage. She heard her father once say that the more power a man has, the less he need speak or gesture. His actions say all there is to say.

Perhaps he is like her father. Perhaps he makes her want his approval, even when he treats her like shit. Because he treated her like shit. Left her to die in the Gulf of Mexico. Because he is good enough to. Because she isn’t good enough for him not to.

But maybe she could be. Maybe, just maybe. If she pleases him. If she reaches him. If she touches that stone he has for a heart. She has, hasn’t she, on some level?

She is his childe.

He is her sire.

Surely that means something.


Celia’s sire says nothing. He only stares with those dead and stormy eyes she knows better than to gaze too deeply into.

Celia: She should have known.

Safety is nothing but an illusion. He snatches it away as easily as he snatches everything else. As casually as the cat takes the head off of the mouse caught in its trap. Only he does not need a trap. He is the trap, the bait, the cat. The idea of him, this dark god, whose face she has seen since childhood, whose voice haunts her dreams, whose whisper sends shivers down her spine. He is the bait, and she is caught, pinned, as helplessly as any fly in a web.

This time there is no heartbeat to give her away. It does not skip, it does not pitter-patter against her ribcage, it does not leap to see him. Her breathing does not catch. What does a dead girl need with such human frivolities?

For a long moment she is silent. She wonders if he plans to drop her from here, too. If her body will be mangled beyond all repair when it hits the ground.

If she leaps, will he catch her?

The thought is too dangerous to dwell on.

Her dress dances in the wind, graceful as any ballerina. She does not shiver. She does not notice. His eyes are on him, locked, unwavering. She has seen inside of him and refused to turn away.

Surely that means something.

His name, at last, leaves her lips. An echo of last time. A whisper, a question, a promise.


GM: Her sire stares back at her, his storm-tossed eyes so close, so intent.

There is only silence.

Silence why he did this.

Silence why he has taken her here.

Silence so like her father’s, when he was in one of his “moods.”

Silence but for the whisper of the wind.

Celia: Does he even know her name?

Does he know what he did to her? What he took from her? The life she’d had before all of this, stolen? Even before he’d dropped her, before he’d murdered her, he had stolen her life. Kept her in the house with a monster. Told her that everything was okay, that she was imagining it, told her to give Daddy a kiss.

She’s not imagining this. She’s not imagining him. She’s not imagining what she saw in his head. She hadn’t breathed a word of it to anyone, that nightmare she witnessed, hadn’t tried to turn it against him to gain the upper hand. It’s theirs. His and hers. Theirs alone.

Doesn’t that mean anything to him?

It means everything to her.

Even now, wavering and tremulous, she wants to go to him. Wants the darkness to wrap her up, swallow her down. If she holds out her hand, will he take it?

“Why?” she finally asks, voice just a breath of air.

GM: He doesn’t answer.

Then he’s gone.

So is the ground beneath her feet. Strong arms encircle her thighs and the small of her back, holding her aloft. Her heeled feet dangle in the air as his mouth meets hers. It’s ice cold, yet insatiable and relentless, like swallowing a collapsing glacier.

Celia: Oh.

A thousand thoughts and one hurtle through her mind in the time that it takes her to feet to leave the ground. They halt as soon as his lips touch hers. Her mouth parts, her arms encircle him, her fingers curl around his shoulder and the back of his neck. There’s just him. All-encompassing. All-consuming.

His. She’s his. She has always been his.

please don’t let go.

GM: He lets go.

The ground slams against her back. Then he’s on top of her. His frigid hands are hard, relentless, and mercilessly strong as they squeeze, no, crush her breasts, but perhaps she wants to be crushed. To be utterly within another’s power, and know that he could crush her, drop her, at any time.

His mouth descends along her neck before his canines stab into her skin like ice picks. Nothing else matters.

The bliss comes over her like an orgasm in her neck, with all the sudden relief of a blast of winter air hours in the sauna. She feels like she’s soaring again, hurtling through the sky with him at a million miles an hour. On top of the world. Above the world. She feels her blood sing as it flows down his mouth. She is a part of him, in a way more intimate than any kine’s act of lovemaking. He has taken her life into himself. He has taken her into himself. He must care for her. Love her.

Nothing else matters.

Not even how much it feels like her father’s goodnight kiss in 2003.

Celia: The fall is shorter this time. There is no body of water waiting for her. Just cold steel. Colder hands. Frigid fangs sinking into her neck. Panic spirals through her. He could kill her. Kill her for real this time, not like before. There would be no coming back from this.

He could.

He won’t.

He can’t.

He could.

He’s stronger. Faster.

He knows it. She knows it.

Is that what he wants?

What does he want?

Me. Her. Us. We.


they deserve each other.

Red tears leak out of the corners of her eyes. She doesn’t want to die. She just wants him. She wants him, and she wants him to want her—

She’d be his, though.


That’s all she has time for before the bliss hits, the euphoria, the mind-numbing fog that takes her away from the rooftop and his hands and his lips at her neck. She makes a sound in the back of her throat, something like a mewl or a whimper or maybe even a moan, and her thighs rub together to assuage the ache before her knees bend, parting to either side of his waist.



Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XV
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XVII, Emmett IX

Previous, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XV
Next, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XVII, Emmett IX

Story Ten, Celia XV

“Every time I try to get it right, it goes wrong.”
Celia Flores

Date ?

GM: Bliss burns Celia’s lips.

It’s hot. Sweet. Rapturous. Mana. The same mana that Chase fed her, but sweeter still.

Celia hurts. She hurts everywhere. She is wantful. It soothes her. Satisfies her. Makes the pain go away. Leaves her shivering for more.

Celia: Everything hurts.


Her nerve endings are raw. She’s on fire. Burning. She has glass in her feet and she’s walking on them. There are knives in her belly, her back, her legs, her skull. She throbs. Every beat of her heart is another swing of the hammer.

Until it isn’t.

Until someone pours cool water on the wounds. Until the relief starts at her lips and slides into her mouth and down her throat, until it spreads to her hands and feet, toes and fingers, fingers she can finally wiggle, fingers she uses to clamp around the thing giving this life back to her so she can suck it down. Slurping, greedy sounds come from her mouth.

GM: Celia doesn’t know how long she sucks on that blissful, life-giving fount for. A second. A minute. An hour. A day. She knows only one thing:

It isn’t for long enough.

“Thirsty, aren’t we?” chuckles a male voice.

Her surroundings come into focus.

He’s a short, dark-haired man around Celia’s height who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: a wine-colored sports coat, dark purple dress shirt without a tie, black slacks, and anaconda scale wingtip loafers. A gold signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers.

“Though I can hardly blame you, my dear. You had quite a fall!” The mirth in his eyes gives way to concern, though, as he lays a hand on her shoulder. “Give yourself a little while before you move. How do you feel?”

Celia seems to be partly lying, partly propped up against the seat of a chaise lounge. The man is seated beside her.

Celia: It’s not enough. Never enough. The offering is pulled away from her before she can quench the craving. The taste lingers on her lips even after it’s pulled away; she licks them clean.

It isn’t fair.

She wants more.

She doesn’t recognize the voice, the room, the man. But she recognizes what he is, and her fingers curl into her thighs, nails digging into flesh. Her breath catches. Her body is still but her mind moves, jumping from conclusion to conclusion. But it’s like trying to untangle a knot in her hair and the more she tugs the tighter it gets, and in the end she’s left with nothing but questions.


He dropped her.

On purpose?

They’d been flying. Above the city. So high up. So cold. He’d bitten her, fed from her, touched her. Had he kissed her? His lips on hers after—

She’d seen things.

It doesn’t make sense.

She swallows, throat bobbing, and keeps herself still. What predators do you play dead with? Are they on that list? No, stupid, he scraped you off the ground. Or water. Had she been drowning? She moves her eyes to look down at her body and take stock.

GM: Her skin looks wrong. It’s all but blanched of color and looks tight over her bones. She can see individual purple veins. She’s dressed in a fluffy white bathrobe.

They’re also outdoors, on a rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Classical statues of cupids, dolphins, and capering nymphs are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a gray French marble jacuzzi sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.

Celia: What. The. Heck.

She stares down at herself. Her dress—hadn’t she been wearing a dress?—is gone. When had that happened? Whose bathrobe is she in? His? Did he touch her, did he..? She stops that train before it gets any momentum. Why does she look like death incarnate?

Where is she, even? Her eyes scan the rooftop, as if looking for a human sized indentation that will make sense of this.

Had he asked her something? How do you feel, was that it? She should laugh. She wants to. The sound catches in her throat, comes out as a wheezing gasp. She doesn’t like it. Is she broken? She wiggles her toes at herself. No pain.

Just questions.

Lots and lots of questions.

Like if this is real, some magnanimous vision of Hell, and he her jailer. Do they have butterflies in Hell?

She tries to ask. Who, what, where, when. It comes out as a “whu” before the sound dies. She moves, against his recommendation, to touch a finger to his hand. He’s real. This is real. She swallows again, wets her lips with her tongue.

“Hi.” It’s a shy, uncertain greeting.

GM: Her toes moves at her effort. They’re also pale, purple-veined things that look just as awful as her arm. Her mouth is dry, so dry she doesn’t even feel moisture on her lips, though she isn’t thirsty.

Not after what she just drank.

“Hello.” The man faintly chuckles back. “Things might be a little blurry for you, still. Might be you don’t feel like doing too much talking right now. I can try to answer some of the questions you must have, if you’d like.”

Celia: There’s too many questions to know where to begin. What happened. Where are they. When are they. Who is he. Where is he, the other one, the one who did this. What happened to her mom, her sister, her dad, Em, Emil, Emily, Stephen…

“Did I die?” Did he kill me? Are you the devil, and this your den of hedonism?

GM: The man looks at Celia somberly.

“I’m not sure how much you remember, my dear, but you were dropped quite a ways. No one could survive a fall from that height. And I’m afraid you didn’t.”

“But this isn’t the afterlife, if you’re wondering. Or a dream. You died, but you’re a vampire now. Kindred.”

The man opens his mouth, showing two sharp fangs.

“Like me.”

Celia: She can’t breathe. She sucks down air and it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t get rid of the rushing in her ears, the pounding in her head, the knot in her stomach that twists.


She’s dead.


Is that worse than death? Better?

“…killed me.” He killed her. He killed her. He killed her. She is dead and he killed her, he took her and he dropped her and she died.

Breathe. Em’s voice in her head, telling her to breathe, quelling the panic before it comes. She tries. She does. But she’s dead. Do dead people need air? She giggles, hysterical.

It takes her a moment to calm down enough to say, “can you tell me… what happened?”

GM: The man—vampire—regards Celia with that same steady, patiently somber look, but he doesn’t say anything until she asks him.

“You were turned into what you are by Donovan. He’s the Kindred who dropped you into the Gulf of Mexico. I’m still not completely sure what his reasons were.”

“My people found you and brought you back here. You’re in the French Quarter, at a club called the Evergreen Plantation.”

She’s heard of it. It’s a posh jazz club frequented by assorted rich people and society figures.

“My name is Antoine Savoy. I’m the Kindred who turned Donovan into what he is, which makes you my Kindred granddaughter—our term for that is grandchilde.”

“I’m sure all of this must be overwhelming for you. I’m sure you’re scared and confused, for yourself and your loved ones. I’m sure you have more questions than you can even think to ask right now.”

Antoine Savoy lays a hand on Celia’s shoulder. His skin is pinker than hers, less pale. Less dead.

His gaze is steady. Patient. Understanding. Even pained, for her. But resolved.

“But you are my Blood, Celia. I’ll help you however I can.”

Celia: Donovan.

The monster under her bed. The darkness in the hallway. The arms around her from behind, the gun in her hand, the goodnight kiss. He did this to her. Turned her. Dropped her. Killed her. Why? But he’d already said he didn’t know. Did he think the water wouldn’t kill her? That she’d drown? Did he mean to, or was it an accident?

Is he going to come back to finish her off?

Her nostrils flare. She breathes deep, hard, through her nose. It doesn’t do anything to stop her thoughts from spiraling. Too many questions, he’s right, she can’t even finish thinking of one before another jumps into her head. She doesn’t know what to ask first.

“… hates me. Him. Donovan. Broke his toy.” She pulls her knees up to her chest, wraps her arms around them. She wants her mom. She wants Stephen. Or Em. Or Emily. Or someone to put their arms around her.

She’s a thing now. A monster. Vampire. Her tongue runs across her teeth, as if searching her mouth for fangs.

GM: Her tongue brushes against two sharp points.

Breathing doesn’t feel like it used to, either. Air goes in and out of her lungs, but she doesn’t actually feel any different. Any calmer, any more rejuvenated, even as she realizes the distinct nature of the physical sensation. Quite distinct, in fact. Was she even breathing earlier?

But someone does put their arms around her.

Savoy wraps Celia in his embrace, arms around her shoulders. He smells very nice, up close. It’s a smooth and sensual woody-aromatic scent with that opens with citrus and has notes of incense, vetiver, mint, cedar, and amber. The esthetician-in-training thinks she recognizes it as a French brand, Bleu de Chanel.

“You’re not broken, Celia,” Savoy says as he holds her. The words aren’t softly murmured. They’re strong and sure.

“You’re beautiful. Your name means ‘of heaven’, doesn’t it? That’s where you’re from. You received my Blood in the heavens, fell to earth like a star, and rose from the sea like a dark Aphrodite. Strong. Clever. Ravishing. Radiant. And now, immortal.”

His smile eclipses the moon’s own radiance.

“Death itself could not possess you, my dear. Heaven help whoever thinks they can!”

Celia: Her name doesn’t mean of Heaven. If it does, her parents chose it poorly. She isn’t of Heaven. She is of Hell. She has done sick, twisted, terrible things. To her family. To her sister. She cast them all aside in her need for vengeance, let herself get caught up in the moment, took out all of her anger on the wrong target. She’ll have to go back. Fix it. Destroy the right thing. Set the entire house aflame and watch him burn, and maybe then she’ll fill this empty, aching hole inside of her.

But she leans into him, because he’s there, because he’s kind, because on some level she recognizes that he—his people—saved her from drowning in the Gulf. Or would she have saved herself, had no one pulled her out?

I’m fast, she told the detective.

Not fast enough.

Not then, but maybe now. Immortal. It has a nice ring to it, even if it comes with fangs.

“What happens now?” she asks him.

GM: “What do you want to see happen, my dear?” he asks, smooth hands rubbing along her shoulder.

Celia: Donovan dead.

Maxen destroyed.

My mother whole and happy.

“How long?” she asks him. “How long does this… how long am I like this? You said immortal. Is that true? Forever? There’s no… end?” She’s thinking of Donovan when she asks. His cold hands, hard eyes, unsmiling face. He’s not a man. He’s a mask. A nightmare.

But even nightmares have an end.

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Let’s just say there are Kindred in this city who telephones are still new for, and even a few who might’ve once thought the earth was flat.”

Or do they?

Celia: “Why would he do this to me? Why would he… why?” Her tongue touches the points of her newfound fangs. Do they go away? Are they always there? How does it all work?

“I’m not… he… he has my dad. In a… mind twisty thing.” She’d done it too. To Em, to her dad. Is she supposed to tell him that? Tell him about— “the woman.”

Oh. Oh no. Devil’s bargain. Is this what she’d meant? Is this what Pete meant?

Pete. The meeting. The tapes.


She stiffens, sitting upright.

“What—” day? “—time is it?”

GM: Savoy frowns. “I’m truthfully not sure, my dear. He’s Embraced once before—that’s our term for creating another Kindred—but he didn’t abandon her like he did you. My people are still looking into that.”

Celia: It’s funny. It is. It has to be. She can’t help but laugh, because that’s all she has now.

Abandoned. Rejected. By her dad. By him.

GM: The other vampire chuckles. “I suppose there’s worse ways to take it.”

“To answer your other question, it’s a little after midnight.”

Celia: Midnight. She’d missed the meeting. Part of her wants to curl into a ball and cry herself out, because now she’s trusting that Em got the letter to him, and what if he runs into trouble? And part of her is relieved, because she doesn’t think that she can deal with anything else tonight. She should call, though.

Only her phone isn’t here, is it, it’s… somewhere. Not here. Somewhere that isn’t here.

Which means she can let it go. Focus on this. Breathe, even though it’s useless.

She’s dead. She’s a vampire. Kindred. She has fangs. Donovan killed her.

Her mind keeps circling back to that. Donovan killed her. He turned her into this. Embrace. Embraced her. Is that what the flying thing was? And, what, she isn’t good enough now? He hadn’t meant to? Got caught up in the moment and then dropped her because—

the only one who can love her

the only one who can love him

they deserve each other


She should find him. Ask. Ask what’s wrong with her. Ask why he did this to her. Ask what he wants, what he wanted, why he’s… why he abandoned her. It shouldn’t sting as much as it does.

Daddy never loved me either.

“Someone told me,” she says at length, “that they… you… we? We.” That’s new. “That we…” it feels so silly to say out loud. This whole thing is ridiculous. She stammers over the words.

“How much did movies get right?” she finally asks, because she doesn’t think she can ask about drinking blood and nocturnal activity and flying with a straight face, and she doesn’t want to ask him about his… son. Childe.

Even though she does.

GM: There’s another chuckle from Savoy.

“The new ones always ask that, these nights. They get a few things wrong and a few things right…”

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM

Celia: There’s no manual for how to feel in this situation. No clear set of rules or guidelines that tell her emotions how to behave after death. By the time Savoy is done explaining things to her she has more questions, wants to know more details, asks for clarification on a few points.

Finally, she’s quiet. She thinks she gets it.

But she can’t get Donovan out of her head. It’s pathetic, really, how much she dwells on him. In the air, fangs piercing her neck, arms around her. Obsesses. Him, Chase, the woman. She tells herself her attention is evenly split, but she knows the lie for what it is. She tries to ignore it.

“How did you know? Me. My name. What… what happened. How did you know?” Sir? Mr. Savoy? Grandpa? She doesn’t know what to call him. She averts her gaze in lieu of a title, aware that there is some hierarchy she needs to familiarize herself with. “Did someone see?”

Celia: “Because if you knew that… do you know… my mom? If she’s okay? I took her… I took her to the hospital this morning.”

GM: Savoy answers some of Celia’s initial questions. However, it’s not overly long in before he declares that “Mélissaire can go over the basics with you” and summons a sultry-looking, full-lipped and caramel-skinned woman with long dark hair and bewitching honey-hued eyes. She’s dressed in a lavender top, pink skirt, and matching four-inch pink pumps. Celia can hear the other woman’s heart beating in her chest. Savoy says that she’s a “ghoul.”

The woman takes Celia downstairs on an elevator to a luxuriously appointed sitting room where she answers the fledgling’s questions, including what a ghoul is and how to address her grandsire (“Lord Savoy, though I’m sure he’ll insist on Antoine soon for a scrumptious thing like you,” the ghoul purrs). Celia gets the impression that her grandsire’s time is valuable and not to be spent lightly. She is also given real clothes. The ghoul calls people to pick up whatever Celia feels like wearing.

Celia: Celia sees the dismissal for what it is.

Asked too many questions. Demanded too many answers.


She asks the ghoul about what she’s supposed to do now. If her nights are spoken for, or if she’s free to come and go. She’ll need a place of her own, she realizes, she can’t go back to the dorms. Or her mom’s house. Or anyone’s, really. She’s alone. She can’t tell anyone what she is, Savoy made that clear. So she asks about that too, while she dresses in the clothing brought for her, a simple skirt and blouse. They hang from her emaciated frame.

“I need a phone,” she says to Mélissaire.

GM: “Of course, ma’am. We’ll have one for you soon,” the ghoul answers as she leads Celia back to the elevator. “But, please… don’t think your grandsire would leave you out in the cold, just for having questions! You two have so much to talk about, still… important things, that any old half-blood like me couldn’t answer.”

Celia: Half-blood.

That’s what she was supposed to be, wasn’t it? What Pete said she was, what the woman did to her. Ghouled. Half-blood. Would her nights have been like this, spent serving other people? Fetching clothes and running errands and playing tutor?

Of course she would. Slave. Perhaps she should thank Donovan for keeping her from that.

“Important things,” Celia echoes, but she isn’t so sure. Her human grandmother had wanted to kill her in the womb; she doesn’t see why this one would be any different. Probably regrets fishing her out of the water.

Maybe that’s why Donovan tossed her in. He realized he’d made a mistake with her Embrace before she’d even woken up.

GM: That unspoken question, unlike Celia’s others, is left unanswered.

Mélissaire pushes the button to take them back up to the building’s open-air rooftop garden. Savoy is seated around a white iron table with a matching set of eight chairs that contently lounges at the center of the peristyle. He’s talking things over with a familiar face to Celia: Peter Lebeaux.

There’s also a third Kindred present, a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression and dirty blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative gray business jacket, matching skirt, white blouse, and black pumps. She’s staring into one of those new computers, but looks up as Celia approaches.

“Ah, and she reappears so like her namesake—a celestial light to brighten our humble gathering,” Savoy smiles. He rises at Celia’s entrance and bends theatrically to kiss her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. “Real clothes suit you better than a bathrobe, my dear, though part of me is pained to see you in ones so modest! We’ll have to get her in ones with a few more 0’s on the price tags, won’t we, Nat?” he chuckles.

“The clothes make the woman, sir,” the other Kindred agrees dispassionately.

Mélissaire pulls out Celia’s seat for her as the two sit down. The chairs are comfortable, despite being metal, and have red silk cushions lining the seats.

“Celia, this is Natasha Preston, my steward—she keeps track of all those little details I don’t have as much head for, and probably runs half the affairs in my parish. Lord knows where I’d be without her!”

“A pleasure, Miss Flores,” Preston offers in the same dispassionate tone.

“And of course you and Warden Lebeaux are already acquainted with one another.” Savoy’s humorous eyes seem to briefly soften. “He maintains my law throughout the Quarter, if Mélissaire didn’t mention that. A regent couldn’t ask for a more dedicated lawman.”

“Celia,” the Kindred detective nods.

Celia: There was a time in her life when Celia might have flushed over her grandsire’s actions, when his words might have set her cheeks ablaze and a flutter through her stomach. Now, though, she feels nothing. Less than nothing; she sees Pete and everything clicks into place, and she recognizes the honeyed trap for what it is.

Is she bait, then, or just the fly that got too close? Another pawn, anyway, something to move about the board with little regard. More games, more masks, more lies.

“Ms. Preston, good evening,” Celia infuses warmth into her voice, puts a smile on when she says it. She looks toward the detective. Her smile doesn’t fade, even though she burns with questions. “Warden Lebeaux.” She dips her chin in deferment, holds it for a second longer than he had, eyes down. Courtesy, always courtesy.

Celia crosses one leg over the other, returning her gaze and her attention to her grandsire. Lord Savoy. She doesn’t ask Pete what happened. She hopes that is what he’s here to discuss.

GM: “I’m sure you’re still full of questions, Celia,” Savoy says. “These two are here to help answer them and work out what happens next. You may speak freely, here. Nat and Pete know all my dirty laundry already.” He offers this statement with a wink.

Celia: As soon as she’s given permission the words tumble out.

“What happened?” Celia asks Pete. “Did he meet you? Did you get what you needed? Is it enough?” It has to be enough. She died for it. Literally died for it.

So much for poise.

GM: “He did,” Pete nods. “And we did. It is enough.”

“We had a lot already. This is even more fuel on the fire.”

Celia: “Then what’s next? What happens to him?”

GM: “We could ruin him,” Savoy states simply. “Is that what you want, my dear?”

He gives a faint chuckle. “My hunch would be yes. But given the significance of the question, I’d ask it all the same.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to ruin him. She wants to kill him. She wants to break his kneecaps. She wants to cut his hamstrings. She wants to rip him apart with her bare hands and ask how he feels while he’s bleeding out on the ground. She wants him to know that she won.

“Does that serve you? Ruining him? Taking away something from…” she doesn’t say his name. It’s implied. Already, though, she’s thinking of things that could go wrong.

GM: “Sheriff Donovan’s and Prince Vidal’s loss in this matter is Lord Savoy’s gain,” Preston states without inflection.

“There’s more ways than one to ruin someone, though,” says Pete.

Celia: “Is ruining him your best option, then, or is it enough to just take him away and turn him to your own cause?”

GM: “That’s another option,” muses Savoy. “But he lives smack-dab in the middle of your sire’s domain. We’d have to be subtle, if we were to turn him. It’s always possible he might be found out and killed or removed, or turned into a triple agent.”

Celia: “There’s a girl I know. We weren’t raised together, but her father, my father, they do the same things. Same side. She mentioned that they have people who… who bury this kind of stuff. Keep it from getting out. Entire teams of people. When he was arrested, no one knew. No one ran the story.”

They probably already know that. Pete said he could make sure it got out. That his boss would ensure the right people saw it. Of course they know this. Her lips purse. She ignores the voice in her head, the one that belongs to her father.

“What did you plan for him?”

“I mean if I didn’t…” she gestures vaguely to herself. Live. Die. Whatever.

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“That’s because no one was applying counter-leverage, my dear. It’s different this time around.”

“If you hadn’t been Embraced, we’d have likely removed or suborned your father. Whatever seemed most beneficial to us.”

“But you were Embraced.”

“That changes a few things.”

Celia: Is this really a choice, or is it a test? She can’t fathom that she is anything more than another tool now.

“I don’t understand,” she admits, “why it changes anything. It sounded as if you had a plan already, why would my Embrace change that? It’s just… hard to imagine that my feelings on the subject matter.”

GM: “You don’t think they should, my dear? And why ever not?” Savoy asks. There’s some amusement in tone, but only superficially. He truly sounds as if he is asking why they don’t matter in her eyes.

Celia: Because her own sire didn’t want her. Because someone else did, and he took her from that woman, and now she doesn’t know what to do about it, or if there’s anything to do, or if the woman will be mad, or if she’s just another pawn in this game and it feels, definitely, like she is, and she doesn’t know what to do or what to think or who to trust. Because she wants her mom.

Because she’s stupid.

She doesn’t say any of this. She just looks at him, trying to understand why.

Finally, she says, “Because there’s clearly a hierarchy here, and I’m at the bottom of it.” Isn’t she?

And that stings, because she wants to think that she’s important, and he clearly is trying to make her feel important, but the fact is that no one planned for this. It was happenstance. An accident. She’s just another bastard, only this time there is no “real dad” she can maybe work up the courage to find one day. She already knows what he thinks of her. It hurts more than she wants it to. More than she thinks that it should.

At least Maxen fought for her.

GM: “That may be true,” Savoy declares in a musing tone, as if the fact hadn’t occurred to him. “But you know what all hierarchies, everywhere, have in common?”

“They change.”

“You’ve shown yourself to be clever and resourceful. Enough that, according to Pete here, you got one of the harpies to lend you power. Enough that Donovan couldn’t prevent the truth of your father from still coming out.”

Celia: “I wanted to hurt him. Because of what he did to me. And to my mom. To my whole family. But it wasn’t him that did those things, was it? I’ve seen what’s possible for us. What we can do, what we can make other people do. And if it was him, if it was Donovan the whole time, then… he’s the one who should pay. Because my dad was nice, once. Before Donovan got to him. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe Donovan just unleashed whatever was already in there.”

She doesn’t know what they want to hear. But she knows what she wants, and it has little to do with her dad.

“I want my mom safe. I want him to never be able to hurt her again. I want her to get the kids, and the money, and just be happy. I want her feet and legs to work. I want her to forget all of this. I want Isabel to forget all of this. For them all to just… to just stop being afraid.”

When she says it out loud it all sounds so… small. Like she’s supposed to want more. Like she failed, somehow, by wanting to keep people safe.

She wants blood, but not Maxen’s. Pete had already told her once not to go after Donovan and she did. She doesn’t want to hear it again.

“So if by ruining one we hurt the other, then… yes.”

GM: “Then I think the two of us may have an understanding,” Celia’s grandsire smiles.

“Let’s start with the easiest fish to fry first. Pete, what can we can tell Celia about her family, at this point?”

“Your mom’s in the hospital,” Savoy’s warden responds. “ICU. Had surgery and likely to have more surgeries. She’s pretty out of it. Your friends have been there to keep her company.”

“They got her toes reattached.”

“But it’s a lot of surgeries. Right now she isn’t in any shape to take care of any kids.”

“Your boyfriend said he spoke to your grandmother. He got her to obtain emergency custody over your brothers and sisters.”

“I doubt your old man was too happy over that, but the evidence wasn’t in his favor and right now Donovan has bigger things to care about than whether his dog is barking.”

Celia: “My boyfriend said he spoke to my grandmother? When did you talk to him? In what capacity?” It shouldn’t concern her, but it does. She doesn’t want him mixed up in all of this. She’s realizing, for the first time, that she’s going to have to deal with him. Unless they all think she’s dead.

“Hold on. Was the information on my dad already leaked?” Why pretend she had a choice, then? “What day is it? How long was I..?”

GM: “I spoke to your boyfriend earlier tonight,” Pete answers. “If this wasn’t already explained to you, we’re out of commission during the day. It was pretty close to dawn when Donovan dropped you. We hadn’t yet leaked anything. Your grandmother sought custody during the day, under her own initiative. So far, nothing’s hit the papers.”

“I spoke to her and your boyfriend in non-official capacity to better understand the lay of the land. I’m on homicide. So far, no bodies.”

Celia: “Homicide? Do they think I’m… dead? Did you tell them I was dead?”

What is she supposed to do if her whole family thinks she’s dead?

GM: “Non-official capacity,” he repeats. “They don’t know what’s happened to you, but they’re all wondering. I helped them file the missing persons report and said I’d look into things. They think your father might have kidnapped you.”

Celia: Oh. Stupid.

GM: “That question does need to be resolved soon, one way or another, for the Masquerade.”

Celia: “Right.” Masquerade. That had been briefly touched on. She nods. “You said before that Donovan wouldn’t want his dog barking. What’s the bigger things he’s worried about, then?”

GM: “Media scandals and the viability of your father’s political future,” Preston states.

She doesn’t say stupid.

Celia: Celia hates her.

“So if they think my dad kidnapped me, where is he? Missing?”

GM: Pete shakes his head. “He hasn’t gone anywhere. He and your grandmother had a little tiff, in fact. She threatened to go to the media and drag his name through the mud if he didn’t back down over the kids.”

“She doesn’t expect that it’s going to keep him away long-term. He wants them back.”

Celia: “Thank you. For telling me, and answering my questions. All of you. Thank you.” She looks down, smooths her skirt over her lap. “I know you have other things to be worried about, bigger pictures to see to.”

She pauses. She’s out of her element here. Clever, Savoy called her, but she doesn’t feel clever, she feels… lost. Uncertain. Like no matter which move she makes it’s the wrong one.

She’s tired of being uncertain. She’s not a little kid anymore.

“Lord Savoy, I’d like to move ahead. With your plan. With what you wanted to do, the way you want to play this. You’re right.” She closes her eyes for a brief moment, opens them again to find his face. “Thank you for giving me time to process.”

GM: She finds it there and smiling contently. “Think nothing of it, my dear. If there’s one thing we have as Kindred, it’s all the time in the world.”

“There’s another thing, sir,” Pete speaks up.

Savoy motions for him to proceed.

“I wouldn’t put it past him to kill your mother,” the Kindred cop says, turning back to Celia. “Lots of people die in hospitals. Deaths aren’t investigated as closely. He knows she’s sought and even obtained temporary custody of his kids. If you stay missing and your mom kicks it, this whole scandal and custody case dies—or so he probably figures.”

“I’ve had some cops I know, former ones or just off-duty, stick around your mom’s room in case there’s trouble. But I don’t think your old man is likely to make any himself, at least initially. This is the sort of thing people in his position prefer to go to their friends in the shadows over.”

Celia: Her mom. Her mom is in trouble because of her. She could have had a happy, quiet life if Celia hadn’t pushed for her to do something more, if Celia hadn’t made her go after custody and child support and back pay and everything else. Instinct tells her to run. To find her mom, get her to safety. She fights against it; that’s what got her into this in the first place. And if she runs, then her grandmother is a target, or Stephen, or Emily. Anyone connected to her.

“Then we keep him busy, right? Donovan. We keep him busy for the time that it takes to bury Maxen, and then if Maxen is no longer useful Donovan doesn’t have a reason to go after my mom. Right?” It sounds too easy.

She should have just killed Maxen. Maybe it isn’t too late for that. Her nails scratch against her thighs. She’s a little kid at the adult table; she wants someone to tell her what to do, but she’s afraid to ask, afraid that he’ll take back what he said about her being clever if she asks. And if he thinks she’s stupid, and Donovan thinks she’s stupid, and her dad thinks she’s stupid, then there’s… no one.

“Can we move her? Is that possible?” Private facilities or something, someone has to have something, someone has to know of a place.

GM: “If Donovan doesn’t go after your mom, your father could still well do so himself,” Pete fills in, but looks to Savoy.

The French Quarter lord looks to Preston.

“How about that, Nat?”

“The French Quarter lacks advanced medical facilities. We could arrange for doctors to periodically visit a private room. If Miss Flores’ mother requires repeated advanced surgeries, however, poorer health outcomes are likely to result. Several alternatives could include relocating her to another hospital under a pseudonym, killing Miss Flores’ father to remove the potential danger he poses, or ghouling Miss Flores’ mother to eliminate the need for further surgeries.”

Celia: It just brings up more questions. She looks back to Lord Savoy once Preston is done laying out the options.

“For all the time that you said we have, I can’t help but feel a noose tightening around my neck.” Her smile is pained and brief. She continues in a smaller voice. “She’s my family. Like you are now.” Is that too familiar?

GM: The elder Toreador only smiles. Celia does not seem to have been.

Celia: She hesitates, then presses on. “I’d do anything for my family.”

Even if it means killing her dad.

Or going up against Donovan again. Round two.


Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM

Celia: It doesn’t take long for them to hash out a plan regarding her mother and Maxen. Savoy, Preston, and Pete tell her that they’ll take care of the footage she obtained—with a verbal pat on the head for getting it in the first place—and Celia is left to handle the relocation of her mother. They said it would be easier if she ghouls the woman first, but that just doesn’t sit right with Celia. She’s concerned someone will see Diana up and walking around with no visible injury signs, so even though it’s more of a hassle to find a place with a private, first floor entry that doesn’t scream ‘best place to hide from vampires,’ Celia gets it done.

She asks Pete if he’d mind flashing his badge around the hospital in case there’s resistance from the doctors to release her mom, but it doesn’t sound like the people on duty are sad to see her go; they nod knowingly at the “private care” once Celia turns on the charm, and a very helpful man even hands over a copy of the medical records.

Not that Celia has any idea what she’s doing with them.

GM: Preston says Celia should hide her mother anyplace in the French Quarter, but emphasizes that it must be in the Quarter. That’s Savoy’s territory, after all. Pete goes with her, as she’s still “new to this.” The French Quarter lord wishes her good luck—“though I have a feeling you’ll make your own!” he concludes with a sly wink. Celia is also issued a phone with several numbers on it. She is told that Kindred-sensitive matters are best discussed in person and that phones should primarily be used to arrange meetings.

There’s a couple off-duty and retired cops at the hospital, including a smelly, one-handed old man with a lantern jaw who shares a somewhat strained-feeling exchange with Pete, but whom the latter thanks for the favor.

The scene in the hospital room feels almost hauntingly like six years ago. Celia’s mother lies motionless in a hospital bed. She’s wearing a ventilator over her face and has an IV stabbing through her arm. Adjacent machinery beeps sporadically.

Just like last time, she looks horrible. Her face is a black, blue, and purple mass of bruises, and her eyes look almost too swollen to see through. Just like last time, she’s in bandages and splints. This time it’s just her feet rather than her arms and legs.

But unlike last time, someone else is already there. Emily is slumped over asleep in a chair. A small pile of textbooks and binders sits nearby.

Celia: Somehow, seeing her mom’s condition makes all of this feel more real. She should have been prepared for this. She’d been the one to walk in on them, to interrupt them. This time she’d been able to do something about it, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling like she’d still failed her mom.

And now she has Emily to deal with. It warms her to think about Emily showing up for her family like this, but the inconvenience gives her pause. What is she supposed to do with Emily?

She doesn’t have to think about it long. She crouches down next to the sleeping girl and gently nudges her awake.

“Em. Hey, Emmy.”

GM: At Celia’s touch, Emily’s eyes snap open like a giant spider just crawled up her shoulder. Her eyes dart around like a prey animal looking for an escape route, then settle on her (likely former) roommate.

“Celia! Oh my g-”

She stares ahead for a moment with a horrified expression, then whispers,

“What happened to you!?”

Celia: Maybe, she reflects, she should have checked a mirror before she left.

“Maxen,” she says quietly. “I can tell you more later. It got ugly. But I don’t have time now. We have to move her. The detective is here to take her into protective custody. I didn’t expect to see you, but I’m glad you’re here. With her. When I couldn’t be. It really… it means a lot, Emmy.”

GM: Emily stares at Celia for a moment longer. That look of slow-dawning horror doesn’t leave her eyes as she thickly replies,

“Celia, she can’t leave. Look at her. She needs surgery again. Multiple surgeries.”

“She could lose her toes.”

Celia: “I know. They’re providing that. Listen, Emily, do you think I don’t know that? The risks? I’m aware of them. And there’s a place where she’ll be safe, with doctors who are going to perform the surgery, and Maxen won’t be able to come after her.”

GM: “I… don’t know how much you do,” Emily says slowly. She still seems to be staring at Celia rather than truly looking at her. “This, this is really serious. The doctors reattached her toes, but that’s the easy part. We still don’t know how much use she’s going to regain. Or if she can even keep them. She might have to lose her foot, if it goes bad enough.”

Celia: “You think she’d rather lose her life than her foot?”

GM: “She’s a dancer. A dance teacher. That’s still everything she does. These cops outside… they won’t be enough?”

Celia: “Do you want to know what he did to her, Emily? I saw the footage. He raped her. He pushed her down and berated her and raped her. And then he tied her to the bed and cut off her toes one by one while she screamed. Do you think a man like that is going to be stopped by the police? Think about it. When I called them six years ago they didn’t even come. No one came. He’s in bed with the police. I’d rather she be crippled than dead.”

“I get it. I get your concern. I do. That’s why I have a doctor ready. And yeah, it’ll cost more, and fine, I’ll pay. But he doesn’t get to touch her again.”

“And, Emily, I love you, I do, but she’s my mom. And I’m getting her out of here while she’s still alive.”

GM: The graphic description seems to tear Emily’s gaze away from Celia’s face, enough, all the way to what she’s describing.

Emily just holds her hand to her mouth for a moment, looks back to Celia’s mom, then back to her.

She doesn’t say anything for a moment. But her voice is muted when she does.

“I thought you said she could… be mine too.”

Celia: “How would you prefer her, then: dead, or missing a few toes?”

GM: “It just… it just feels like this letting him win, if she loses the dancing again…”

But Emily’s shoulders slump in defeat.

“Okay. Okay. Let’s get her out.”

Celia turns on her preternatural charm on some more medical personnel. Pete, who’s waiting outside, speaks to a couple others. They have glassy-eyed, automaton-esque looks as they obey his instructions, but don’t question or backtalk or do anything but obey. Getting the hospital bed downstairs is an arduous-looking task for the staff: at Pete’s “encouragement,” they sedate Celia’s mom so she can’t wake up and feel any pain from the journey. They load the bed into a van in the parking garage and fill it with assorted medical equipment. Pete quietly tells them out of Emily’s earshot to forget they ever did this. They look as if they really do.

It’s a too-bumpy, miserable-feeling ride with Celia’s comatose and half-dead mother. She and Emily sit in the back.

“I guess she’ll need to get tested for STDs. We didn’t know he raped her,” Emily says numbly.

Celia: Gross.

“Guess so.”

And a pregnancy kit. Maybe Celia can slip her some of the morning after pill so she doesn’t have to face another decision on whether or not to keep a rape baby. She hadn’t even considered that. She touches a hand to her own stomach, wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t gone after dad, if Donovan hadn’t done this to her. Would the pill have worked, or a year from now would she and Stephen be at each other’s throats over diapers and finals?

It doesn’t matter now. Mélissaire was clear on that: vampires can’t have babies.

GM: “And pregnancy,” Emily says, as if having the same thought.

Celia: Maybe she’ll just castrate him.

GM: “I’m Catholic, but… I don’t know how you could even look at a baby, from that, and not think where they were from.”

Celia: “A rape baby? Imagine growing up like that. Not knowing how you were conceived. Finding out one day. You think that ruins a person? You think your parents ever actually love you?”

“You think anyone could love you?”

GM: “Were any of your brothers and sisters…?” Emily asks, then seems to regret it.


Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“They were happy, before. I remember. Logan was a baby before it got bad. It’s possible, but I doubt it.”

GM: “Do you wanna… do makeup on her, maybe? Just so when she wakes up, she doesn’t have to really see.”

Celia: “Mom had me young, you know. She was in high school. Her mom wanted her to get an abortion. Mom might have caved, but Maxen told off my grandmother, convinced his parents to let her stay with them. Sometimes I wonder why. If it was worth it. If he blames me for… not living his dreams, or whatever, if that’s why he hates me and Mom so much. Regret. You know?”

GM: “Wow,” says Emily.

“That just makes this whole thing even more fucked.”

“How do you feel about that, him also… saving you?”

Celia: “Conflicted.” She stares out the window. “Sometimes I wonder if they’d have been happy if I hadn’t been born. Or if she’d given me up for adoption. She wanted to dance in London. Paris. San Francisco. New York. He could have played pro football. Then I came along, right, and ruined it. Maybe they’d be different people. Maybe he’d still be a piece of shit. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t my fault. That’s what I have to tell myself, right? That it wasn’t my fault.”

Only it was her fault. She wanted a pony. A pony she grew tired of, but not before her dad traded his soul to get it.

GM: “I think whether they’d have been happy or not, it was their choice,” says Emily. “You’re not responsible for that.”

Celia: “At least he wanted me at some point, right?” Her laugh lacks humor.

GM: “Your friend’s right,” remarks Pete from the front seat. “I’ve known some people. Blamed themselves for what other people did.”

“It’s what a lot of victims like your mom do.”

“We usually think of in the context of rape victims, battered women.”

“But it’s just as self-injurious and plain wrong a line of thinking in any context. We aren’t responsible for other people’s choices. Even when we benefit from them.”

Celia: “Even if we’re directly responsible for them? Didn’t do something we should have, done something we shouldn’t have, and it took us down the wrong path and something bad happened?”

GM: “If we actually are responsible, we’re responsible. But we’re not responsible for anything before we’re born.”

Celia: That wasn’t what she meant, and she thinks he knows that, but she nods anyway.

“Thanks, Detective.”

GM: He seems to sigh.

But he doesn’t.

He just asks, “Look.”

“How bad do you want your mom to have her toes?”

Celia: “She doesn’t deserve to lose them.”

GM: “There might be a way. There’s a doctor.”

“But he’s a sick, twisted fuck.”

Celia: “More sick and twisted than Maxen?” They both know what she’s really asking.

GM: “Debatable,” Pete grimaces.

“Sick comes in a lot of flavors.”

Celia: She’ll bite.

“Yes. Sir. I’ll see if we can work something out.”

GM: “Turn here,” says Pete.

“He’s on the wrong side of the tracks.”

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM

GM: Celia’s destination is a run-down building lurking in one of the most abject, squalid, poverty-brlighted corners of the Lower Ninth Ward. Gunshots, car alarms, and boom boxes sporadically scream in the distance. Knocked-over fences, wooden boards, tree branches, tires, plastic buckets, and assorted other trash lie haphazardly scattered around the house as if Hurricane Katrina struck only yesterday. Several of the structure’s windows are broken and covered up with raggedy, dirt-streaked plastic tarps.

“Welcome to the clinic,” says Pete as the car stops.

Gunshots sound in the distance.

“Cover your face with something, before we go out.”

Celia: Cover my face? With what?

She almost asks where they are, but the shots in the distance make her realize it’s not a place she’s ever been before and probably doesn’t want to come again. Then again, she’s immortal. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to get shot. Maybe she should find out. Test the limits.

Not tonight, though.

Emily, luckily, brought her bag with her to carry her textbooks, and Celia rifles through it to find a scarf. She’s reminded of the time she went out the window and she almost laughs, wondering if her dad ever found the scarves that she’d tied together. She ties it around her head and over her face, covering her nose and mouth, then follows Pete.

GM: Emily also looks very skeptical of this. Pete tells her to wait inside the car.

He opens the back of the van, disconnects Celia’s mom from the mask and IV, then gingerly picks her up in his arms.

The rotted steps seem ready to collapse under Celia’s feet. Pete tells her to knock.

“Who’s there?” comes a deep voice from the other side.

“Lebeaux,” answers Pete.

There’s low, rumbling laughter.

“Come on in… detective.”

Celia: This isn’t sketchy at all.

Then again, she guesses not every Kindred can have a rooftop garden with butterflies and a jacuzzi. She’s suddenly much more grateful for landing on the lap of the lord of the French Quarter. She’ll have to appropriately thank him after this.

Celia reaches ahead of Pete to open the door so he can step inside.

GM: Pete steps inside once Celia does. The floor inside the ‘clinic’ is packed with grime, dirt, and crusted operational fluids. Water drips from a rotting ceiling streaked with black mold. There is not even a proper waiting room: just one large space that looks as if the owner simply tore down the house’s interior walls with a sledgehammer. The space such as it is, consists of a fluid-crusted operating table, a few battered-looking medical machines and IVs, various half-opened cardboard boxes, a large refrigerator, and bulky black bags that look like they’re read to be packed up and hauled away at a moment’s notice.

Then there’s the ‘doctor.’

He’s a stocky, mixed-race man built like a wrestler with broad shoulders and a thick, full beard. Although he looks well over six feet in height, he walks with a slight stoop that makes him appear a bit shorter than he is. He’s dressed in a plain shirt and pair of pants that are spattered with blood and other, less identifiable fluids. His bones jut hard against pallid, lifeless flesh, his eyes are deeply sunken in their sockets. Red veins sickly bulge against his too-thick muscles, and he does not once, ever, blink. He looks like a walking, grinning corpse. Celia hardly need register the absence of a heartbeat to observe that he is… Kindred.

He’s currently stitching up a shifty, twitching-eyed black man who’s repeatedly muttering, “Shit!” under his breath at Pete’s presence.

But he doesn’t get off the operating table. He is completely, paralytically still. Celia can smell the sweat dripping from his back as the smiling ‘doctor’ snips the thread, finishes up with some gauze and bandages, then coos at him to “Take it easy, now,” with patiently glinting eyes.

The man can’t get out of there fast enough.

“What do we have here, mmm…” the deep-voiced man smiles. His unblinking eyes slowly roam Celia and her mother. They feel like they’re sizing up the latter like a piece of meat.

Celia: Celia doesn’t do anything as overt as step in front of her mother. She doesn’t twitch, or shift, or let her face display the wariness that makes her wonder what the hell Pete has gotten her into—not that he’d be able to see it anyway, given the scarf over her face. Maybe that was the point of it. Huh.

“Ran afoul of a saw,” Celia says without preamble. “Heard you might be able to fix it up, Doc.” Doctor seems too formal for whatever this man is.

GM: The ‘doc’ extends an open, mock-inviting towards the fluid-crusted operating table.

“That isn’t sanitary,” Pete says tightly. “Good god, at least wipe it down first.”

“$1,000,” says the doc.

“Some markup,” observes Pete.

“If you could’ve gone to anyone but me. You would’ve,” rumbles the doc.

Laughter dances in his unblinking eyes.

“Wallet’s in my right pocket,” Pete says to Celia. He doesn’t set down her mother.

Celia: Celia reaches for the indicated pocket and pulls out the wallet. She, like many people who have cash to burn in a city like this, is good at only taking out what she needs and keeping the rest tucked safely away. She holds the money in her hand, looking at the dirty table.

GM: The doc smilingly pockets the money. Celia’s fast enough to see his blurring form work. He sprays cleaner. Wipes it down with paper towels taken from unopened plastic packaging. A second later, the table is immaculate.

“The deluxe treatment,” he purrs.

Pete sets down Celia’s mom. He’s wrapped a scarf around her face too.

“It’s her toes. They were sawed off. Doctors reattached them. Need them fully functional.”

The ‘doc’ looks over her mother’s bandaged foot.

“Doable,” he says.

“You’ll owe me.”

He looks at Celia, though.

“Take off the scarf.”

“Can’t do,” says Pete.

“Can’t do either,” the doc mockingly parrots back.

He looks back at Celia.

“Name. Face. So I can come after you if you default.”

There’s a wide, rictus-like grin under his beard at that statement.

“Not an option,” says Pete.

The doc just stares.

Celia: She still has the wallet in her hand. She taps a finger against it, raises her brows at the doc. “Double deluxe cover your burning curiosity?”

GM: There’s a low, rumbling laugh.

“You’re new.”

“You want cash for this. Lot more than double.”

Celia: “If I’m new I’ve got nothing to offer you anyway.” Celia jerks her chin at Pete. “His deal. His debt.”

GM: Pete shakes his head.

Celia: Helpful. Thanks, Pete.

GM: “How much money you got?” the Kindred cop asks Celia.

Celia: She slides her eyes across the room.

“No ATM? Five.”

GM: “We’ll wait for an ATM,” purrs the doc.

Celia: “Need to know how much to withdraw,” Celia points out.

GM: “$100,000,” says the doc.

“Opening high,” says Pete. “Forget it.”

Celia: “For three toes?” She laughs. Shakes her head. “No dice. Detective says you’re good. Nobody’s that good.”

GM: “So offer what they’re worth to you,” purrs the doc.

They negotiate back and forth. His final price isn’t $100,000, but it’s still astronomical—for Celia. It’s almost all of the money she got from whoring herself to Paul, her salon tips, her regular allowance—what’s left in her bank account will leave her as poor as Emily. Pete is expected to pony up quite a bit too.

All for her dance teacher mother’s toes.

Celia: “No.”

It’s hard to say, that simple word, but she can’t justify it. Not that she doesn’t love her mom, but her whole world just ended, there’s no telling what she’ll need the money for.

GM: “I’ll pay,” comes a voice from behind Celia.

Celia: She turns.

GM: It’s Emily.

Celia isn’t sure when she showed up. How much she heard. But her friend’s eyes past her also scarf-masked face are plaintive. Desperate.

They’re the eyes of someone who didn’t have any family in the world. Until Celia said she did.

“I have scholarship money,” she says, but she’s looking at the doc rather than Celia. In fact, she very pointedly seems to be looking away from Celia.

“That goes to my tuition. I can…. put it towards this.”

Celia: Fuck.

Pete had told her to stay in the goddamned car. She had planned on doing everything, everything, that she could to keep Emily away from this, to keep her safe and happy.

She can’t give up college. For toes.

She’s failing anyway.


“You heard her,” Celia says to the doc.

GM: There’s low, rumbling laughter from the doc.

“Got it on you?”

“No,” Emily admits.

“Just give me some time.”

He just stares.

And smiles that wide rictus grin.

“Do you have a… payment plan?” she ventures.

That too-toothy grin spreads wider.

“Sure do.”

Celia: Fuck.

GM: He holds up an empty plastic blood bag.

“You’ll fill this.”

“Often as I want.”

“Until I have the money.”

Celia: Celia takes the bag from him. She doesn’t say a word. She grabs hold of Emily’s wrist, shoves the bag into her hands, and hauls her to the door.

“Wait outside.”

GM: “No,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia doesn’t give her a choice. She physically drags Emily from the house.

“Listen to me,” she says very slowly, very carefully. “You are going to go sit in the car. You are going to wait until we are done here. You are not going to question me again. Got it?”

GM: Emily yells and struggles. But she isn’t any match for Celia. Not after the pact she made.

“I fucking AM going to question you!” she spits. “How could you DO that! She’s your MOM! Fucking MONEY!?”

Celia: Celia claps a hand over Emily’s mouth. She’s strong. Stronger than the college student.

“Shut up,” she growls, “you have no idea what you’re dealing with. Calm the fuck down, get in the fucking car, and sit on your fucking hands until I tell you not to.” There’s an edge to her voice, a command she hadn’t wanted to use but does now.

GM: Emily calms the fuck down as the weight of Celia’s supernal presence crashes into her. She silently lowers her eyes.

“Let her go,” comes a voice from behind the fledgling.

It’s Pete’s. It’s tight. Hard.

“I don’t see it being anyone’s business but hers who she wants to spend her money on.”

“Or blood.”

Celia: Celia lets her go. She spins to face the detective.

“She doesn’t know what she’s getting into. They’re already taking from her. She’s not -” it’s not fair, she wants to tell him, it’s not fair that it’s so much, that she has to choose, again, between her mom and her friend.

GM: “She’s not what?”

The detective’s glare is hard.

“Seems to me your loved ones are losing either way.”

“Least you can do is let them decide how.”

Celia: “I don’t want them to lose! I’m supposed to be able to do something, to keep them all safe from this, and I can’t. I did this, I messed up, and they’re the ones paying for it. And she’s in there—” Celia points at the decrepit building, “and…”


She moves past Pete into the house.

GM: The doc is sniffing her mother’s hair. His pale, so-thick hands rest almost tenderly on her slender shoulders. He looks like he could snap the unresponsive woman in half.

He smiles another wide, too-toothy smile at Celia. He doesn’t look in the least bit startled or ashamed at her ‘catching’ him.

“You paying?”

Celia: “Yeah. She’s paying.”

She’ll get it back somehow. She’ll fix this too.

GM: The doc rolls his eyes. Celia can see their veined undersides.

“Then send the bitch in.”

Celia: Celia takes half a step toward the door, opens it to call out for Pete.

“She can’t watch,” Celia says to the detective, “she doesn’t know.” That’s why Celia had sent her outside in the first place. To fill the bag. Stay ignorant. Don’t you have to kill them if they know? That had been the threat hanging over her head.

GM: “That’s thoughtful of you to be so concerned,” responds the detective.

“Don’t worry, though. Hospitals collect blood all the time for transfusions. Sell it, too. It’s a lucrative market.”

Celia: “He said he needs her inside now.”

GM: “So what are you waiting for? You’ve both made your choices. College for toes.”

Celia: Celia’s jaw clenches. She calls out for Em, tells her to come inside. She avoids looking at Pete again.

GM: “You can pull your claws out of her head, too. She is choosing to do this.”

Celia: She does as he says. Her shoulders hunch, eyes shifting to the ground. She’d rather he just hit her. At least that heals.

GM: Emily walks in. She doesn’t look at Celia.

Some time passes.

She staggers out, barely upright. Her face is white as a sheet.

She lets Pete rather than Celia catch her.

“…said… be a… bit…”

Pete just nods. He helps Emily back into the van. She lies down.

He waits outside the ‘clinic’ with Celia.

He doesn’t talk.

Celia: It’s a very uncomfortable silence. She opens her mouth half a dozen times to say something, but the words never make it out.

GM: Pete looks at her when her mouth opens.

He doesn’t say anything.

Just looks disappointed.

Celia: That hurts worse than him saying something, too. She wants to cry. Her lip might even tremble a little bit.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.” Her voice is as small as she’s made herself.

GM: “Don’t you? Because to me it seems perfectly obvious.”

Celia: She presses her palms against her eyes.


“Every time I try to get it right, it goes wrong.”

GM: “You want to get it right? Go tell your friend that your mom’s toes are coming out of your piggy bank instead of her scholarship money.”

Celia: “I was going to. I wasn’t going to let her do that. To give up on that. I just needed a minute to think.” She doesn’t expect him to believe her.

GM: “By my count you’ve now had a lot more than one.”

Celia: “I guess they just move slowly through my head.”

GM: Just like her dad said they did.


Celia: “I didn’t want you to have to pay too.” She pushes off from the wall and heads toward the van.

GM: Emily is lying face-down in the backseat. She looks worse than ever.

Celia: Celia doesn’t know if her heart can break if she’s dead, but it does. It cracks and crumbles at the sight of Emily stretched out in the back. She slides into the van, reaching out to touch her friend. Her hand pauses before she does, though, stilled by shame and guilt.

“I’m sorry, Em. I’m so sorry.” The words pour out. She’s not giving up her scholarship. Celia is going to take care of it. She’ll take care of everything. It’ll be okay.

GM: Emily mostly just makes some inarticulate moans. She looks (and sounds) completely spent.

Some of her textbooks are strewn about the car’s floor.

Celia: “Yeah. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Celia still doesn’t touch her. She gathers her books together, though, and puts them back into her bag for her.

Then she waits, even though she feels like she should be with her mom. Only there’s a single one of her, and two people she needs to be with, and this is what she meant when she told Pete she doesn’t know what she’s doing. How is she supposed to keep them all safe?

GM: Pete still waits outside the ‘clinic.’ Eventually, the door opens. It’s the doc. Pete goes in. He comes out with her mom. The bandages over her foot are gone.

Celia: Celia gets out to open the door for him, hovering nearby in case he needs help loading her mom in. She doesn’t mean to stare, but she can’t help herself. Her eyes are drawn toward the foot. When Pete had said that he knew someone who could make sure her toes were in working order, Celia wasn’t quite sure that she’d believed it could be done, especially after watching the doctor bandage up the last guy. But this. This is… perfection, really. She helps Pete load her mother into the van, her eyes transfixed to the formerly sawed off toes. There’s no mark. No stitches. No thread. No scars. Her skin is smooth and clear and unblemished, pretty and pink and pliable. When Celia reaches out a hand to touch the toes bend without complaint. The tissue does not catch, the bones do not grind, her mother does not stir. Then Celia has the whole foot in her hand, and she does stare, transfixed by the craftsmanship.

How did he do that?

It’s beautiful. Pristine. So at odds with the clinic and the man himself.

She lets go after a moment, can vaguely hear herself ask Pete if they can find an ATM, with a promise to pay him back for everything.

GM: Her mother’s toes are everything and more that Celia expects them to be. Flawless, even.

There’s something else she sees too, as Pete loads her still-insensate mom into the car and the hospital gown slips. There’s an ugly, ugly mass of scar tissue along her right thigh. It’s deep and full of ridges and gouges, like shark teeth or cracked and dry earth, with tiny folds and wrinkles that further darken the whole thing.

Celia: “Wait a minute.” She catches the edge of the gown and pulls it to the side, though she’s careful to preserve her mother’s modesty as best she can. “What is that?”

GM: “Looks like a scar,” says Pete.

Celia: “I know that. I mean from… what?”

GM: “You tell me. Looks like an older one. There aren’t any signs of recent injury.”

The flesh is a normal pink, same as the rest of the leg.

Celia: “Saw,” she says faintly. “I thought he… I thought it was lower…” That night is a blur.

GM: She supposes that explains why her mom always wore over-the-knee dresses with thicker tights.

Celia: She lets the gown drop back into place, hugging her arms around herself as if that will keep the blame from knocking at her door again.

“Is that the kind of thing he can fix, too?” Not that she has anymore money. “Would… ghouling..?”

GM: “You’d have to ask him,” says Pete as they drive. “And no, it wouldn’t. The injury’s long healed.”

Celia: “How did he do it?”

GM: “Calls it a trade secret. Doesn’t let anyone watch him work.”

Celia: “But what he did… that’s not something we could have done, right? When my arm was broken, they made me drink, and it was fixed.”

“So if we hadn’t… she’d have not healed right? Because they were taken off?”

GM: “Maybe and maybe not,” says Pete. “I don’t know a lot about medicine beyond first aid, but depends on how well they were reattached. If you break someone’s arm, set it wrong, then feed them some juice, sure. It’d heal instantly. But it’d heal wrong, and you’d have to break their arm again to set it right. And you’d have to be pretty careful with how you did that, or you might just mess them up even worse the second time. Comminuted fractures especially aren’t anything to laugh at.”

“So with your mom’s toes, it really depends on how they were reattached. How likely she already was to regain their use. I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but the actual reattachment is easy. It’s regaining full use that’s the tricky part. Some patients actually have to get their body parts amputated again even after the surgeon reattaches them.”

“Juice, vitae, doesn’t do precise work like that. It just makes the flesh instantly knit.”

“It’s easy for us to delude ourselves into thinking we’re doctors. Better than doctors. That we can do all these things they can’t, and don’t need them anymore.”

Celia: “We just fix surface issues. Not the deeper stuff.”

Where else does that show up in her life?

GM: “We do a damn good job fixing those. Vitae is still any surgeon’s wildest dream in a bottle. Or a vein, I suppose. Miracle medicine. I’ve seen it save ghouls from injuries that could’ve left them dead on an operating table or crippled for life, and have them back on their feet fast as you could blink.”

“That’s precisely why it’s so easy to think we’re better than doctors. But I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to consider juice a healing accelerant, rather than a miracle cure-all, and to only use it on injuries I’m confident I could already diagnose and treat myself. For the complex stuff, like toe reattachment, it’s better to go to a lick who actually knows something about medicine.”

“All of this is a fairly niche subject in the eyes of most licks, though, since it mostly applies to breathers and half-bloods. We can recover from just about anything. It’s not often we need to talk to doctors.”

“That’s why there aren’t a whole lot of Kindred ones, despite how violent the all-night society is. Xola there is the only doc I know currently in town.”

“Which is a damn shame. My clan has another doctor. Friend of my sire’s, who says he’s a genius at surgery. If it were up to me, we’d have gone to him instead.”

Celia: “Why isn’t it? Up to you, I mean. If you know him. If he’s better.”

Not that she’s complaining about going to the doc. Xola, apparently.

GM: “He hasn’t lived in the city for a while.”

Celia: “Oh. We can’t go outside the city?”

GM: “We can, though it’s dangerous and inadvisable to do without a good reason. Which this qualifies as, but his job makes him hard to contact. Pretty slim hope we could’ve reached him in time, with your mom needing periodic further surgeries.”

“He’s sometimes back in the city for Mardi Gras. You should talk with him then if you’re interested in this stuff.”

Celia: “I will. Thanks, detective. Warden.”

There’s half a second of hesitation between the correction; she doesn’t know quite what to call him in this setting, and Pete seems too informal.

“Am I allowed to ask who your sire is? Were you a detective before you were, um, Embraced?” She hadn’t thought to ask earlier. Now she’s curious.

GM: “My sire’s a college professor named Erwin Bornemann. And I was.”

“I met him when I was taking one of his classes. He thought a detective would bring some fresh perspective to our clan.”

Celia: “What clan? How long’ve you been…?”

“Are these rude questions?” she tacks on.

GM: “I don’t find them so, though the older a Kindred gets, the less willing they generally are to entertain questions. I’ve been working exclusive night shifts for six years now.”

“I’m not old, as far as Kindred go. Not by a long shot, next to ones like your grandsire.”

“My clan is Tremere.”

The wizards, Mélissaire had said ominously. You can never trust them. The clan owns their souls. They will, always, always, be loyal to the clan over you. Over anything else. It controls them completely.

It’s unclear where, exactly, their magic comes from, too. The clan as a whole has a sinister reputation. The Camarilla accepts them as a necessary evil.

Celia: Celia sits with that for a minute. Tremere. Chase said he had magic, but she doesn’t think it’s like Mélissaire said the Tremere have.

“He’s who you meant, the other night? Lord Savoy. The one you’re working for.”

Somehow it’s still a question, as if what Mélissaire said had gotten to her. Can she trust him? She treads cautiously.

“The ghoul said you have magic. Is that how you knew about the deal? Chase said he did too. He did a thing with the drinks, but I think it was more sleight-of-hand. Like a… like a street performer.” She raises her brows at him.

GM: “He is. I work for your grandsire and my clan,” Pete answers.

The Tremere just gives an enigmatic smile at the question about magic.

Celia: She thinks better about questioning him further on his clan and retreats to a safer topic.

“Can I ask you something? You were… very adamant about me not showing my face. Is it because… was I a mistake?” Another rape baby, another bastard, another story of abandoned and unwanted by her daddy.

GM: “It’s because it’s better safe than sorry. How to handle this is very delicate. Your grandsire will suss out exactly how.”

Celia: He didn’t really answer her question, she notes, but she just nods.

GM: “I don’t know if you were a mistake or not. I don’t know what compelled Donovan to Embrace you. The way it’s panned out so far hasn’t seemed to benefit him at all.”

“Could be a deeper game I’m not seeing the angles to. Could be something went wrong. Could be an accident. Could be god only knows what.”

“Your sire’s always played things close to the vest. Opaque. Most Kindred have very little sense of what makes him tick.”

Celia: “What if I just ask him?”

GM: Pete doesn’t say it.

But she sees it on his face.

Hears her dad’s voice.


Celia: She crosses her arms. Looks out the window.


She knew before she asked.

Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM

GM: Conversation doesn’t flow after that. But Pete stops outside an ATM once they’re in a nicer neighborhood.

Celia: She gets out of the van without a word.

She fishes through the pocket in her skirt for her debit card, slides it into the ATM, and withdraws… everything. Every dollar. It goes back into the pocket with her plastic. But it’s spilling out, bulging, and she looks… weird. She transfers it to Emily’s backpack once she’s back in the van.

GM: The ATM has a daily limit. Pete drives her to some other ones. He also withdraws money. He finally drives her back to the ‘clinic.’

She gets out. Knocks.

“Come on in,” Xola rumbles.

Celia: Celia makes sure the scarf is still in place before she steps inside with the bag.

GM: There’s another car that quickly pulls away as Pete’s and Celia’s van pulls in. Inside, the operating table is stained with blood again. Fresh blood. She can smell it. The doc is licking it off as she approaches. His unblinking eyes steadily follow hers.

Celia: Her nose twitches. She eyes the blood, watches the doc lick it off the table. Some part of her wants to join him, bend over the steel table and lap it up. She stops breathing instead. Just stops. Stays near the door, ready to get outside so she doesn’t do something crazy, like ask for a taste.

Still, though, she sees the benefit in him doing this. Working this way. Smart, even. Meals delivered right to him. Like delivery, only they pay him too.

“Brought your money.” She hefts the bag.

GM: He plucks it from her grasp, dumps out the bills, and holds several up to the light.

“Guess your friend’s off the hook.”

He licks his lips. Smiles that wide rictus smile.

“She tasted great.”

Celia: “I bet she does.”

Celia wonders what it will be like living with the girl now, knowing that she’s right there, that any moment Celia can just… sink her teeth in. Maybe getting a place together is a bad idea. In fact, it’s a terrible idea. Not that she can afford it now anyway. She takes the backpack back from him.

“Can I ask you something? You fix old scar tissue, too? Old injuries?”

GM: “Scars. Sure,” he rumbles.

“Injury. ’Pends.”

Celia: “Busted leg,” she tells him. “Loss of motion, of flexibility.”

GM: “Fixable. Probably. Show me the leg.”

There’s that same warmthless smile.

“Seems you’re pretty broke, though.”

Celia: “Seems you’re interested in more than cash.”

GM: “You are new.”

There’s a rumbling note of thunder-like laughter.

Celia: She shrugs. “Have to learn somehow. Might as well dive in. My mistake.”

GM: “I take favors.”

“Licks only.”

Celia: “How about an apprentice?”

GM: Another rumble of laughter.

“Got half-bloods. What do I need you for?”

Celia: “I’m good at makin’ ‘em pretty. Could add that service to your menu. Happen to know a few who’d appreciate it. Make it permanent?” She whistles. “Could be big.”

GM: Xola seems to consider her.

“Lose the mask. If you’re serious.”

Celia: “Mmm, love to. Babysitter outside, though. I’d be happy to come back once I lose him.”

GM: There’s a ding from a microwave behind the doc.

“Better not keep your sitter waiting then, little baby,” he purrs.

He turns around and opens it. Pulls out the thing inside.

He sinks his fangs into the soft cranium and sucks thoughtfully.

Celia can smell the coppery tang. But it’s so different from Emily’s blood, or the blood on the table.

It’s like how… a tadpole must smell. Or amniotic fluid.

The glistening little legs flop as Xola hefts the fetus up, leaving streaks of fluid along his thick beard.

“You want to work for me though.”

He rips the head off and pops it into his mouth. He sloshes it around, then spits brains and pulped, colorless fetus-flesh onto the floor.

“You’ll need stones.”

Celia: “I trust you’ll give me what I’m lacking in that department.” She makes a vulgar gesture toward her skirt, then winks at him.

“Good evening, Doc.” She turns to go.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Emil IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XVI

Previous, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XIV
Next, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XVI

Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett IX

“The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”
Emil Kane

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Emmett: “Whoa. Did she…”

Em glances around. “Did you see her go?”

Emil: “I—after today, Emmett, after you leave this room, after you get down off this high, you need to know that none of this happened, your drugs were laced with psychedelics.”

Emmett: Em eyes him. “You want to stay here for when she comes back?”

Emil notices his Action Bill and the Danger Squad boxers. They’re super rare.

Emil: “I’ve turned off the feed for my associates. It doesn’t exist anymore, nothing onward.”

“But I’m watching it now.”

Emmett: “Well, if you want to watch it here, you’ll share. And you’ll stop talking to me like I didn’t save your fool life.”

Em sits on the couch, his legs spread. “Your guy under there want a drink?”

Emil: There’s that same buzzing in the man’s earpiece, then he picks up the laptop and types the words No, but thanks for asking, Emmett, into a text document which he turns so Em can see it.

He types a few more buttons and the stream of the house opens on Emmett’s television. He goes to deadbolt the door, his earpiece buzzing the whole way through, and then he returns to his seat.

“All right, let’s see what she’s doing to that monster.”

Emmett: “Sounds good to me.”

He tries to ignore the surreality of Emil’s face on somebody else’s and focus on the feed.

“Wait, is she… already there?”

But that swiftly becomes the least of his questions.

GM: They watch it all play out.

It ends with Celia blurring out of the house with her mom held like a limp potato sack.

Emmett: “Fuck.”

This is real. He knows it’s real. Emil’s snark aside, he can tell the difference between a bad trip and shit that feels like it should be a bad dream.

He’s been in a bad dream like this before.

“Fuck,” he says again. “She’s a superhero.”

GM: It seems like an open question whether he ever woke up.

Emil: “If you ever let any one know, they’ll kill the both of you,” the voice says robotically.

Emmett: “Which they? The X-Men?”

Emil: “Do you care about her, Emmett?” It’s spoken genuinely.

Emmett: “Apparently,” he says, surprising himself. “I’m more worried for her than scared of her. So I guess.”

Emil: “She trusts you. Should she?”

Emmett: “Why shouldn’t she? She’s the most interesting thing to happen to me since jail.”

Emil: “Because you have a history of lying to people you care about. Of hurting them,” the voice says bluntly.

GM: This has happened before.

Emmett: Em takes a slow drink of the tea Celia didn’t touch. Then he says, “You seem to feel awfully superior to me, for somebody who talked about starting a religious movement with me at the center. And who wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t decided to put myself in jeopardy by helping.” He gives Emil an icy, icy stare through those red eyes. Wherever he is, whatever dark hole he’s hiding in to forget about all the people he’s fucked over, the man feels cold. “I’m going to say it one more time. You’re not going to question my relationships, Kane. And I won’t question yours. Not if you want anything from me, ever again. Not if you don’t want me to bad-mouth you so hard to Celia she cuts ties with you, too. You understand that?”

“Because if you don’t, there’s the door.” He points.

GM: The video keeps playing in Celia’s room.

All of it.

Emmett: “Fuck,” Em says, again. He’s too numb to be mad at Emil. “Wow. She’s… wow.”

GM: Isabel laughs.

Emmett: He finds himself, absurdly, reaching for not-Emil’s hand. He needs to touch someone. Needs to know there is something more than this.

GM: Isabel laughs and laughs and laughs.

“Mm-mmf y! Mm-mmf y! M-myy-mmm-f-y!”

Emil: There’s a buzzing in his ear, and then not-Emil grips Emmett’s just as tightly. “I’m so sorry, Emmett.”

The static sobs.

“-I really am.”

Emmett: “Yeah,” Em says, watching. “Me too.”

Then he says, “She’s going to need friends. Celia. After this.”

Emil: “She needs better friends than us. But we’re what she has. So we have to do bett—”

Then there’s the sound of footsteps from the television, and Emil goes silent.

GM: The two men see their source.

Enough of it.

Then the camera shorts out.

Emmett: “Shit.”

Emil: The image runs back and forward in time, and grayscale tears rip across as the screen. And then it pauses on the final frame.

On that face.

GM: Maxen’s face.

Emmett: “How.”

“The house. Her sister. We need to call 911. Can you bounce the call, or something?”

Emil:They have arrived.”

A buzz sounds. The man who is not Emil points a gloved finger at the devil’s face.

“He owns the police.”

They own him.”

Emmett: “Not the police,” Em says. “Ambulance.”

Emil: “Everything is connected. Everyone is listening. Hell is empty and the devils are all here.”

Emmett: “Can you do it?” he asks again. “The girl. Maxen might not.”

Emil: “There are rules about this, Emmett. They don’t want to be seen. They don’t want to be known. The fewer people involved, the fewer people die.”

Emmett: “What they. They who.”

Emil: “The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”

“Sin gestates in the gutters of the church. Sin mingles in the sewers with the discarded holy water. Sin dives into the depths to take form.”

“And one man or another stares down into the abyss. And eventually, Sin stares back.”

The quiet erupts into the sound of the darkest depths. Maxen’s face shatters into an avalanche of snow, and white noise swallows all.

Emil: The snow undulates on the screen, a great sea parting and coming together. The black gaps that are torn open when the sea parts are alive and filled with mouths, stretched wide open by ink-covered hands until the jaws threaten to snap apart.

The gestalt cries out at Emmett.

It screams for their mothers. For their fathers. For Gods they forgot to believe in. For the sins they’ve carried out and forgotten to admit. For all the pain to end; for their mouths to finally shut.

But it is the nature of the gestalt to lose all self. For all the screams and prayers to be shunted into meaningless babble. Everyone screams for the same things, but nothing is heard. Nothing but white noise.

The waves of static crash into the dark mass of writhing mouths, smothering their cries. But another window into the darkness is opened as the static shallows.

The screen focuses not on the gaping mouths within, but on the precipice of the writhing shallowing of darkness. There’s a fishing boat riding over the static, standing precariously close to the edge. And beside them juts an island out of the waters. Atop the island, which is covered in shining jewels, sits the Fisher King on his ivory stump, his crown nearly slipping off his head.

The fisherman throws his line into the great maw of the dark, and from the writhing masses pulls a single screaming mouth. And the mouth has a face that appears when it comes flailing out of the water into the static. It’s bald and ugly and red-faced. The fishhook stabs through the man’s head.

The fisherman examines the bald thing on the hook as it tries to extend a suited hand. It looks pathetic, for surely it knows it is too late to make deals. He’s already hooked. The fisherman holds the man in his arms like a babe, then brings him to his face and opens his mouth, revealing two blood-red fish-hooks jutting out of its roof.

He bites through the man’s chest and rips his heart out. It’s bound with tight ropes. He crushes it with his jaws, and oily black fluid spurts out all over the boat. A drop or two falls in the bald man’s mouth as his body drops to the deck of the ship, his arm still extended, waiting for a handshake that will never come.

The screen floods with the static snow.

Then, a voice befitting a nature doc narrator speaks in dulcet tones, “Peredur lived among witches when he found his one true love…And the Fisher King’s servant brought out the head to Peredur on a platter, who waited far too long to act on his destiny. And the head was that of his cousin. And Peredur learned he was in the line of the Fisher King, and rose to action, for he found his cousin was killed by the witches, though some say it was witch hunters, for Peredur sought them for his king’s acceptance.”

“And the servant who held up that platter had little respect for the young Peredur, for Peredur knew little of fishing, while he had fished for generations. Some say the servant made deals with witches to better understand the fish, and that in the moonlight, his eyes were unlike that of any human. Instead, they were like those of the hungriest of sharks.”

The audio commentary melts into something grainy and unintelligible, and then Emmett sees something else forming on the screen.

The waters are black as they gush from the bound heart. The moonlight reflects off them, reducing their cusps and contours to streaks of moving light.

It’s far too quiet now. The sound of the white noise dulls his senses, stuffing his ears with cotton and blinding his eyes to seeing anything beyond rectangular specks of black and white. Something is waiting beneath the surface.

A diving woman swims out into the open ocean. Oily handprints still stain the skin around her jaw, but those are nothing but past scars. Today she’s free, to go anywhere. Be anything. Separated from the gestalt, the possibilities seem endless.

But there is always something watching. No place you can be truly free when there are those who cut through the static like you walk on land.

The woman breaks the surface of the inky water, and finds it impenetrable to her view from above. She pulls herself up into the massive fishing boat, where the fisherman servant to the Fisher King had sat.

But he’s not there.

There’s a bald man in a suit with an ink-covered arm extended. His heart has been ripped out, leaving an inky pit in its place. There’s a hole that a fishhook once pierced.

Beside him is a dark-haired girl, or perhaps its just her hair is drenched in the oil. She’s curled into a ball and caressing her leg, which is wrapped in static fishing line. It cuts deep welts into her flesh.

Then the screen turns dark. And he hears it. Screaming. Awful. The grinding of flesh on rock, of hooks stabbing and shearing.

And then there’s that face pushing through the screams, here and not here. Nearly pressing out of the television.

And the room is plunged into ice at its stare. The servant fisherman stares right into Emmett’s eyes. Then he starts to open his mouth, and the fishhooks look like sharp teeth jutting out, ready to bite.

Then a splash and the ice recedes, as the static sea swallows the diver whole, and the weight of the world above drags her lower and lower into the abyss.

The shark-eyed servant dives too, into the murky depths, unencumbered by the static and the oil.

The nature doc narrator speaks again, his voice cutting through the thickness of the waters. “Due to a peculiar organ called the olfactory bulb, great white sharks can smell a drop of blood from three miles away!”


“Once a shark finds a target, they never give up on the hunt. Blood giveth way to deeper blood. They’re watching.”





“All his”


“Donovan,” Celia’s voice pierces through Emmett’s head, clear as the cold night sky.

They take what they want.

You know you are theirs.

They’re on a boat now, fishing together. And there is the shape of a woman made of pure jade, to whose face a mask is tied, Celia’s face painted on it, smiling.

They open their mouths and fishhooks jut out blood-red and dripping with hunger.

The view draws back, and Emmett sees the true extent of the unmentionable They. Seventy and seven fishing boats sit at the perilous circumference of the pit of gestalt screaming. Fishermen stand at the ready in each one, a pair of fishhooks jutting out of the rooves of each of their mouths. Each of them fish humans out of the pit, dragging them screaming into their boats on their barbed lines. They bite through their flesh and then toss them back, limp, into the pit.

The static flows on the screen as the view pushes in on a few fishermen paddling from the glimmering island of the Fisher King. But fishhooks do not jut out of their mouths, and there still remains oil on their skin, covered by the thick clothing of ferrymen.

They pull down the way of the dark flow.

And the one holding the long-stemmed paddle turns to the other, and speaks in soft tones. “Just around the river bend, we’ll find the one who’s near her end.”

“Hold your tongue until you die, for They are watching you and I.” The paddle moves, and it seems to stretch down eternally into the oil.

The men remove their black cowls and whip the lashes of their fishing rods into the oily darkness.

And that’s when he sees it. It’s him, sitting down in the fishing boat, though his handsome face is rendered monstrous, drenched in the thick black oil. Barbed fishing line is wound tightly around his legs, and further spurts of oil leak out where the wire breaks his skin.

The oil-drenched Emmett looks with harrowed eyes out of the television, into the similarly harrowed eyes of his twin sitting on the couch. He’s holding his father’s tackle box, old and rusted, but free of oil-stains.

And he sees the face of the other man, and he is Emil, mostly. He has eight eyes in place of his two, which stare out in all different directions. The hairs of his skin stand up at attention and stamp themselves down into his pores, forcing the black oil from leaking out into the world.

“Why save her, if she’s going to lose it all?”

“We aren’t saving her. We’re making her whole again.”

The lines tug, and with a pull of the rod, the two men find their catch. It’s a damp mop of black hair mostly, with the oil-drenched body of a girl attached. She’s missing far too much, far more than they are equipped to repair.

Her face is gone, punched out. There’s nothing left inside, nothing to see beyond the oil. But something further is missing.

It sits in their tackle box.

Her leg has gone gangrenous and black from the sharp wire digging far deeper than could be construed as pleasant. Emmett can smell it even through the mask of the television. Dead. Horrid. Unmentionable.

“She doesn’t need health where she’s going. She needs to be whole, a façade is all that’s necessary, a mold for what is to come.”

And the oil-covered Emmett stabs the crude appendage back onto her foot. There’s a slick crunch as the metal rod that affixes it forces its way into place.

She doesn’t scream. She can’t. But the hole in her face shakes violently in protest and the oil that pools in the gap spills out into the form of the ship.

Emil bends to whisper something into the woman’s ear to give her something else. Another thing she’s lost. And Emmett can hear it, if just barely.

“Though your heart may rest in pious hands, your name shall reside with rocks and sand.”

There’re two things to do when you catch a carp, Emmett. Either you kill it quick or you let it go. Anything else is cruel.

The pair heave the body, and finally, let it drop. There’s a splash, and then the seafoam static swallows the scene once more.

GM: But from the static, a face emerges.

And behind the face, an apartment.

Em’s apartment.

He is coming.

Emmett: Em stares at the screen. He dares not blink, lest the closing of his eyes destroy the madman’s montage playing out on the mob-fenced television. His teeth chatter, though it is not cold. Tea, merely warm instead of scalding, sloshes from his lopsided mug onto his groin, ruining the mint-condition cotton thumb of Action Bill and staining his couch besides. He does not notice.

It is only when that face emerges, clearer and somehow more chilling than any of the macabre omens that preceded it, only when the television makes a promise he cannot ignore, that he blinks.

And speaks.


Then he reaches between the cushions and pulls out a gun.

Emil: Then there’s a buzz, and it’s when he looks to his side that he sees not-Emil disconnecting a cable from the laptop and stuffing it and the laptop into his backpack. He’s holding a black, metal hard drive.

Emmett: “Ah, damn, the ammo’s in there somewhere.” He rummages under the cushions for a second and pulls out a clip.

Emil: Another buzz, and then he turns to see the gun.

“What the hell are you doing with that thing?” He sounds cold, pumped through with adrenaline.

Emmett: “Exercising my Second Amendment rights,” he says as he loads it. “Your boy have a car outside?”

He considers slapping Emil when he doesn’t immediately answer, but then realizes it probably won’t translate.

Emil: He turns off the television, and the monster’s face disappears into blackness.

He sticks his head into the bag and when it comes out, he isn’t wearing Emil’s face. But his true face is covered by a skintight black mask.

“Outside. Now.” He sounds frazzled, but focused, as the blind man throws the backpack over his shoulders and heads to the door, before looking behind and chiding,

“And get your finger off the goddamned trigger! It’s not a toy.”

There’s a rushing noise, and then the sound of sliding before a series of taps, and then more rushing, more sliding, before the sound fades out.

This man is used to running.

Emmett: So is Em.


When Emmett emerges from the apartment precious moments later, he’s still wearing the crotch-stained Action Bill and the Danger Squad underwear, but he’s weighed down by a bulky-looking duffel bag.

It takes him a few moments to catch up to his “guest.”

Emil: It takes even fewer for the perfectly average-looking car to drive by. A door opens and strong arms rip him off the street and throw Emmett into the car.

The door slams. It never stopped moving. Now it’s going faster.

Emmett: “Fuck!” he yelps.

He barely manages to hold onto the gun. He’s still brandishing it as he sits up. “Who!”

Emil: “Put the gun down you maniac. Use your head.” There’s someone else driving. The black-masked man still speaks with Emil’s voice, as he scrubs through the video on his laptop, picking out unsatisfactory pieces of film and cutting them out with a few clicks.

“Who do you think?”

Emmett: “Jesus—fuck!” He lowers the gun, but keeps it close. “Is that the footage? Where are you sending it?”

Emil: “It is. And I’m not. You are. All clear?” The gloved fingers of the blind man move strikingly fast over the keyboard.

Emmett: “No?”

Emil: It’s quiet for a moment excepting the sound of tapping plastic keys.

“That was the sound of me waiting for you to ask a question so you can be made clear. Go.”

Emmett: Oh. Now he’s the wiseass.

“What are you planning?” Em asks. “And what about Celia? What about…him?”

Emil: “I’m planning on doing what I promised Celia I’d do, and that is getting this hard drive to the person she trusts. Right now, that’s you.”

“On this drive,” he says, and with a buzz has the man hold it in the air, “there is a single program which accesses a secure server that holds the video I just edited. I stripped it down to essentials. Celia isn’t in there. Nothing they wouldn’t want seen is in there. Whoever has this drive controls the fate of her father. She likely gave you instructions on how to handle it from there.”

“Don’t tell me them. We need to keep our minds clean of excess knowledge. I already let you see far too much.”

With a buzz, not-Emil hands Emmett the drive.

Emmett: “Fuck,” he says, trying to process that. “Okay. Okay. Is she…” Alive? he doesn’t trust himself to say it. Instead he clears his throat, opens the bugout bag and rifles through it for a shirt, which he swiftly pulls on. He tucks the letter that he pulled off the table, the one Celia wants him to give to the guy at House of Blues, into the bag as well.

“Where are you going to drop me?” Em says, as he continues to pull on clothes.

He takes the drive and it joins the letter in the bag.

Emil: “No dropping. We’ll be driving until dawn. But we’ll be swapping cars soon enough. Can’t risk someone catching our trail. There’s a pickup coming up through across an unmonitored alley in about ten.”

“In the meantime I’ve took the liberty of breaking into your apartment’s surveillance setup and replacing all recent footage of you, Celia, or me entering or exiting the building with generic footage.”

Emmett: “My apartment doesn’t have—wait, what?” His head is spinning. “What happens at dawn?”

Emil: “It does. They just don’t tell you. Helps keeps their insurance bills down. And what happens at dawn, is that They go to ground. Get ready.”

“7. 6. 5—”

The door slides open as a great amount of buzzing occurs in the man’s ear. The pair jump out whether Emmett is ready or not, with their backpack and duffel bag.

“3. 2—”

They’re running out and the movement shuts the car door back. Another car pulls up on the other end of the alley. Not-Emil points out the few cameras that were deactivated so they could make their way unseen. Easy to ignore as the pickup opens the door and once again Emmett is thrown into the car before not-Emil jumps in.


The door shuts again. Not-Emil breathes a sigh of relief.


Emmett: “They—wait, what.”

He runs. He ignores Emil’s tour-guiding.

He slams the door shut beside him. “How many times are we doing this?”

Emil: “As many as it takes. I have cars all over the city. Bulk purchase. Donations. What have you. Drivers don’t ask many questions.”

Emmett: Em stops asking questions. He has a feeling the answers will only make his head spiral more.

He cooperates, though, and falls into the pattern. It’s like track. Sprint spurts between rests.

Where to stay, during the day? His apartment’s probably unsafe. Miranda? Maybe a Pavaghi? His sister? Fucking Taylor?

Emil: Regardless of where it is, Emil’s not gonna be there. Or maybe he will. He keeps his associate’s lips so tightly shut Emmett can’t even see them. Though the mask might be the cause of that more than Emil’s secrecy.

He warns Emmett again on the importance of keeping all of this to himself. All of it. A lick of this releases and everyone they love dies.

He provides a change of clothes for Emmett and himself at each car swap, and they get to see much of the city, though its beauty is hard to appreciate running from certain death.

Right before they diverge, as they spend the last few swaps in separate cars to distance themselves, Emil shares one more pearl of wisdom.

Not-Emil opens the door to let Emmett out and tells him, “I figured you two were sleeping together and you might not be able to do that anymore. So I thought it might help if I let you know.”

He coughs.

“Celia’s your cousin.”

The door slams shut and the tires squeal, leaving Emmett alone in an alley.

Thursday morning, 2 April 2009

Emmett: Emmett swears.

He staggers through the morning light, duffel bag knocking against his side like it’s trying to pull him back. The early, bleach-colored sunlight hurts his eyes. He wants a smoke so bad his lungs crave a cough. His head pounds with a come-down he should have known was coming.

He walks. Buys a hot-dog from a stand. The guy behind the counter’s wearing an eyepatch, and he looks sorry for Em.

Say what you like about me, Em thinks ruefully, I’m too good to wear a costume to sell hot dogs. Even if I did fuck my—

He manages to keep the hot dog down, with effort. His mouth tastes like mustard, but it goes down his throat like mustard gas.

He walks.

Emmett: He passes a woman selling flowers. He buys the reddest ones. They stig his nose and he sneezes in the face of a homeless man, who he only momentarily recognizes as a private detective he hired a few weeks back.

“Sorry,” he says, and keeps walking.

He ends up in Marigny. The sun’s rising, and its rays are beating him into the ground.

He gets to the door he doesn’t realize he’s been walking to, and knocks.

GM: There’s no immediate answer.

She isn’t much on an early riser either.

Em has to bang and pound his fists until they hurt before a shadow darkens the peephole.

The door opens. Sami’s wearing a black nightgown and looks like she just got out of bed. Her hair is mussed, her face isn’t made up, and her expression looks none too pleased at being woken up early. Her eyes are crusted with sleep. It’s a rather less sexy picture than their normal dates.


Emmett: He isn’t on his knees. That would lay it on too thick. But then, he doesn’t need to lay it on much at all. The tears glittering on his cheeks, tracing the shape of his face, are real enough.

She has only seen him cry like this once before. On the worst night of both their lives.

“I need you,” Em whispers. “I need, I need help, Sami. There’s nobody else. Please. Please let me in. I need you.”

He looks like death.

Will she turn him away, he wonders? Her best client, and the only person who says he really loves her and thinks he means it?

He is desperate, but he is cynical, too.

Sami Watts likes it when he needs her.

GM: She looks at him for a moment.

Then she undoes the switch, opens the door, and lets him collapse into her arms. Her fingers are so soft as they run through his hair.

“What the fuck have you gotten into…”

She kicks the door closed.

Emmett: My cousin.

“I just…just…”

He shakes his head. It’s too much to tell her.

“It’s like it was. Monsters. Things. They won’t find me, but I can’t go home. I tried to help her. I tried to do the right thing, but I think the monsters know who I am now and I can’t go back.”

He hugs her to him.

Hating himself. Loving her. Both. The same. A snake, eating its tail.

GM: They sink onto Sami’s bed. Em’s not sure when they do. It’s not day yet, not really, but it’s bright enough he doesn’t need the lights on to make out her face. Dawn’s navy shadows suit her. That in-between time and space where the monsters might be gone, but maybe they aren’t, and Em doesn’t know where he stands, where he doesn’t know anything, except that needs someone, someone as broken and damaged as he is, because it’s is fault, and maybe it is this time too, and—

She’s warm. She’s soft. She’s there.

“Fuck,” she mutters.

Emmett: There. And that’s so much more than anybody else.

“Fuck,” she says, and he hears it as a command, the way he’s been trained to for a year.

Fuck. All he’s good for. All he’s good at. Fuck. The only thing he can offer.

He pulls at her nightgown, dries his tears on her thighs. He does what he’s good at. He rewards her for her love, her pride, her hospitality.

He worships her.

When they’re done, Em just wants to sleep. Not talk. He barely has the willpower to set an alarm for himself.

GM: Em’s gotten head from Sami lots of times, though it’s his first time giving it to her. She seems to enjoy it, twisting the sheets in her hands and gasping as her back arches with her climax. He’s not met many women who didn’t enjoy, from him. Any, really.

The last words he makes out before they collapse into sleep together are a sighed, “This is a bad idea.”

Emmett: If only you knew, baby, he thinks.

Thursday morning, 2 April 2009

GM: Em is jolted awake what feels like barely any time later by pounding fists against Sami’s door.

NOPD! Open up! Now!”

Emmett: He’s already having a nightmare. The reality doesn’t take more than a second to adjust to. He’s still waking up as he presses his lips to Sami’s ear as she starts awake. “Sixty seconds. Get the door in sixty seconds. Lie. I’m not here, I never was. They don’t know anything. Ask to see a warrant.” Then he moves. Close to the floor, way the fuck out of the line of sight of any of the windows.

His heart is thumping. But he doesn’t have time to be knocked over by it. He takes five seconds to decide. Out the window or hide? Hiding’s bad if they know he’s here. But they don’t. They just think he might be? Right?

It’s a gamble. But if he leaves, and they’re waiting for him, he’s fucked anyways.

He hides. He’s tired of running, and if they’re going to get him, better Sami sees him go out. He’s not letting them take him.

The bag he stuffs in her closet under a pile of clothes. Sami’s plenty messy and always has been. That takes fifteen seconds, including the time it takes to grab the drive, the letter, and the gun. The flowers come with him, too. He looks like he’s visiting the grave, one way or another.

Forty seconds.

It’s a nice apartment, but it’s still an apartment. Not many places to hide. Except, he’s been over here before. She has one of those sort-of closets that aren’t really closets, a hole in the wall covered with a plaster lid. It goes straight to the pipes, and he grits his teeth as he squeezes in, delicately pulls the lid back into place. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Easier if Sami’s half-dressed and running interference.

Moving slowly, not rushing it, not scalding his ass on the hot pipes behind him. Thirty seconds bleed by while the big bad wolf huffs and puffs and threatens to bring the house down.

Ten seconds to crouch, still his breathing, close his eyes, and listen.

But not pray. Never pray. His prayer is the gun in his hand.

GM: The big bad wolf does more than threaten. Sami has barely started talking when Em hears the door burst open. Heavy footsteps tromp through the apartment.

It doesn’t sound like they particularly care about a warrant.

Em catches flashes of blue uniforms and scowling expressions from his hiding place. The cops question Sami. She plays innocent. They bring up her whoring. She still plays innocent. Hasn’t seen an Emmett Delacroix.

Em hears something heavy smashing. A low voice swearing.

The footsteps tromp away.

The apartment door closes. Lightly.

Sami looks around a moment, then pulls open the lid. She’s half-dressed in the same nightie.

Emmett: “Sorry.”

GM: “You’re buying me a new TV,” she says.

Emmett: “A bigger and better one,” he agrees.

GM: The screen has been smashed in. There’s a few sparks going up. Sami unplugs it.

“What the fuck did you do? Those cops didn’t even grope me.”

Emmett: He retrieves the duffel bag and pulls out a few wads of cash held together with rubber bands. He leaves them on her pillow, like complimentary chocolates from a hotel that understands real service.

“The right thing,” he says in response to her question, after a too-long pause. “It’s always the right thing that gets me in trouble.” He shakes his head and grapples around her nightstand for the pack of cigarettes she keeps there. He clutches a few and slides them into his pocket. His lungs are begging to be set on fire. “The less you know about it, the happier you’ll be.”

He checks the time, too.

GM: Less than an hour since they went to bed. Em knows (from experience) that cops like to raid people’s houses early in the morning. Even the hardest partiers are usually asleep, disoriented when they get woken abruptly up, and it’s the time people are most likely to be home.

Emmett: He clutches his head. How long until they double back? He has to figure some hours at least. But wait too long, they might send somebody to sit on the apartment, watch for him. He’s pretty sure they do that on TV.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck. Fuck the pope, and the kids in his bed.

He is never doing the right thing again. He stumbles into the kitchen and dials Miranda’s cell. He doesn’t know why he’s memorized it. Maybe because it’s one of the few he actually looks forward to dialing.

GM: Em just gets a look from Sami over “doing the right thing,” but she doesn’t say anything he doesn’t want to hear when he leaves the cash on her pillow.

It’s what she’s best at.

The phone rings for as many times as Em usually likes to make people wait to show he isn’t desperate.

What?” comes the groggy-sounding voice of another girl who sounds equally pleased to be woken up early.

Emmett: “You up for some civic disobedience?”

GM: “It better be good to be this early,” Miranda grogs.

Emmett: “Only if you’re able to take it, Super Saiyan. Look, you remember telling me about robocalls? And messages? All that? Is there any reason you couldn’t set something up to flag a police precinct with a bunch of calls and emails and the like?”

“Particularly of false sightings that happen to carry my description?”

GM: “Yeah, it’s basically a limp-dicked version of swatting.”

“That can get people killed.”

There’s a thick giggle.

Emmett: “Yeah, well, with how bad they’re looking for me, this might too. So be careful. Cover your ass, but if you can get them running all over the city…” he glances back at the other room, then lowers his voice and cups the phone’s mouthpiece. “I will do things to you that will make you happy for the wheelchair the whole next day.”

GM: “Ohhh, like what things?”

She’s never been one for innuendo.

There a crunch from the phone’s receiver like she’s already eating.


There’s a glug, then a loud belch.

Emmett: “I’ll keep you guessing. Just stay safe, okay?”

GM: “Eh who cares about that.”

“But okay. I can keep the pigs oinking.”

Emmett: “I do. Don’t get hurt. And thanks. I owe you one.”

GM: “Yeah you will.” There’s another thick giggle. “Oink oink oink.”

Emmett: “Oink,” he agrees, thinking again about the big bad wolf, and hangs up.

He briefly worries about his parents. What will they think, when the police knock down their door?

Probably nothing new.

He briefly regrets not telling her to send them to Ron’s place.

GM: Regrets are nothing new for a Delacroix either.

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM

GM: Em gets out and hails a cab. Falafel Joe is happy to drive him through the city. Em doesn’t care where. So long as they keep driving. Em sits in that cab for over 12 hours, interspersed by a few food and bathroom breaks. There’s also an ATM stop. The cabbie’s fee climbs into the quadruple digits and he doesn’t want to accept credit cards. By the time it’s over, it’s the most expensive cab ride of Em’s life, but his driver seems well-pleased. He even insists on buying Em some of the shawarmas that are his daily lunch. They’re mutton, pita, lettuce, yogurt, and lots of sauce.

Joe drops him off outside the House of Blues in the French Quarter.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get the smell of hummus gas out of these clothes.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get Middle Eastern discothèque out of his head.

Joe looks absolutely delighted, though, by what might well be the most lucrative day of his career.

“You need a ride any time, any blace, no questions, you call Joe!” he waves, even leaving Em with his cell number.

Emmett: He thinks he’s a genius, at first. It’ll be pricey, but cops never stop cabs—terrible impression to make on tourists. Four hours into the hummus-stinking journey, he’s mellowed considerably. He sleeps, badly, but it’s a good bad sleep, that straddles the edges of wakefulness while sparing him the worst rigors of a conscious mind. When Joe brings him the pita-wrapped, dripping schwarmas, he devours them ravenously.

12 hours pass. They aren’t comfortable, or particularly pleasant. But they’re safe, and he knows what to expect during them.

That may make it the best way he could have spent his money.

And spend it he does. He’s broke outside the House of Blues. He steals a drunken tourist’s wallet and walks inside the place stinking of hummus and cigarettes and bad ideas.

It’s 8:50. He sits at the bar, buys a drink, and looks for a cop. You can always tell a cop by how they carry themselves, somebody told him in OPP once. Like they’ve got a bad back that doesn’t have the right to break yet.

GM: Said to be “hard to find and harder to leave,” the New Orleans House of Blues is a combination live music venue, bar and restaurant named one of the city’s “hidden venues,” though it remains part of a larger franchise.

Em doesn’t see any cops outside.

But he does see someone else.

She is a cold, haughty beauty, with high cheekbones, porcelain-pale features, and lustrous brown hair, but it’s a beauty that makes Em’s skin crawl. It’s not the pretty kind of beauty. It’s the terrible kind. The kind that can do unspeakable things, like never once smiling, and still look beautiful. It reminds him of the woman with the poison eyes. She wears a white trench coat, black leather gloves, and felt hat.

Knowing his luck, she is undoubtedly looking for someone.

Emmett: Knowing his luck, he can bet who.

He walks into the place next door, careful not to let her see him.

Then he uses his shitty burner phone’s internet access to find the House of Blues number, squinting at the tiny screen. He dials it.

GM: “House of Blues,” greets a man’s voice after several rings. Blues music is faintly audible.

Emmett: “Call for a Pete. Tell him it’s from Celia.”

GM: There’s a wait.

“Pete,” comes a voice in the firm sort of tone Em has already learned to associate with law enforcement officers.

“From what I hear your voice is a little deep to be a Celia.”

Emmett: “She sent me,” he says without preamble. “But you’ve got a problem out front. Scary-looking bitch with a trench coat. I saw her before she saw me. Can you get to the place next door?” He gives him the name.

“Without her seeing you?”

GM: “Could try. But it’s a gamble.” He doesn’t say why. “I’m guessing you’ve got something for me.”

“Pay someone there to drop it off at the Evergreen Plantation. I’ll reimburse you.”

Oh. He’s broke.

Emmett: “I’m broke,” he mutters. “I’ll have to do it myself. Or—“

He pauses. “I’m Emmett Delacroix. You heard my name in the last few hours? Thanks to all this shit, I’m wanted. And you’re a detective. You following my train of thought?”

GM: “Oh, is that so? Are you giving yourself in, Emmett?”

Emmett: “Long as you’re the one who takes me in. And as long as you can promise I’m not dead as soon as I set foot into a precinct.” He isn’t sure if the other man can hear the exhaustion in his voice. “I’ve had a really long day, and I’ve probably fucked up my life more than can be unfucked. So as long as you do what you promised her you’d do…it doesn’t really matter what happens to me. Are you gonna come take me in, or not?”

He clears his throat. “Um. Sir.”

GM: “Okay. I can do both promises. Hang tight,” says Pete.

“What are you wearing?”

Emmett: He laughs. “I’ll be the best-looking guy in the bar.” He describes his clothes. “You won’t miss me. You’ll smell hummus.”

GM: He’s approached a little while later by a girl who flirts with him, saddles up close, and whispers in his ear, “Pete said you had something to pass on.”

Emmett: He passes it to her. “It’s never the other package they’re looking for,” he grouses.

GM: The girl smirks and heads off.

A little while later, he’s approached by a short and stocky gray-eyed man with dark hair and the unmistakable demeanor of a cop. “Emmett Delacroix?” he asks.

Emmett: “That’s what it says on my underwear,” he says, and holds out his wrists.

GM: The cuffs snap on. He hears the Miranda warning he’s heard enough times to have memorized himself.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Emmett: “…read to you?” he finishes reciting along.

“Yeah. Let’s roll.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XIV
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Emil IV

Previous, by Emil: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VIII
Next, by Emil: Story Ten, Emil IV

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VIII
Next, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XVII, Emmett X

Story Ten, Celia XIV

“You listen to me, now, Daddy.”
Celia Flores

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Celia: At this speed, the world is a blur. At this speed, she is too fast for her thoughts to keep up. At this speed, the process is a series of instincts: leap, dodge, dive, swerve.

She runs. She runs faster than she has ever run. She runs for something that she should not have had to lose, that she is desperately afraid will not be there when she arrives. She runs for all the mistakes she has ever made, fueled by one thought, by one purpose.


Raw, burning, unfiltered hatred. It fills her. The blurry world is nothing but red, nothing but fury, nothing but an inferno swirling around her that she is ready to unleash upon her father. She avoids people, crowds, the guards at the gate. Because at this speed, they are nothing to her, tiny obstacles that she can simply avoid.

At this speed, she’s at the door of 3 Audubon Place in just over three minutes. She doesn’t knock. She barrels in. She hopes someone hears her coming. She hopes he knows what’s in store for him. She hopes Isabel is waiting, so she can drive her face into the wall before she ever starts on Daddy.

GM: Celia’s tornado-like progress is arrested by her home’s front door.

It’s locked.

But she can hear it, from the third floor.

Past the window.

Past the gag.


Celia: As if a door will ever be enough to stop her. As if a door can hold back an inferno. Her hand closes over the handle, squeezing, forcing it open.

GM: Celia has her father’s strength. But it’s locked tight.

She can still hear it, from her bedroom.

Her mom must be really screaming.

Celia: She’d expected to barge right in. That brute strength would see her through. When she’s drawn up short by the door she reaches for the purse she’d slung over her shoulder, finds her keys, and shoves them into the lock to get inside.

GM: She blurs through the house. Blurs up the stairs. She knows where to go.

She smells it, before she crosses the door’s threshold.

She smells it like she did at Chase’s apartment.

That telltale coppery tang.

Then she sees it.

Lying on the ground.

Three sawed-off toes.

Celia: There’s a momentary pause. A brief hesitation in the doorway. The smell hits her, almost sends her back down memory lane. To that night. This night. Her father with the hacksaw. Her mother screaming.

Only she isn’t fourteen anymore. She isn’t useless. She’s strong, fast. She charges across the room toward her father.

GM: Celia’s mom is tied down to the bed, just like she was in the video. But it’s one thing to see it there, and another to see it in person. Most of the bruises mar her swollen, alternately black, blue, and purpled eggplant-like face, but there’s more bruises along her spread-eagled naked body too. There’s red all over the sheets. Celia’s dad is seated on the corner of the bed and holding up the saw as his ex-wife gives raw, deep-throated, only partly muffled screams past her gag.

“You tried to take my kids from me, Diana.”

“So I’m going to take the last thing your largely purposeless and socially noncontributive existence still has left for you.”

“No more dancing period. No more of your stupid jo-”

He’s cut off as Celia slams into him. He’s bigger than her. Over a foot taller. Over a hundred pounds heaver. It doesn’t matter. Celia hits him like a missile, knocking him off the bed. His large frame hits the floor with a crash.

He throws an instinctive punch upwards, clouting Celia hard across the jaw. She tastes blood and staggers back.

Her dad picks himself up and looks down at her.

“So there’s my little girl.”

There’s some surprise on his face. How the hell did she tackle him?

“I’m glad you’re back, Celia. It’s important that you see this.”

Celia: “Stop.”

There’s a command in her voice. That thing she didn’t know was inside of her, the same thing that made Em fuck her after he turned her down. She unleashes it on him, pushes it into him, forces him to listen to her.

She rises to her feet, movements slow. Blood drips from her mouth onto the borrowed shirt.

“You listen to me, now, Daddy.”

GM: Celia’s mom jerks her head back and forth. Her black and swollen eyes are further bulged with equal parts pain and terror.

“F—EE-LL-AAA-!!!! G-G-OUU!!!!”

Her dad just stares at her for a moment, his eyes oddly clouded.

Then he hugs her close and strokes her hair.

“Oh, Celia,” he whispers. “I’m so glad you’re home. I’m so glad you’re safe.”

“I’m listening, sweetie. Whatever it is. Daddy’s listening.”

Celia: Daddy’s listening.

There’s a thrill that runs through her. A shiver down her spine. A tightening of her nipples and fire in her core. Daddy’s listening. She gets it now, why she wants to serve the things, why she’d agreed to the deal. She’d do anything to continue this.

She smiles up at her daddy.

“Do you love me, Daddy?”

GM: “More than anything, sweetie.”

He kisses her head. Keeps her hugged close.

“You’re my little princess.”

Celia: “I’m so happy to say you hear that. We’re going to do such amazing things together, Daddy.”

Celia looks past him to where her mom is on the bed. She frowns.

“You hurt Momma. Tell her you’re sorry, Daddy.”

GM: Blood continues to messily leak from her mother’s feet. She looks barely conscious past the pain. She’s not screaming at this point so much as making a high-pitched, mangled, continued whine through her gag.

But Celia can see the confusion in her eyes.

Celia’s dad frowns. She can feel the resistance in his mind towards the very idea.

“You don’t have a mom, Celia. She abandoned you.”

He rubs her back reassuringly.

Celia: Celia nods slowly.

“You’re right, Daddy. She did. She left us. Abandoned us.” She looks toward the woman. “But if you cut her to pieces now, you can’t continue your fun with her. And we’re going to have fun together today aren’t we, Daddy?”

She smiles up at him. Beams, really.

“You know who else we get to have fun with? Isabel. Why don’t you go get her, Daddy? Don’t tell her I’m here, though, I want it to be a surprise. In fact, tell her there is a surprise. Blindfold her. Stay in her room until I come get you. If she resists, spank her. But she won’t resist, will she? She loves you, Daddy. Just like I do.”

GM: Celia’s dad beams back at her.

“Okay, Celia. I’ll go tell your sister. We’ll have lots of fun, the three of us.”

He gives her another squeeze, another smile, then leaves the room.

He closes the door behind him.

Celia: “Mom, I need you to stay calm. I know you’re in pain. I’m going to get you out of here. Can you be calm for me?” She does it again, puts that calm feeling into the air around her directed at the woman. Her eyes flash, a little more colorful than their usual dark brown.

Celia is already untying her. She’s gentle as she lifts the broken, bleeding woman into her arms, careful not to jostle her too much. She picks up the toes as she leaves, stops by the kitchen for a plastic bag and some ice where she deposits the toes, and presses a clean dish towel to her mother’s bleeding stumps.

Can they fix this? Can they fix the lost toes, like they did her arm, or do the limbs still need to be attached? She doesn’t know. Pete had told her not to tell her mom. That if she tells her mom anything, shows her anything, she’ll die. So Celia fills her with confusion. Makes her feel like the world is spinning, like time is flowing differently, like this is because of blood loss and trauma.

GM: Celia finds she need hardly exercise her new power upon her mother’s mind. There is already so much blood loss. There is already so much trauma. There is already so much pain. Blood immediately begins to soak through the towel. Celia’s mom stares at her with deliriously out of focus eyes, only half-visible behind the swelling, and tries to whimper something past her gag. Then her head slumps silently backwards.

Celia: Celia runs. Tulane Medical Center. By car, it’s 17 minutes. On her own, with her mother in her arms, avoiding the roads and taking the straight route, it’s a little over four miles away. She’s there in two and a half minutes. She stops running when she reaches the building, slows to a normal pace. She finds a wheelchair and deposits her mother into the seat, wheeling her into the ER and up to the triage intake desk.

“This woman needs help.”

GM: Celia’s mother is limp in her arms as she blurs from Audubon to the hospital. A few people stare and gawk at the injured woman’s nudity. The triage nurse assesses her condition as “urgent and life-threatening.” She’s promptly whisked away on a stretcher by medical personnel. Along with the bag of ice-preserved toes.

Celia: She fades into the background as easily as she came. Anyone who calls out to her is ignored. Anyone who tries to stop her is brushed past. Her mother is safe now, or as safe as she can be. Daddy is waiting at home.

Waiting for her. For her vengeance. For her anger and rage and destruction. He is waiting for her to tear him apart, like the loyal little lapdog that he is. That’s the only thing on her mind as she moves once more through the streets, back to Audubon Place, back to her sister and father.

When your body moves as quickly as Celia’s does, avoiding obstacles are just instinct. It frees her mind to think of all the ways she is going to destroy her father, of all the things she will do to him for hurting her mother, for destroying her family. Of all the ways she will cover it up, and what she’ll do when the monster comes for her, too.

Donovan. He has a name. She should use it. Give something a name and you’re less scared of it.

Maxen. Not Dad. Not Father. Not Daddy. Maxen. Just a man.

GM: Just a man, against her new power.

2.5 minutes later and she’s back home, outside her oldest sister’s room.

“…but you can’t tell me anything, Daddy?” comes Isabel’s voice.

“It’s a surprise, sweetie. Just be patient.”

“Okay. I can be patient.”

“You’re a good girl.”

Celia: She hears the voices coming from inside Isabel’s room and pauses.

“Daddy?” she calls out. “Is she ready?”

GM: “Yes, sweetie, she’s all ready,” her father calls back.

“Is that Celia?” Isabel gawks. “What’s she doing here? Where was she?”

Then, angrily, “Daddy, she helped Diana kidnap us!”

Celia: “Daddy, why don’t you gag her so she can’t spoil our time together with lies.”

GM: “What!? I’m not lying! SHE’S the liar! She always, ALWAYS, lie-mmmmf!”

Isabel is cut off by the sound of something thick in her mouth.

Celia: Celia steps into the open doorway.

GM: Isabel’s eyes flare, but she doesn’t fight her dad as he stuffs the pillowcase into her mouth.

“Mm-mmf! Sh-mmmf!” she exclaims, pointing at Celia.

Celia: “She’s flailing,” Celia says with a tut. “Why don’t you tie her to the bed so she doesn’t hurt herself.”

GM: Celia’s dad holds Isabel’s arms down. “Good point, sweetie. Can you get me some rope, please?”

MMMF!” Isabel exclaims, her eyes wide as she shakes her head.

Celia: “There’s some in my room. Bring her there.”


Celia’s dad pulls up her sister. “This way, Isabel. Stop yelling. That isn’t ladylike.”

Isabel glares daggers past her bulging eyes.

Celia: “I moved the other one for you,” Celia says, voice saccharine. “So the coast is clear. I’m so thoughtful, Daddy. Don’t you think?”

GM: Her dad suddenly frowns. “Where is she, Celia?”

Celia: “Somewhere safe.” She’s all smiles, all happy nonchalance. “Exactly where I need her to be. We get to continue with her later.”

“Tie Isabel down, please. We don’t want her to hurt herself.”

GM: The frown persists.

But after a moment, he ties Isabel down. The ropes are still bloody.

Celia’s sister gives more muffled exclamations of alarm. Their dad slaps her across the face when she struggles.

“Stop that right now.”

Celia: Celia lingers in the doorway. She’d seen the camera angle on Emil’s laptop and knows that there are a few places in the room that are blind spots, and here in the door is one of them.

She watches her sister struggle. The smack against her face is satisfying. She wants to see him do it again. She wants him to punish her like the vicious little cunt that she is. She smiles at her sister. It doesn’t reach her eyes. Her jade green eyes. It’s like a thick fog that she pushes out of her, an ensnaring sense of dread and doom she threads through the room, clouding Isabel’s mind.

Go ahead and struggle, Is. See how far that gets you.

GM: Isabel meets Celia’s eyes.

Then she screams.

It’s a muffled sound, past the gag, but she kicks and thrashes with wild eyes.

Her father slaps her again, hard enough to turn her head. It leaves an angry red mark.

“I don’t repeat myself, Isabel.”

Celia’s sister numbly quiets down.

Celia: “Why don’t you give her another one, just for good measure. She should know better than to make you repeat yourself. In fact, Daddy, why don’t you use the hacksaw on her? How many times are you going to have to make the lesson sink in before she gets it? Taking a toe will make her think twice.”

GM: “That’s a good point, sweetie,” her dad remarks thoughtfully.

He pulls off Isabel’s sock and pulls up the saw.

Her eyes bulge.

Celia: She smiles at her sister.

GM: Their dad holds down Isabel’s foot. Blood sprays as serrated edges grind through flesh. Isabel’s screams are horrific. There are scraping sounds, as the edges catch against bone, but sawing is what a saw is for, and Celia’s father saws it back and forth.

Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Isabel’s screams are higher-pitched than their mom’s. But they’re no less pained.

The big toe finally comes off with a messy red spurt. More blood pills over the mattress.

Isabel stares at it.

Her eyes are wide. Disbelieving. Unreal.

But mostly, she just cries and screams.

How she screams.

Maxen stares at the severed toe.

Celia: “She’s still screaming, Daddy. Didn’t you tell her to be quiet?”

GM: “Celia, call 911. Your sister needs a hospital,” their dad says thickly.

He blinks several times.

He pulls a pillowcase off the pillow, wraps it tightly around the foot, and applies pressure.

Celia: “Of course, Daddy.” Celia pulls out her phone. Presses a few buttons, none of them 9 or 1. “You know what would help in the meantime? Kiss it better. Make her feel good. She’ll forget the way it hurts, I bet.”

GM: Celia’s father clutches his head.


Celia: “Do it, Daddy. Kiss her better. In fact, why don’t you take her clothes off too. Really get in there. Show her how good you can make her feel. Fuck her like you did Diana. Teach her her place. Beneath you.”

His hesitation is concerning. She breathes sharply through her nose, lips pressed tightly together. She is not letting him go now. Not yet. He still has more to do. More to pay for. They both do.

GM: Celia’s father keeps screaming, then rips off his and Isabel’s clothes.



Isabel’s father spreads her thighs and fills her. Isabel’s face is a mosaic of pain and horror. Their dad keeps screaming. It’s a raw, deep-throated, almost animal-like sound. He stops midway through several times, then resumes faster and harder than ever, balls loudly smacking against his daughter’s thighs.


He takes her manically, savagely, desperately. Celia can’t see his face. Just the sweat trickling from his bald head. The way he clutches the sheets beneath his hands, tight enough she can see the bone.

Blood drips from Isabel’s crudely bandaged toe. Celia has to admit that makes this even better (or worse). Maxen at least waited to cut off Diana’s toes until after he’d fucked her.

There’s blood underneath Isabel’s thighs, too. She must have broken her hymen.

She screams, at first, past the gag. On and on and on.

Towards the end, she stops. She closes her eyes. Shuts down. Her face twitches, but it looks like a purely physical reflex, from her toe’s pain. She’s withdrawing to some distant and untouchable place. To escape the horror. To wait until it’s safe for her mind to come back out.

Her dad continues thrusting into her. Harder, faster, as his climax approaches.

It’s when he shudders and fills her with his cum that Isabel’s eyes snap back open.

She gives an enormous smile past the gag.

And she laughs.

It’s part scream.

Part moan.

Part sob.

She tugs her bound arms.

And she buries her face against his neck.


There’s high-pitched, raggedy giggles.

“Mm-mmf y! Mm-mmf y! M-myy-mmm-f-y!”

Celia: She deserves this. She deserves this. She deserves this.

It’s the only thought she can think. The truth she clings to, the mantra she tells herself. Over and over again. Every time he thrusts she thinks it. Every time Isabel screams she tells herself that it’s well-deserved.

The laughter shatters her truth. Shatters her, like Isabel is shattered. Broken. There’s something wrong with them both. Her heart hardened into hatred, and all Isabel wanted was to be accepted by the parent who didn’t abandon her.

Bile rises up in her throat and she chokes it back down. She doesn’t look away this time. She waits for him to finish, until he pulls out. And digs again, digs into his brain before he can realize what he has done, pushes her will into him again.

You’re mine. Mine, mine, mine. I will break you, too, like you broke everyone else.

GM: Celia’s father clutches his head.

He topples backwards.

Falls off the bed.

Hits the floor.

His mouth silently works and gasps.

His eyes bulge.

Celia: “Come here, Daddy. Let me make you feel better.”

GM: Maxen’s neck jerks towards her.

The veins along his neck bulge.

His jaw falls open.

His mouth numbly works.

Then he just freezes.

Celia can hear it, behind her.


She turns.

Max.jpg It’s her dad.

Same clothes.

Same baldness.

Same face.

Same dad.

Celia: It’s him.

Her body runs cold. He’s here for her. To end her. For taking his dog’s bone. For punishing the rabid animal.

She takes a step back. Another. How close until daylight? How close until sunshine and safety and twelve hours’ worth of running? How far can she go in twelve hours? Where can she hide, that they won’t find her?


The window is right there. She’s been out it before. Broke her arm going out it last time. And there’s no telling what he can do. Maybe if she lets him take her he’ll make it quick. Maybe she’ll stop hurting. She’s so tired of hurting. Tired of being afraid. Tired of belonging to other people.

“I knew the blood would draw you in.”

GM: It has.

Because the window is open, too.

Celia’s… fathers wordlessly turn towards it.

They aren’t alone.

He is there.

Floating in the air. Rising. Like a marionette pulled by unseen strings.

He looks like a man, but only in the way that latex knows how to pour into a mold. How to approximate the shape of what it is not. He’s a hair below average height, clean-shaven, and has short, neatly combed black hair. He’s dressed in a black turtleneck shirt and navy slacks. He looks as if he could be the host for a gallery opening or wine tasting event… were it not for his eyes. They are the sea-gray color of troubled skies and distant storm clouds, harbingers of a coming doom. They are as frigid as the Arctic’s blackest depths and as remorseless as any shark’s. Even without staring at Celia, those awful eyes seem to pierce through to the once-child’s and now-woman’s very soul. Against that dead stare, the rest of his nature stands seemingly revealed. There’s the too-cold, too-white skin like a porcelain doll’s. There’s the utter stillness, the statue-like way he doesn’t blink, smile, make any of those little movements that normal people do. There’s how the very air around him feels colder, how Celia can already feel goosebumps breaking out along her flesh as her teeth chatter.

And she knows now. Knows, with all the certainty of an adult whose fears cannot be dismissed as a child’s imagined nightmares:

Monsters are real.

Celia: There’s nowhere to run. There are two Maxens and one Donovan. Three monsters in total.

Four, if Celia counts herself. She should start counting herself. Only a monster could do what she’s done.

“There’s enough video evidence to bury him.”

Her voice lacks any emotion. It’s flat and hard and cold, just like the thing in front of her, the thing she addresses now. No chattering teeth. No panic-laced fear. Just perfunctory facts.

She’s already accepted her death, and she won’t go out screaming.

“You’ll need a new toy.”

GM: She doesn’t see him move.

He’s there.

Then he’s not.

She’s there.

Then she’s not.

Ice envelops her body. Wind shrieks past her popping ears. There’s motion. Vertigo. Flipping her stomach. Dark clouds rush past. Audubon Place’s lights plummet beneath them. She can see the whole city under their feet. The sprawled-out, distant lights look like strings of glowing pearls.

Mist and fog swirl around her like spectral dancers at a midnight ball. Wind howls in her ear, blowing back her hair. His cold, oh so cold, mercilessly strong hands are all that’s holding her aloft. Her heart hammers so hard in her chest she can almost hear it.

Celia: He’s going to drop her. He’s going to drop her and watch her fall, shrieking, to the ground below. There is no coming back from that. Even water will feel like concrete. She’ll crush every bone in her body. Turn them into dust in fleshy tubes.

She lied. She doesn’t want to die. She isn’t ready to die. She just wanted to save her mom. Protect her family. She took it too far.

She clings to whatever part of him she can reach. Tucks her face against his chest. She won’t look. She won’t. Her tears freeze on her cheeks, turn to ice. Her teeth chatter so hard she can’t get a word out.

Maybe she’ll freeze first. Then she won’t feel it when he lets go. Her body will turn to ice and shatter on impact, and no one who sees the frozen bits of flesh will know that they once belonged to her. Or they will, and people will forever wonder how she came to die that way.

Celia Flores, immortal.

Jade, not as hard as she thought.

GM: Celia sinks into the dark figure’s embrace like a lost child into its mother’s. His cold, oh so cold hands caress her body through the dress’s pitifully thin fabric. She feels her nipples stiffen, her breath come in ragged, throaty gasps. His hands slide up her neck like serpents and tilt it back. Winter-cold kisses press against her forehead, her cheek, then descend steadily lower.

Celia: She had known.

All of her life, she had known, since that evening she saw him through the balusters when she was still a child. Every step that she has taken in her life has lead her here, to him, to this dark fantasy: high above the city, his icy arms around her, the wind whipping at hair and dress.

Her thoughts open, spilling outward. Memories of him, of that night, when she made a similar mistake, when she crept up the stairs with a gun. How he had picked her up, like this, and carried her to the safety of a warm bed; only here, in the sky, there is no bed waiting for her, no father-figure to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight. There are just his hands, cold upon her body, and his lips moving ever closer to her exposed throat.

His hand cradles her skull. How easily he could crush her. Rip her open. Tear her apart, leave her useless and broken, to match her useless and broken insides. Twisted. Aching. What she wouldn’t give to take it all back, to wake up tomorrow in her dorm with only the threat of a test she did not study for looming in front of her.

I’m fast, she had told the detective.

Not fast enough.

Never fast enough. Light cannot escape the pull of a black hole. It can bend and twist all it wants, and still in the end it will be sucked in, stuck in the orbit of the darkness writhing inside. Forever.

There is no escape.

Just temporary freedom, and hers is nearly up.

It was over for her the night he returned what he had taken. The night he picked her up and whispered in her ear, then let her fall. This has all been borrowed time.

She has one more night to borrow. One final play to make. And if it doesn’t work then she is dead. She is dead anyway, drowning in the waters of Hell, grasping at the lifeline thrown by monsters who only want to watch her dangle.

His name leaves her lips, soft as a sigh.


GM: The dark figure does not reply.

Winter licks and breathes against Celia’s neck, leaving traces of frost. Harbingers of cold nights and the senescent season to come. Dawn seems as far away as the ground. She is terribly conscious of her weight in his arms. Of the terrible void yawning beneath her. He could just let her drop. Plummet all those thousands of feet to her death. He holds her aloft in his arms like she weighs nothing. Like she is nothing. She is utterly within his power.


Two sharp, ice-cold points pierce her skin.

There’s a moment of pain, like her first time with Stephen. Icicles stabbed into her bloodstream. But then there’s bliss, like her neck is her clit and he’s doing everything right. Better than right. It’s euphoria. Every nerve cries out with pleasure. It leaves her giddy and light-headed, and perhaps some of it is the high altitude. Wind whips at her hair. Maybe she’s suffering oxygen loss. There’s a term for it. An ‘ox’, an ‘ia’, but she can’t remember. It doesn’t matter.

Nothing matters.

He’s there.

She’s there.

Filling him.

He is so cold. So empty. Where Chase and the jade-eyed woman filled her with ecstasy, left her screaming and writhing and burning up inside, he makes her shiver with chill. With loss. Next to them, he truly seems a vampire. He simply takes. All of her warmth. All of her life. All of it into himself. He is empty and she can fill him. She must fill him.

She distantly registers other sensations. Other sights. Other sounds. The tiny red droplets rolling off her neck, falling all those thousands of feet like sanguine teardrops. The low, steady sucking noise as he takes her life into hers. The goosebumps on her flesh. The crisp, clean smell of the night air, cool and unpolluted as it fills her lungs. The so-close and so-bright stars, peering down on the pair like twinkling voyeurs. The cool wetness in the air. The clouds and fog swirling about them, blending fantasy with reality, dream with waking. The feeling of her breasts pressing against his so-cold chest. Her stomach against his. Her pelvis against his. Only their feet don’t meet. They float. They float like ballerinas like her mom could only ever dream of floating.

The pair hang suspended in the night sky. Two lives become as one, Celia’s flowing into his, flowing through the frigid ecstasy of his kiss.

Yet even as lives and flesh join, Celia feels his presence in her mind. She closes her eyes and his face is there. She thinks of all the thousands of feet in that drop and his face is there. She thinks of her father and his face is there. She thinks of her sister, her mother, Stephen, Emily, and his face is there. His statue-still, mask-like face, those stormy eyes piercing into her soul. Instinct screams to look away. She should not look closer. She cannot invite this monster in. There is only death behind those achromatic eyes. Death and damnation. Damnation and suffering. Death can be a reprieve. If she’d died in the womb, would her family suffer now?

Stupid. What a stupid thing to care about. It doesn’t matter how stupid she is. Smart or dumb, she is a monster.

He is a monster.

They deserve each other.

They are made for each other.

He’s knocking.

She’s waiting.

Does she let him in?

Celia: There was never a chance. Half-formed ideas drop from her mind as the blood drains from her body. There is nothing but him now. There has never been anything but him. Everything else was a distraction, a game, a cruel dream that died upon waking. This, here, this is reality.

This is her world. Her truth: life, death, none of it matters, nothing but him.

He drinks and she wanes. Her fire gutters out in the wake of such cold, until it’s just glowing embers in her belly. Her breath no longer fogs in the air between them. Her body arches into him as the strength fades from her limbs, fingers curling in his shirt. He doesn’t need to take because she gives, freely, all of it.

Have it. Have it all. Keep it, if only he’ll keep her, too.

She opens herself to him.

And in doing so, he can see her. Who she is inside, not the plethora of masks that she has worn, not the weeping, crying girl she plays for her dad, or the beauty queen she plays for the goddess, or the troubled addict-in-waiting she plays for her Em, panic always just around the corner.

The truth, now. Green steel. Poise and grace and sharp lines, façade pulled free. Corruption incarnate. Reverent, resourceful, resolved. An ornate mirror wrapped in silver filigree and red roses, and on its surface her monster:

Beauty. Beast.

GM: He pulls back from Celia’s neck. Sight and sound are fast fading: minutes seem to pass between each beat of her heart. She no longer feels the cold. She no longer hears the wind.

But she sees the blood, her blood, on the vampire’s lips.

And she sees his eyes.

His achromatic gaze is as still, cold, and dead as any shark’s, but something seems to stir within its frigid depths. Motion just beyond her sight, imperceptible to conscious mind, but ominously visible to some deeper instinct, to some part of herself best kept locked away. Motion like the clouds to a troubled sky. A gathering storm.

There is a dark eye to that hurricane. Inscrutable, save that it cannot promise respite.

It beckons to Celia, like that innocuously self-destructive one sometimes feels at great heights. To just—jump.

Celia jumps.

Their gazes lock.

And she sees him for who he is.


DISCLAIMER: The next portion of this log contains obscene and sexually explicit images that are intended for ADULTS ONLY. If you are under the age of 18, if such material offends you, or if it is illegal to view such material in your community, then you should not click the below link.

If you over the age of 18 and want to read the next portion of this log, click here to read it externally over Google Docs.

Celia: It’s pulling at her. The darkness, the sin, the corruption. Swirling through her mind, ensnaring her senses, beckoning her further into its embrace. Its black, abyssal embrace. It whispers in her mind. Tells her to come and play.

stay a while and listen.

It’s too much. It’s overwhelming. A wave, crashing, again and again against her skull, knocking her over, sending her reeling. Every second a new image, a new scene of depravity, a new way to twist her mind. An onslaught. It threatens to drag her under, to drown her in its sanguine water, to keep her locked away with the horrific visions and nightmares incarnate. It threatens to shatter her, to break her completely, to stuff her into its open, snarling maw and swallow her down to never see the light of day again.

She will never be whole again.

She pulls back.

GM: But there is nothing to pull back to.

She is falling, sinking into the blackness. Cold hands no longer caress her. Cold air no longer chills her. The city’s lights are dead. Sound bleeds away as the mortal coil sloughs off. All is empty. All is dead.

Damp lips brush against hers.



Butterflies in the stomach.

Must be.


He’s the only one who understands her.

The only one who accepts her.


The only one who understands him.

The only one who accepts him.



They deserve each other.

The only one who can love her.

The only one who can love him.



Stephen’s all right.

Emily’s all right.

Mom’s all right.

Oh, Daddy.



My little princess.





Crunching bone. Bursting vessels. Every inch of flesh screaming its torment. Fire exploding through every cell.

Happy birthday to you


Happy birthday to you


Happy birthday, dear Celia


Happy birthday to you

Make a wish, baby girl.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett VIII

Previous, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VII
Next, by Character: Story Ten, Celia XV

Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VIII

“Be prepared for the worst.”
Peter Lebeaux

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Celia: It is not yet 5 AM when Celia steals from the house in a borrowed shirt. The Mardi Gras Zone Supermarket is open twenty-four hours, and while some part of her knows she could run there more quickly than she could take the car, she isn’t sure how much she’ll find that she needs. She takes a flash drive with her with the freshly designed party invitations she’d made online.

There is some time yet until sunup, but there are things she can do in the meantime, and one of them includes a shopping trip. The car slides through the nearly-empty streets, that sweet spot between when the parties have died and the working man wakes up.

The ‘supermarket’ in question is inside what looks like a former warehouse. Outside it is unassuming, its entrance a single door set into a brick wall overhung by well-faded awning. Blue and white icicle-shaped lights are strung up all around it, and the glow of the overheads within shine out onto the sidewalk.

Celia parks the car on the street, mindful of the handicap signs right in front of the door, and heads in.

Inside it is larger than it appears. Wall to wall aisles stocked with party goods, clothing, and food line the shelves. The center of the store is taken up by a small cafe and tables, though Celia has no interest in the sign proclaiming “Cafe du Monde coffee & beignets, $2.99.”

She gets a basket and starts shopping. It doesn’t take long to find what she needs. She even convinces the clerk to let her print her invitations on the premium cardstock with a flirty giggle and a cant of her head.

Then it’s back into the car, back to Em’s to drop off her haul.

It still isn’t time to go to Audubon. She pulls out her laptop instead, creates a new account with a new email address on Facemash, and makes an event page. Then invites every person she can find at Tulane. She uploads a digital copy of the invitation, too, and sticks the rest in her bag to hand out later.

She sends a copy of it to Stephen, too, with a little smiley face and a heart and an eggplant emoji.

GM: Stephen does not immediately respond to the flirtatious message, but Celia does get a phone call from a number she doesn’t recognize.

Celia: “Hello?”

GM: “This is Pete,” says the voice of the detective from earlier.

“Sorry to disturb you so late, Miss Flores.”

Celia: “It’s actually a little early, Detective,” she laughs. “What can I do for you?”

GM: “I was trying to check in on your family earlier this evening, but didn’t have any luck. Have you been in touch with them recently?”

Celia: “I haven’t, no.”

That’s the truth.

“I was supposed to have dinner with them but something came up. Detective, I heard my dad is out of jail already, you don’t think…?” she trails off, putting a bit of panic into her voice.

GM: “I prefer to let facts do my thinking for me, ma’am. I would prefer to hear from your mother in person to know for sure. But it is very typical of abusers to continue harassing their victims despite a restraining order.”

Celia: “She sent me a text asking if I was safe but I thought it was because of dinner…”

GM: “Oh, did she have a reason to think you weren’t?”

Celia: “I’m not sure, Detective. I got a series of hectic texts from her. What if I head over and see what’s going on?”

GM: “How long ago were these texts?”

Celia: “Last night. Like 8 or 9.”

GM: “Okay. How about I meet you there?”

Celia: “Of course, sir. I’ll see you soon.”

Celia is already gathering her things: the cell phone taken from the house, her purse, a makeshift sling. Pete has seen her with a broken arm, which means her arm needs to look broken. Her sling should be at the house. But just in case.

She waits for him to hang up before she runs. Runs to her mom’s house, which is still destroyed. Runs to set the phone back beneath the bed where she found it. Runs to find her missing sling and tug it on beneath her sweater. Checks to make sure that there is nothing off about the house, that it just looks as if someone came in and trashed it, that there are no signs of the monsters behind the destruction.

GM: Celia literally runs like the wind. She’s there soon. The house still looks destroyed, but as far as she can tell, it looks like her father could have been behind that.

Celia: Perfect. She leaves the door open on her way outside and waits for the detective.

GM: He arrives relatively soon. He looks Celia over for a moment, then heads upstairs with her. Surveys the destroyed apartment.

He bends down to pick up the shattered lasagna pan in his hands. Turns it over thoughtfully.

He presses his hand to the floor and says nothing for several moments, then looks back up at Celia.

“Devil’s bargain,” he says slowly.

Celia: The hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Hadn’t she just been thinking that? How does he know? She had followed at his heels while he checked the house, making dismayed noises and wringing her hands, and now uses the very real idea of her mother suffering at her father’s command to fill her voice with panic and her eyes with tears.


GM: The detective looks at her and opens his mouth.

They appear after a moment.


Celia: She has seconds to decide how to play this.

Not seconds.

Milliseconds. Split seconds. Whatever is smaller than that. The smallest amount of time she can possibly conceive, that’s how long she has.

He knows. He is one.

Don’t tell anyone about us or we’ll kill you. Is that the law? Then in revealing himself to her has he sentenced her to die? But her grandmother vouched for him.

No, she vouched for Gettis, not this unknown.

Real, unimagined, unpretended dread clenches its fist around her stomach, her lungs, her heart. She swallows. Readies herself to run, just in case this goes south.

“He took my mom.”

GM: Detective Pete merely nods.

He closes his mouth.

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I didn’t have a choice. I have to get her back. She’s my mom. She doesn’t… he’s going to hurt her.”

Because of me.

GM: The vampire looks across the destroyed apartment.

“Maybe if a few things had gone differently. All it takes, sometimes, is a little push at the right moment. Or wrong moment.”

He shakes his head.

“But mighta-beens are as useful as tits on a bull.”

“You’re right he’s going to hurt her. Probably has already. Might even be dead already.”

“It makes sense, from his perspective. Stop her from ever going after his kids again. Just scaring her got him arrested. Don’t peg him as the type for half-measures.”

Celia: No.

“She—no. She can’t—” Celia takes a step toward the door. “You can fix it. Fix her. If she’s—if she’s—”

Not dead. Not dead not dead not dead. She can’t be dead. She can’t. That means she fucked up. That means this is all on her. That she wasted an entire evening on friends instead of family. Instead of the only person who was ever there for her.

GM: “Perhaps you’d like to sit down,” Pete suggests quietly.

Someone else might put a hand around her shoulder. Guide her down. The vampire doesn’t.

Then again, it might feel worse if he did.

But Pete sits down.

“If she’s dead, there’s nothing I can do for her,” the detective says. “Might also be she isn’t dead.”

“There’s any number of reasons she might not be. Could be your dad wants to take his time. Could be that killing is simply beyond him, although that’s probably a crap shoot. Or that body disposal and explaining the disappearance is more than he wants to deal with right now.”

“Could also be he has a plan. Or just doesn’t care.”

“I’m not saying this to alarm you, but you should go into things with open eyes. Be prepared for the worst.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to sit. She wants to run. She hovers, anxiously, while he talks, and as the dread sets in she finds her knees bending until her body hits a chair.

“You’re not coming,” she breathes.

It isn’t a question. He’s talking as if he won’t be there. If he were going to go, he’d be in the car with her. Telling her this on the way. Handing her a gun or—or something more useful than sitting here talking.

She’s alone in this again.

GM: The vampire looks as if he might sigh. He doesn’t. He just looks tired.

“I did a little digging, earlier. Senator Maxen Flores lives in Audubon Place.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “It’s claimed by another of my kind. Place is locked up pretty tight.”

“Not impossible to break into. Main question is doing it without him catching wind.”

Celia: Claimed. They claim things. Like her now.

There’s a moment of hesitation before Celia blurts out, “You were there that night. You—you gave me the gun. Told me to put him down. That jail wouldn’t stop him.”

It’s a desperate question. She doesn’t know if it’s true or not, but maybe… maybe that’s why he’s here now, to let her know that is really the only way, to let her know that if Maxen turns up dead he won’t come after her.

GM: The detective frowns.

“I never gave you a gun, Celia. That’s some patently bad advice, too. Liable to destroy your life.”

Celia: Stupid.

She presses her face into her hands.

GM: “You kill your old man, pump his guts full of lead in his own house, the Kindred who’s behind him will find out. He’ll come for you. Possibly your family as well.”

Celia: The word Kindred means nothing to her, but context lets her make assumptions.

“He let it happen. With my mom. He was there that night. When my dad attacked her. I saw him.” He’d touched her. Carried her. Kissed her goodnight. “Then he gave me the gun and told me to do it.”

Why? So he could come after her with a clean conscious, claim it was revenge?

Is her dad his toy, like she is the beautiful woman’s? It has to be. She saw him, and her dad changed, like she’s changing. She rubs her temples. She doesn’t have enough information.

“You’re me,” she says to Pete, “what do you do?”

GM: “Well, I guess that depends,” Pete says.

“You made a deal with some… unruly houseguests, but you might’ve just done that because you were scared what would happen if you said no.”

“Who is your mom, to you? The rest of your family too, for that matter.”

Celia: “She… I mean, she’s my mom. She’s everything to me. She was there every time things went to shit. She helped me follow through with what I want to do instead of what Dad forced me to do. I love her. I’d do anything for her, like she would for me. And the rest of them… I mean, they’re my siblings. You have to love your siblings, right?”

There’s a pause. She looks at her hands, wondering what she is turning into.

“I stayed at Tulane to keep them safe from him. That’s what they mean to me. That I gave up my freedom so they wouldn’t take the brunt of his anger. When I’m around, I’m his target. And fine. I can handle that. I can play by his rules as long as it keeps them from being hit, being manhandled, being… beaten.”

Except for Isabel. Isabel is too far gone. Isabel did this.

GM: “Okay,” Pete says thoughtfully.


“If it were me, I’d try to get my family out during the day. Going in there at night is a fool’s errand. Which you seem to have already decided, or you’d be there now.”

Celia: “Yes,” she says flatly. “There’s a thing in there that only comes out at night. A…” one of you, she thinks, but doesn’t say, because she doesn’t know for sure.

Except that she does, and she is just terrified of admitting the truth, that she’s been dreaming about him for years, that every time she smells blood she’s back in that hallway and he is barreling towards her, and now she can’t think of him without imagining fangs as well.

“I was waiting until morning. To make sure he’s… gone.”

Only now Mom might be dead.

GM: Pete nods. “Your mom might be dead, because you’ve waited. But if he’s there now, you’re both dead anyway.”

“It’s not a happy choice. But I think you made the best one you could.”

Celia: His words give her the comfort she hadn’t realized she’d needed. She’d made the right choice. She nods anyway, even as the little voice in the back of her head tells her that her life is forfeit anyway, that in making her deal with the monsters she’d traded her life. Her mom might be dead anyway, and Celia’s life is still gone.

GM: “So let’s say you go in and get your family back. With or without your mom.”

“Your dad will want his kids back. He’ll pursue legal and extralegal means, and probably win through both. He’s a powerful man with powerful friends. The courts will rule in his favor, given enough time.”

“Try to really scare or kill him, of course, and you draw his master down on you.”

Celia: “And he kills me.”

GM: “It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Celia: “Then everything I did is for nothing.” Her voice is bitter. “I traded my life for nothing.”

GM: The vampire doesn’t say anything to that.

He just says, “The best outcome for you is that he simply gives up the kids and forgets his wife, and in such a way that he feels he can’t or shouldn’t go to his friend in the shadows for help.”

“Or that his friend decides he’s no longer a worthwhile investment. He loses an election or causes enough of a mess that his master decides the benefits of helping him out no longer outweigh the hassle.”

“At that point he’s just a man. Same as anybody.”

“Of course, if his master finds out you’ve influenced his behavior to make him useless, he might just remove the problem by removing you.”

Pete lets that hang.

“So get him to freely give up his family without turning to his friend, make him useless to his friend without seeming to have sabotaged him, or kill him without anyone else fining out.”

“It’s a tall order, whatever menu item you pick.”

Celia: “How do I find his… friend?”

GM: The vampire raises his eyebrows.

“And why would you want to do that?”

Celia: “Maxen is a dog. If a dog bites someone, you don’t fine the dog. You take it to the owner.”

GM: “The owner doesn’t care it bit you.”

Celia: “I see.”

“Reasoning with him was probably a stupid idea, anyway.”

GM: “As far as I know, your dad’s friend doesn’t have any real attachment to him. Or for that matter, much of anyone.”

“But I don’t see much reason he’d give up a useful dog for you, either.”

Celia: “I don’t want the dog, I want my family. He can keep the mutt.”

GM: “The mutt won’t stop barking if it loses its bone.”

Celia: “My mom thought you were cute, you know,” Celia says after a moment. “She was going to ask if you wanted to go out sometime, once all this was over.”

GM: “That’s a terrible idea,” the vampire says flatly.

“Not that she’s an unattractive woman,” he adds. “That’s precisely the problem.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, if she asks after I fix this then let her down gently.”

If she’s alive.

GM: “I’ll tell her I have a wife.”

The vampire actually looks a little regretful.

But resigned.

Celia: “She’ll probably need someone.” If she’s alive. If I get her out. If she’s not maimed beyond repair. “When I’m gone. Make sure she doesn’t… do something stupid, yeah?”

GM: “Well, maybe you won’t be gone. It’s up to her.”

Celia: “How do you know that? You just knew.”

GM: “It’s a common enough trick. Useful in my line of work. Just like you have your own.”

Celia: “You all do different things?”

That’s what it sounds like. Is he supposed to be telling her this much? Is this one of those ‘now that I’ve told you I’m going to kill you’ things?

She presses on anyway. “What about my dad’s friend? In case… in case I run into him.”

GM: There’s another grim look.

“You don’t want to run into him.”

Celia: “I do. I do want to run into him. I want to run into him with a knife, over and over and over again, so that he understands what he did to me, and to my mom, and to my family.”

GM: “Then your mom can go through the heartache of burying you,” Pete says flatly.

“I don’t know what particular tricks you’ve loaded up on, but they won’t be enough. Not against him. You’re too new to this.”

Celia: “I’m fast,” she says to him, lifting her chin.

GM: “Not fast enough. But go ahead and ignore the advice of someone who’s been doing this longer than several hours, if you’re determined to.”

Celia: “You said they have territories? Who controls Tulane? Am I fast enough for them?”

GM: “What’s Tulane matter here?”

Celia: “Because they… because I think they’re hurting my friend. And that’s why I wasn’t here last night, because I was helping her, and if my mom is dead then I am going to do something before she comes back for me.”

GM: “Just get your friend out of Tulane at night,” Pete says gruffly. “The best fight is the one you don’t have.”

Celia: Oh. That hadn’t occurred to her.

GM: Stupid, whispers her dad.

Celia: She is stupid. Stupid for abandoning her mom. Stupid for making this deal. Stupid for thinking she can go up against the thing in her dad’s house on her own.

She finds a piece of paper, writes down her number. Pete already has it, but it’s not for him, it’s for the other one. She slides it to him.

“Can you get that to him? Please? I just want my mom. He can keep the others. I just—she doesn’t… she doesn’t deserve this, Detective. Sir.”

That’s the line she’ll draw. That her dad can keep the kids if he lets go of her mom. Of her.

“If it doesn’t work. I mean. If she’s not… if she’s not at the house when I go by. If I can’t get to her.”

Celia doesn’t know what she’ll do if her mom is already dead. Kill her dad, maybe, and let the thing come for her. Slice open Isabel’s face. Carve ‘LIAR’ into her forehead, ‘WHORE’ across her stomach. Let the world see her for who she really is.


Like Celia now. Willing to do depraved things, willing to deal with monsters. Not monsters. Pete doesn’t seem like a monster. He’s been… helpful. She doesn’t want to think the other word. The one with fangs and nocturnal activity and blood.

She’s still hoping they’re not real, that if she gets into bed and pulls the covers over her head they’ll disappear.

GM: The detective looks at the paper and just gives Celia a sad smile.

“Your dad’s his mutt, Celia. Your mom is… his mutt’s bone. He won’t be moved by pity. He doesn’t care about your mom. At all. And his mutt’s gonna bark a lot if he loses the bone.”

Celia: “Then I guess I just put the stupid thing down, and pray that he was the one who gave me the gun in the first place, and that this is just another stupid test. And if not then I’m boned.” Only she’ll be a chew toy for a different type of monster.

GM: “I don’t know why he’d have given you a gun. That’s a hell of a thing to bet on.”

Celia: “Then… someone else did, one of… of your.. uh… kind..? Is there a polite way to phrase that?”

GM: “Kindred.”

Celia: “But you’re… I mean…” she points at her own mouth, uses her fingers to make fangs. “You’re like… that’s… you’re vampires, right?” She doesn’t want to believe it. She’s hoping he just tells her no. Maybe they’re just all in a cult together.

GM: The detective gives something like a grimace. A faint grimace.

“I should really let her explain the particulars to you.”

Celia: “What if she doesn’t?” Celia presses. “What if she just… does her… blood thing and…” she trails off. She has no idea what she’s talking about. She folds her hands on her lap, looking down at them.

“She raped me. She raped me and I’m… she doesn’t like broken things.”

And that’s what she’s afraid of, isn’t it? That the woman will come back and find Celia broken. Find that Celia hasn’t done what she could have. Find that she’s stupid. Then, she knows, she’ll die. So she has to do something. Has to do anything to prove that she isn’t broken, she isn’t damaged, she can handle these tricks that were given to her, this new power. That she’s smart enough to find out more about them, even when she started with nothing but a pair of fangs.

“I’m dead. I’m just—that’s what this amounts to, isn’t it? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he took my mom and now I can do things but I still can’t do anything.”

GM: Pete looks at Celia and looks like he could sigh.

But he doesn’t. He just looks tired.

“Yes. We’re vampires. But that word is impolite. We use ‘Kindred.’”

“I’m sorry what she did to you. I’m sorry what he did to your mom.”

Celia: “Like calling a black man the N-word impolite, or just kind of impolite?”

GM: “Saying ‘boogers’ in front of the priest impolite. Showing up to church in jeans impolite.”

Celia: She nods. That makes sense. No mention of the V-word, then.

“Clear. Thank you. Sir.”

GM: “You’re something called a ghoul. Charitably, Kindred are adults and you’re children. Less charitably, you’re a slave, and Kindred are masters.”

“The less charitable take is the more accurate one.”

Celia: “Oh. That’s… so I’m… and you’re…”

GM: “I’m not your master. She is.”

“But I’m still a master and you’re still a slave.”

“Your dad’s friend is a master too.”

Celia: “And my dad is a slave.”

GM: “I don’t know that he’s one in the same sense you are. A ghoul, that is. But your dad’s ‘friend’ almost certainly thinks of him as his possession.”

Celia: “Which… means the master… knew…?”

GM: “Knew what?”

Celia: “That he’s been beating everyone. That he’s a… terrible person. He wasn’t like that until his friend got his hold on him. He used to be nice.”

GM: “I don’t know for sure if your dad’s friend knows or not. But he wouldn’t care.”

“Or maybe he would. But only as leverage to keep your old man in line with. Further in line.”

Celia: “You mean like he’d be okay with it because it would make my dad happy.”

GM: “I doubt he cares if your dad is happy. Just that he’s useful.”

Celia: “Happy dad is useful dad.”

GM: “Okay. Then he’s fine with your dad beating his wife and kids. It’s a minor sin next to the ones he’s capable of. Little league stuff.”

“His name is Donovan.”

Celia: “Donovan.” Celia repeats the name, lets it roll off her tongue. The monster has a name.

She and her father are just tools. Pawns. This Donovan guy doesn’t care what her dad has done, just that he’s useful. And she has to make him not useful without showing her hand, because otherwise he will take that hand off. And maybe her arm.

And her head.

“If I belong to her, the woman, is he allowed to come after me?”

GM: “If you haven’t done anything to him, he has no reason to. Isn’t worth the fight.”

“But he’ll defend what’s his.”

Celia: “Why are you telling me all this? Are you… I mean are you going to…” Celia mimes drawing her thumb across her throat.

GM: He smiles humorlessly.

“Waste of my breath if I was, isn’t it?”

“But you can’t tell these things to ordinary people. Ones who aren’t Kindred like me, or ghouls like you. If you do, we’ll kill you.” His voice is deadly serious. “Don’t be obvious using any of the tricks you know around ordinary people, either. Be subtle. All of this is secret.”

“Especially don’t tell your mom, if you’re able to get her out. No matter how much you want to. If she hears, she’s dead. So are any friends you tell. Any ordinary people.”


Celia: Oh.

She tries not to think of Em. She hadn’t told him, she’d just hinted. That doesn’t count, right? It can’t count. What if he just guesses on his own? Is she supposed to lie? No those aren’t bite marks.

“Okay,” she says. “No telling.”

She’ll have to warn Em. Get him out of town. Maybe they can still run. She doesn’t want to be a slave. But these things are probably everywhere. They can probably find her, drag her back. Or maybe they won’t bother. Maybe they’ll just bite and not let go, and that darkness that called to her earlier this evening will come back for good.

She should probably stop thinking about them as things, she realizes.

She can think of a dozen different questions she has for him. About the others. About Donovan. But one that’s more pressing than the others, because none of this means anything if she can’t make it out alive.

“How do I keep him from coming after me? Or… protect myself if he does?”

GM: “He doesn’t have any reason to come after you if you don’t threaten your dad.”

“That’s your best defense. And only defense.”

“I work for someone,” Pete then says. “Another Kindred. Someone with a vested interest in removing Donovan’s and his own master’s pawns from their positions. If your old man gets taken out by scandal, he’s useless to Donovan. And you can get your family out of his clutches or do what you want with him.”

“You have a lot of evidence. Which you’ve tendered to me. My boss could leak it to the press. Donovan will blame him, rather than you. He’s fine being blamed. He sabotages Donovan’s pawns all the time.”

“But that may take some time. Not to leak to the press, but to damage your old man to the point that Donovan writes him off as an asset, and stops caring what happens to him.”

Celia: “Wait. I have proof. Of what he did. I have a video. You can get that out?”

GM: “We can.”

Celia: “Do you need more?”

GM: “You’ve given me enough evidence already. But more would only help.”

Celia: “Then I’ll get it. I can get it.” That was her plan anyway. Get the proof, get it out. Destroy him.

And she knows exactly how to do it now.

“I’ll get it to you. More. I’ll… I can do that.”

GM: “How soon?”

Celia: “When you, um… do you guys sleep? I was going to say wake up because I kind of just assumed…”

She has research to do. Legends and myths, anything she can find to figure out what she’s dealing with.

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “During the day? Is that… accurate? ‘Cause then after that. Like tomorrow night. Or later tonight, rather, since it’s tomorrow.”

GM: “Okay. How about your mom?”

Celia: “I’m going to sneak in and break her out. And then I’ll go back. He’ll be too busy breaking me apart to wonder where she is.”

“I’m the one who turned him in. And then I’ll get out before Donovan shows up.”

GM: Pete frowns. But looks thoughtful.

“You asked me earlier, where to find Donovan.”

“Doing that would be a terrible idea.”

“But I’m going to tell you. Just in case. Because sometimes a terrible option is the only one to help the people we care about.”

He gives her an address in Audubon Place.

It’s Paul’s house.

Celia: “Um. Are you…”

The doors. Upstairs.

Oh my God.

“I know him. The guy. Who lives here.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“Am I what?”

Celia: “I’ve been there.”

GM: “We hide in plain sight.”

Celia: “You, uh. I owe you. A lot. I think you just saved my life without knowing. Prevented me from… doing something really, really dangerous.”

GM: “We’ll see if you still feel that way later today. Meet me at the House of Blues. 9 PM.”

Celia: “Okay. I can do that. If… if I don’t show, I’m probably… stuck. Or, um, dead. In which case I’ll leave the footage for you. And you… you’ll bury him, right? If I can’t, you’ll use it? And… and take care of my mom? Let her cry on your shoulder or something. Girls like that.”

She’s giving romance advice to a vampire. Babbling, because if she doesn’t and he leaves she’ll have a million things left unsaid, and if she doesn’t get a chance to talk to him again she wants to get it right.

GM: “I’ll use it whether you make it or not,” Pete says.

“You’ve already given me evidence. We can use that even if you aren’t able to turn in more.”

“I’ll be there for your mom. I’ll have a wife if she gets any ideas.”

Celia: “Don’t… don’t bite her. Like don’t… turn her into this.” Celia gestures at herself. “She can’t be a slave. She’s had enough drama. Okay?”

Perhaps realizing she probably shouldn’t be giving him orders, she adds, “Not to tell you what to do. Sir. Just a… a request. She’s my mom. She should be happy. Not afraid. Not after what he did to her.”

“Sorry.” She looks away. “I’ll meet you tonight. With the tape.”

GM: Pete gives her a look.

“I told you that your mom getting involved with me was a terrible idea, kid.”

“I’ll break any news to her. No more.”

Celia: “I’m agreeing with you.”

“Not that you’re a bad guy,” Celia adds. “You seem great. Just. You know.” She taps her teeth with the nail of her index finger.

“So uh… so yeah. Tonight.”

GM: Pete just gives her more of that same look, but rises from the couch.


“And for what little it’s worth, I’m sorry you got caught up in all this. You should be going to college. Worrying about boys and grades.”

Celia: “Thank you. I… you’ve been really kind. I appreciate it.” The smile she gives him doesn’t quite get rid of the worry in her eyes. “Good night, detective.”

GM: “Good luck, kid.”

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Celia: “Em. Em, wake up.”

It’s early. Too early after the night they had, that time of day before the sun has fully risen. Wherever he fell asleep he’s in bed now, and she’s got him on his back with her knees on either side of his waist, half-sitting on his lap. She taps him a few times on the chest. She’s in one of his shirts, legs bare.

“Em. Wake up. Everything changed. Everything.”

Emmett: Em yawns, not wanting to let her tush him without a fight. He starts to stir, but then notices her position, and settles for wriggling under her instead. “You won the lottery?” he asks meekly. “The president’s dead? Don’t worry, the Illuminati’ll choose another one.”

Celia: “Don’t do that. It’s distracting.” She swats his shoulder.

“I can’t tell you. But plans have changed. Okay? I need you to get ahold of Miranda, see if she’s got a way to remotely save video. Like uh… streaming. To a private server or something. If she has a camera like that. Now. Like literally right now.”

Emmett: “Distracting how,” he teases, even as he reaches for his phone with one hand. He looks slightly more somber at her words, but still smiles at the sight of her. “Tell me some of what’s going on,” he says, as he dials.

Celia: “Em. I can’t. Literally. They said if I told anyone, they’d kill me. And the person I told. And I like you, and I don’t want you to die, because if you die then I can’t come visit you and wake you up like this, only in the future maybe naked, yeah?” She’s talking much faster than she normally does, barely pausing for breath. Her eyes are bright.

“But I have a plan. Similar to what I told you last night. Only…” Celia reaches out, takes the phone from him, and ends the call.

“Never mind. I know someone else.”

Emmett: He likes it when she talks fast. Maybe he really is rubbing off on her. He nods along with everything she says, listening carefully. He raises an eyebrow as she hangs up the call, then nods again when she explains.

Then he asks, “Maybe naked?”

He’s pouting.

Celia: “Extra naked,” she promises him. “Hold that thought. I need…” she rolls off of him and runs—slowly—to the other room to find her laptop. She brings it back and reclaims her place on his lap, sends a message, and sets it aside. Her phone is nearby, ready to go for when her contact reaches out.

“You have a part to play. But you can’t come with me. Okay?”

Emmett: He tilts his head, looking into her eyes with his own too-dark gaze.

“What part?” he asks finally, all the teasing gone from his voice.

Celia: “I’m getting my mom out. I was given some advice. And… if I do it the wrong way, the…” she trails off.

“There’s a guy who…”

Huh. How the heck can she talk to him about this without revealing anything?

“Uh. Bad guys, right? And let’s say… that my dad works for a bad guy. And the bad guy will come after me if I do a thing he doesn’t like, and he can’t be stopped by normal means. And so… I’m going in there. To see my dad. And get more, um, evidence. So like what I said earlier, basically, only now I have a bad guy I work for, but he’s a good guy, and he’s gonna… destroy the bad guys.”

Emmett: “You’re… not very good at explaining things,” he says. But he doesn’t press her, just touches her gently. “What do you need from me?”

Celia: Celia scrolls through her inbox for the email she’d sent herself almost two years ago with the subject line ECon. To anyone else, it looks like she just held the shift key down for too long, but Celia knows that inside there’s a URL that will let her get ahold of her former tutor. She doesn’t know why he’d sent it to her like he did. At the time he’d made a vague, “in case you need me” comment, but now she’s glad that she has it. And that she saved it all this time.

She copies the URL into her browser and stares at the screen that loads. A forum. Really, Emil?

She has the code, too, that she was supposed to memorize, and she clicks “Create Thread” up at the top of the screen.

Two lanes diverged in the yellow woods, she types, then pauses. What the heck else is she supposed to say?

Two lanes diverged in the yellow woods,
and sorry I Could not travel both
And be one traveler, Long I stood
and Looked down one as far as I Could
to wher it bent in the undergrowth;
Look not that day upon the land
and In whose haste it do demand
a sacrifice of coin for Ale

That makes no sense. Celia posts it anyway. He’ll figure it out.

Emil: The browser suddenly freezes, and so too does her mouse. The screen goes pale as a ghost as the blue ouroboros of the OS stalling symbol spins around and around in an endless chase of its tail.


The phone rings.


Celia: Celia presses her fingers against Em’s lips in a shushing motion before she picks up her phone. She has to assume that it’s him, otherwise her laptop just froze for no reason and she is going to tear him a new one.


Emil: There’s an overlong playing of piss-poor muzak, compressed into layers of awfully dissonant, scratchy tones, before she hears a voice, equally distorted:

“Hello, Portal Tech Support. How can I help you today?”

Emmett: Em rolls his eyes.

And makes a jerking off gesture.

Celia: She raises a brow at Em, sliding her hand under the blanket. She can play that game.

“Um.” She blanks for a second, then remembers the final bit of the puzzle piece. “Numba nine large?” She drops the R on number, like he’d said to.

Emmett: He starts to tell her he was being derisive. Then he thinks better of it.

Then she says that, and he’s confused again.

Confused, aroused, and somewhere in there a little bit offended by the boldness of the passphrase.

Emil: “Please hold while I redirect you to a supervisor,” the man says, giggling. The muzak restarts from the beginning.

Emmett: Em gives her a flat look over the laptop.

Celia: Celia holds her thumb over the phone’s mic.

“What? You don’t want this?”

Emmett: “No, keep going, I just didn’t think we needed an elevator music accompaniment.”

Celia: “I’m calling my guy,” she says to him. But she goes back to what she was doing with her hand.

Emmett: He leans forward and kisses her quickly before leaning back and letting her.

He’s rolling his eyes. But not at her.

Emil: The muzak cuts as a different voice spills out of the speaker, crystal clear and unmistakably Emil’s.

“I really need to update that passcode, don’t I? Terribly out of date humor. I do apologize about that. But hey! Two years, huh? Is everything alright?”

He sounds chipper.

Emmett: That voice sounds familiar. Em blinks as he forgets he’s supposed to be quietly enjoying his handjob. “What the fuck?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t actually get the joke since her dad never let her play games, especially violent games.

“Well, you gave it to me years ago. I uh. I need some tech assistance. If you can help. A few things. Have some time?”

Celia stops what she’s doing, startled by his exclamation.


Emmett: “Is that…” He looks at the phone. “…that sounds like somebody I know. Sorry.”

Emil: “Well I’m all out of parsley, sage, and rosemary, but it seems you’re just in luck—” he jokes, before abruptly stating, “—interesting. Tell the guy you’re with not to use names.”

Emmett: Em rolls his eyes. “This guy. This fucking guy.”

Celia: “Uh, friend, no names,” she says to Em. But she watches his face, then presses the speaker button on her phone. “Do you two know each other?”

Emmett: “No names,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “What, did he start a spy agency? After giving up on his film career?”

Celia: “Were you an actor?” she asks into the phone.

Emil: “World-renowned,” the voice drawls right back. “This is immensely interesting, you two know each other. What a pairing.”

Celia: “Do you two know each other?” She’s looking at Em as she asks, handjob forgotten for the moment. Second time she’s asked, maybe she’ll get an actual answer.

Emmett: “If his name rhymes with A-Real-Pain, as in, in my ass, then yes. And I saved his life once, which I regretted immediately.”

Emil: “What did I say about names?” the voice groans from the speaker.

Emmett: “I don’t know, probably something that nobody was listening to.”

Celia: “Uh… I guess when you pronounce it like that, yes. So this is awkward.” She raises her brows at Em, mouths ‘tell me later’ to him.

“So hey, listen, friend on the phone. I need some tech help. You help?”

Emil: Emil actually sounds hurt when he says, “Oh.” He quickly brushes that off with a, “Yeah, why not? Like I was saying, still got thyme in the pantry. What sort of help do you need? Be non-specific, this isn’t a secure line.”

Celia: There’s a moment where she feels bad, until she remembers that he hasn’t reached out either.

“It’s kind of urgent. Um. Basically… I was wondering if you could help me set up a, uh, like a private server for a livestream, because I’m… doing a thing that requires… uh… live footage, that can then be given to someone else. Privately. That they can then download. Audio and video.” That’s vague enough, right?

Emil: He doesn’t seem too affected. He lists off a series of questions as if by rote. “You have the cameras set up? If so where are they? Tell me generally, what type of location? Would it be easier or harder for you to use security cameras over installing your own?”

Celia: “No. Nothing is set up. House. Like a bedroom. Harder to use security cameras, there are none inside where I need it to be.”

Emil: That gets a, “Hmm,” from the other end of the line. “Do you have time to set up the device before you need it, or does it need to be mobile? Able to be thrown around easily? You’d like me to get a camera to you, I assume?”

Celia: “I have a camera. It just might not be the right camera. I took it from our friend here. This needs to happen like… soon. Like today. Like, uh, in an hour or two. So mobile, yeah.”

“Or,” she says after a moment, “I have a webcam, I just need it to go somewhere secure, and then like release if I don’t tell it not to. Is that possible?”

Emil: There’s a pause on the other end of the line.

“It is,” he responds crisply. “Deadman’s switches should almost always be longer term affairs, however. In the short term, situations are far too mutable to simply run on a timer. As much as I’m loathe to suggest it, for the level of required flexibility, you need a person to make the final decision.”

“You need failsafe hidden cams in case you can’t set up the webcam in time.”

Another pause.

“I’ll send those over.”

Celia: “So you’re telling me I need to trust someone enough to do something on my behalf in case things go south.” It’s a question directed at Em rather than Emil, and her brows raise toward the boy beneath her. She’d already had a job for him, and now apparently there’s a second.

She’s going to owe him. Big time.

“How long?” she asks.

Emmett: Em just listens, and watches her lazily. Happily.

Emil: “About ten.” The line clicks.

Celia: Celia stares at the phone in her hand.

“Ten what?” she asks aloud, but the line is already dead. Her lips purse as she looks back to Em, annoyed.

“I have two tasks for you, now. I’m going to get my mom. Then I’m going to deal with my dad. He,” she waves the phone, “is going to set up a thing. If I disappear, you make sure it gets out. Can you do that?”

Emmett: “If you give it to me? Yeah. Easy.”

Celia: “And if you don’t hear from me before 9pm, I need you to meet someone for me. At the House of Blues. With a letter. Just hand it to him and leave, don’t linger, don’t make small talk, don’t… don’t do anything silly. Okay?” There is very real concern in her voice.

Emil: There’re three hard knocks at the door.

Celia: “You expecting someone?”

There’s no way it’s him. Already? That wasn’t ten anything. Ten seconds, maybe. But she’s seen people move that fast before, hasn’t she? Emil, too?

She’s off of Em and has a pair of sweats pulled on before he can think to complain, moving toward the door with wary caution. She picks up something to clobber him with, just in case, and opens the door.

Emil: It’s not Emil. But he’s wearing his face.

A plastic mask a few sizes too small presses into the man’s skin; Emil’s grinning visage is printed on it. A nylon thread struggles to hold it in place. There’s two red LEDs shining out of crudely-cut eye-holes.

There’s a circular grate cut through Emil’s lips, with a stiff black fabric sitting behind it. A coiled black cable and earpiece sits on the side of his large head, hidden under a grey hoodie.

The man, wearing heavy combat boots, has an athletic build under the sweat uniform, yet he holds a long white cane. Its black strap is secured around his wrist. His broad shoulders make the backpack he wears look more fit for a child. Gloves cover his hands.

“It was closer to fifteen,” comes a voice that is unmistakably Emil’s, though still distorted like on the phone, from behind the mouth grate.

Celia: “Um.”

This is the weirdest thing she has seen lately, and she has seen a lot of weird stuff.

“Thanks for… uh…” she trails off. “Are you coming in, then?” she steps aside, wondering how the hell she is going to explain this to Em. Maybe she’ll get him a new apartment after this, something nice, with another cafe downstairs. Keep him nice and anonymous.

Emil: “You’re welcome,” he responds after a moment of delay, and then the man wearing her tutor’s face walks in, tapping the floor in front of him with the white cane as he moves.

Celia: “We’ve got company,” Celia calls loudly to Em, letting him know that if he’s going to come out the bedroom he should probably put some clothes on.

“Want a seat?” she gestured to the couch. Then finally asks, “what on earth is this whole getup? Are you a robot now?” She’s only half joking.

Emmett: He does not bother to put some clothes on. It’s his own apartment, dammit.

Nevertheless, when he walks into the other room in his boxers, he says, “Fuck.”

Then he walks back into his room. He’s too sober for this shit.

Emil: He seems to scan Emmett, tilting his head as he walks in and then out again. There are quiet whirring noises emanating from his eyes.

He places his backpack at his feet. There’s a buzzing from the earpiece as the man looks at the couch. But then he sits down, not feeling for its presence once.

More buzzing, and he turns to look at Celia.

“This is my associate’s body. I’m borrowing it,” Emil’s voice answers. “We’re now speaking over a secure line, so there’s no need to hold back.”

“This is about your father,” he asserts. The man nods in agreement a moment later after a second of buzzing.

Celia: “Yes,” she says without hesitation. She seats herself opposite him, crossing one leg over the other. In the oversized tee and sweats, with her makeup specifically done to made her look younger, she looks less like the dignified lady she was going for.

“He was arrested two nights ago and already released. Domestic abuse. Media squashed the story. I found mention of it online, one of the forums you told me about, and that’s it.”

She pauses, as if considering what to tell him. In the end it isn’t much.

“I just need something that’s so big it can’t be contained. Something his benefactors can’t bury. And a way to get it to someone in case I’m… not able to.”

Emil: His ear buzzes. He nods. “I took the liberty of setting up an encrypted pipeline to stream the video through. The storage spot is waiting. All you need is a target to release it to at the command of someone you trust, and to set up your webcam and these hidden cams in my associate’s bag.”

“There is something I think you should know, however.” The man struggles to unzip the bag. After a buzzing in his ear, he succeeds at pulling out a sleek black laptop. He opens it on what appears to be recorded surveillance footage. The play button obscures the view of a large SUV. Her father’s SUV.

Celia: “Perfect!” She is about to express her gratitude, to thank him for everything he has done and how quickly he was able to pull it off, when the guy—robot?—pulls the laptop out of the bag. Her eyes move to the screen.

“Daddy’s car?” She glances at where Emil’s face should be, then back to the laptop. There’s more here. There has to be. She reaches out to press play.

GM: It’s a fairly routine surveillance tape. Maxen drives alone in the front seat of the SUV. Celia’s four siblings sit in the back two rows. She does not see her mother.

It strikes Celia as somewhat odd that Isabel isn’t sitting next to her father, given the obvious moon eyes she has for him.

She’s seated in the back-most row instead, where she alternately shushes Logan and dries his tears.

David and Sophia look more subdued. They don’t seem to talk to to anyone.

Celia: “When is this from?”

GM: The time stamp says earlier this evening.

It’s dark out, but a reasonable hour still. Around when people are settling in for the evening.

When Celia was gone with Em and Emily.

Celia: “Anything since then?” she asks Emil without taking her eyes from the screen. “Do you know where he went? Home, right?”

Where’s my mom?

Emil: “They’re going home. This is Audubon Place’s perimeter.”

The eyes make the man look like the Terminator. Painfully difficult to discern his emotion. And yet, from his body language he looks unmistakably uncomfortable as he hears more sounds buzzing into his ear.

“I turned off his hearing aids’ environmental listening feature. He doesn’t need to hear this.”

“If his body doesn’t seem to be reacting appropriately to anything you say, that’s why,” Emil’s voice cautions.

The man scrubs through the video with his fingers, which seem intimately familiar with the keyboard. He cycles through a few keyframes that show Isabel looking briefly, intently towards the trunk.

“She’s watching over the person your father stuffed in the trunk. She helped. She did it to make your father proud. The person was still alive at the time this video was taken. If she wasn’t, your sister wouldn’t be keeping watch over her.”

Emmett: Em wanders back into his living room, still in his boxers. They’re vintage Action Bill merch, with the man himself giving a thumbs up that bulges over the wearer’s crotch. The Danger Squad cover him from the back. He looks brighter-eyed, and there’s a joint dangling from his lips.

“Cool, TV,” he says, when he sees the screen. He offers their guest the smoke. “Do you take turns riding each other, or is it a top and bottom thing?”

Emil: The larger man doesn’t react at all to Emmett’s question, nor his offer of the joint. The conman is treated to a view of the thick sinew of the masked man’s back, visibly defined even through the heavy sweatshirt.

Emil’s voice sounds painfully serious when he interrupts his own explanation.

“If you intend on entrusting Emmett with your recording, he needs to sober up. Now.”

Celia: Mom’s alive.

A brief, fleeting sense of relief shoots through her. She’d known. Of course she’d known. Her mom has to be alive, otherwise… otherwise she’s doing all of this for nothing, everything that she has been through has been for nothing. She nods, jaw tight, as Emil explains, and finally looks over to Emmett.

“He’s always high. I think he functions better that way. And he won’t be getting the tape unless it falls through, which is obviously Plan B. Plan A is that…” she cuts herself off. Neither of them need to know. “Plan A is that I make it out.”

She turns her attention to Emil, gesturing at the laptop.

“What else? What else is after this? They went home and what? Stayed there?”

Emmett: Em feigns a look of offense at Emil’s suggestion. “What am I going to replace it with? Circumcision?”

He’s touched, though, by her standing up for him. It warms his heart. Or some part of him, anyways.

Emil: “There’s still more to look at in this video.”

The associate scrubs through the video as Emil continues to describe it. She can see her father’s face contort, shifting from composed into momentary grimaces. When he zooms, she can see the unbridled anger in Maxen’s eyes, The anticipation raising his blood pressure, reddening his skin.

“The person in the trunk, they were in danger in the evening. Your father was bloodthirsty, on edge, and ready to do whatever dirty work he intended once he reached your house. It’s been hours since this video was taken.”

“The person in the trunk is likely dead. Ninety percent of kidnapping victims taken to a secondary location do not survive. And if they aren’t, I wouldn’t dare imagine what torture they’re enduring as we speak.”

GM: The video is old by now.

Hours old.

Celia: “You’re telling me something I already know.” Her voice is cold, jaw tight. Her lips press together in a thin line.

“It’s possible she’s dead. And if she is, he’ll pay for that too. Because if he took her life, I will take everything from him. Everything. Not in an easy out, not in a quick knife to the throat, but by taking every single thing that he holds dear. It’s not a lot, you know, but I’ve lived with the man for 19 years. I know what he cares about.”

There are worse things to do to someone than to kill them. The last forty-eight hours have taught her that.

“So if there’s something else, Emil, tell me now.”

GM: The video dies. Then another one starts up.

Emil: “I think it’s best you just watch.”

GM: The car pulls up to the house. Maxen and the Flores children get out.

He touches their shoulders. Says softly encouraging things. Isabel does so too to her younger siblings.

Maxen walks inside with the kids. Isabel remains outside by the car.

She crosses her arms and glares at the trunk.

“He would’ve left you alone. You just had to come and kidnap us.”

There’s muffled, fearful noises from the trunk.

“If you make any noise I’ll tell Dad.”

A pause.

Emil: “My associates and I just acquired this footage.”

GM: “You’re a liar! You’re such a liar! You always LIED! About everything!”

Isabel kicks the trunk.

There’s more noises from inside. Scared. Muffled. Almost pleading.

“You’re not my mom!”

Isabel crosses her arms and turns away.

Time passes.

Emil: “Oh,” the voice emanates from behind the dead face of the mask. “Your mother. I see.”

GM: The recording fast forwards.

Maxen comes back outside. Isabel hugs him and kisses his cheek.

“Go inside, sweetie.”

“Daddy, I want to help.”

“This isn’t for you to see.”

“She’s not my mom.”

“I don’t repeat myself in this house, Isabel.”

A pause.

“Okay, Daddy.”

She walks inside.

Maxen looks around. The house’s grounds are large. It’s comfortably isolated. It’s dark out.

He opens the trunk. The three can’t see exactly what’s in there from the camera angle.

“Scream and I will shoot you,” Maxen says calmly.

There’s an acquiescent whimper.

Then louder, pained ones, clearly trying to be quiet.

A heavy thump.

Emil: “You don’t have to look, Celia. I can watch for you,” the voice suggests. The red eyes stare into the screen, whirring as they focus and refocus.

GM: The camera shows Maxen again. He’s dragging Celia’s mom along the path up to their house by her hair. She’s tied up and gagged. Her eyes are scrunched in equal parts pain and fear as she whimpers through the cloth.

Emmett: Em slips his hand in hers.

Breathe, he doesn’t say. He doesn’t have to.

If he had any doubts about being on the right side of a struggle that isn’t much his business, they’re gone now. He’s met Diana.

Maxen deserves whatever he has coming.

GM: Dragging a totally limp woman up the porch steps with one hand takes a bit of strength even for Celia’s dad. He’s slow, but he manages. Her mom’s eyes scrunch in pain with every bump and jostle at the pressure on her scalp. The gag in her mouth works a bit.

Celia: Her grip is tight around Em’s hand. She waves off Emil’s suggestion to look away. She created this. She will watch every second of it.

GM: Maxen opens the front door. He drops Diana’s hair. Her eyes blink rapidly in relief, but it’s a desperate kind that knows it’s all-too short-lived. Maxen walks back, then uses his feet to shove and kick the prone woman over the welcome mat.

He steps over her, pulls her inside by her hair, then closes the door.

The recording jumps forward suddenly. They’re in the dining room. Maxen is sitting at the table reading.

Celia: “There are cameras in the house?” The sharp question is directed to Emil. Her eyes don’t leave the screen.

Emil: “In the walls… smart house… lights when you walk into the room… needs cameras,” he half explains, trailing off at the abrupt scene change.

GM: Diana walks out of the kitchen. She’s carrying a steaming plate of steak, peas, and mashed potatoes. She’s still wearing the cloth gag, though she’s no longer tied up.

She gingerly sets it down in front of Maxen. She looks scared, but it’s a different kind of scared. Tense. Breath held.

Celia: “I need them disabled.”

GM: Maxen takes his steak knife, an act that makes Celia’s mom tense oh so slightly, and holds it up.

Diana doesn’t move a muscle.

Celia’s dad turns the knife over.

Then he picks up his fork and starts cutting the steak.

Diana’s shoulders slump with relief.

Celia: Celia lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her hand relaxes around Em’s.

Emil: “I can do it. But it’ll look suspicious.” She can hear him breathe better as he cuts into the steak.

GM: Maxen takes a bite, chews, swallows.

“Are you hungry, Diana?”

Celia’s mom shakes her head.

“Really? Because if you weren’t hungry, that would’ve meant you ate a full meal with my kids. A full meal.”

Diana looks slightly confused, but more fearful.

She slowly nods her head.

“Why are you nodding like that, Diana? Are you trying to communicate something? I didn’t pose a yes or no question.”

Celia’s mom stops nodding.

“Nod your head if you ate a full meal with my kids.”

She shakes her head.

“So you must be hungry.”

A slow nod.

“Get on your knees.”

There’s a momentary pause.

Celia’s mom kneels by her ex’s chair.

Maxen pats her head.

She flinches at the contact.

He pulls out the gag.

He cuts off another section of steak and drops it on the floor.


Diana reaches to pick it up.

Celia: No, Momma. With your mouth.

GM: Maxen lightly slaps her hand.

She flinches, sharply.

“With your mouth,” Maxen explains patiently.

Diana bends to the ground and eats it off the floor. Red starts to rise to her cheeks. But there’s still more pallor than anything else.

“You were always a better cook than Celia, I’ll give you that much.”

Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything. But she keeps her head on the floor.

Celia’s dad drops another bite of steak. It hits her head and bounces off.

She turns, slowly, and eats it off the floor. Like a dog.

“Celia gets her brains from you, you know. By which I mean she inherited a completely vacant and empty head.”

“Tonight has revised my earlier estimation of your intelligence, Diana. I think it’s possible you might be even stupider than our daughter.”

“Tell me you at least recognize that fact. Say you’re stupid.”

“I’m stupid,” says Celia’s mom.

Celia: Color rises to her cheeks. She doesn’t look at either one of them. Her hand curls into a fist, nails digging into her palm.

GM: “You are stupid. Stand up.”

Celia’s mom stands up.

“Take off your clothes.”

She pauses. Then she slowly pulls off her dress.

Maxen stares at her.

Celia’s mom lowers her gaze.

A moment passes.

“What are those things you’re wearing, Diana?”

“A-a bra. Panties.”

“And what are bras and panties, Diana?”

“Un, underwear. Clothes.”

Celia: “Look away.” To both of them.

GM: “And what did I tell you to do with your clothes?”

Emmett: Em goes to the kitchen.

GM: “To, to take them off.”

“So why didn’t you?”

Emil: There’s a buzzing in the man’s ear, and then he averts his eyes.

GM: Diana hesitates.

Maxen smashes his dinner plate over her head. Ceramic shards and potatoes and peas mixed with red fly everywhere. The remaining steak hits the floor with a thop as Diana’s knees crash into the hardwood. She cries and holds up her arms, bloody potatoes running down her head.

Maxen yanks her up by her hair.

“Diana? Can you hear me? Are you too stupid to understand the question?”

“Y-yes! I, I m-”

“Yes what, Diana? Yes, you can hear me? Or yes, you are too stupid to understand the question?”

Celia’s mom babbles.

Maxen sighs dramatically.

“Never mind. I know you can hear me, and I also know you’re too stupid to remember the question.”

“I’ll spare you the effort of having to formulate a reply, since that clearly takes a lot of effort for someone with your limited mental capabilities.” He lets go of her. “Take off all of your clothes, Diana.”

Celia: She leans forward, pressing her hands over her mouth. She can’t look away. She did this. She delivered her mother to Maxen. Her fault.

GM: Celia’s mom hurriedly, frantically, tugs off her underwear.

Maxen’s face contorts in disgust.

“Look at this.”

He tugs one of her breasts in his hands.

“Just look at this.”

He stares at it like it’s a rotted piece of fly-specked fruit.

“This is unbelievably hideous. You’re a hideous cow. I’m glad I divorced you.”

Diana’s face burns as she looks away.

Celia’s dad rises from his chair, grabs his ex-wife’s face, and jerks it up to meet his gaze. He’s over a head taller than she is.

He seems to inspect her features for a moment. “Your face is uglier too. A grotesque face to go with your empty head. I can’t think of any man who would ever want a used-up old whore like you. You’re a dog walking on its hind legs.”

Celia’s mom starts to softly cry.

“No one wants you, Diana,” Maxen says in a patient, explanatory tone. “You’re ugly and stupid and you’ve wasted your entire life. Do you realize that? Teaching dance to children. It doesn’t build something physical. It doesn’t advance the sum of human knowledge. It doesn’t improve moral character. It’s a completely valueless pursuit.”

“You’re a terrible human being. I don’t mean terrible morally, though stealing a man’s children certainly is a terrible thing to do. I primarily mean you’re terrible in the sense that you add nothing of contributive worth to society. You’re worthless. If I put you down like the dog you are, no one would miss you. No one would care.”

“The only worthwhile thing you’ve accomplished over the course of your mediocre existence has been to incubate my children so my family line could continue, but anyone with a hole between their legs could have sufficed for that. You should be grateful I chose you for the privilege, though in hindsight I suppose I regret it. If I’d chosen someone with an actually functional brain inside of her skull, it’s likely Celia would have turned out less stupid. Not to mention I’d have stayed married to you. You always were a terrible mother to our children. You abandoned them. You walked out on them. You let them grow up without a mother. I don’t understand how you can live with yourself.”

Celia: “Can you fix this? Blur her out, her face or her body or something? Just release… him?”

Emil: Emil does not respond to that, the man simply sits on the couch, facing away from the computer.

Celia: Helpful.

GM: Celia’s mom silently cries.

Her mouth works for a moment. But then she doesn’t say anything.

She just cries.

Emmett: Em brings her a mug. Tea. Like after her rape. He doesn’t look at the screen. The sounds are enough.

GM: “Don’t worry. They’re never going to see you again. You will never see them again. They will never be contaminated by you ever again.”

“I-I’m s-sor-” Celila’s mom falteringly starts, but she breaks off in sobs.

Maxen sighs.

“Lie down on the couch.”

Diana freezes. But does so.

Maxen unzips his pants, then climbs over her.

Celia: Her eyes close. She can’t look. She can’t watch this. She finally turns away, draws her knees up to her chest, covers her face with her hands. The offering of tea is ignored.

GM: Perhaps numbers flash past on the screen.

Passing time.

Time Celia could have been there.

Time she could have shown up.

Done something.

The sound quality isn’t the best. It’s garbled and fast forwarded. The recording fast forwards through the deed.

There’s a sobbing sound, on seemingly endless playback. Manic-sounding from how fast it’s being played. Eh-he-he-he-he-he.





“We’re not finished, Diana.”

“We’re just getting started.”

“Clean all of this up. You know where the cleaning supplies are. I want this place spotless.”

Celia: “How far back does it go? The footage. Years? Is old stuff saved?” She wipes at her eyes. She did this. Her mom’s suffering is because of her.

She breathes slowly. She has to. If she doesn’t, she’s going to fly off the handle. If she doesn’t, she’s going to fall apart. She’s going to turn into the girl she was, not the girl she needs to be. Keep it together. That’s the only thing she can think about.

Keep it together, make him pay, and then kill yourself, you stupid worthless whore.

GM: Celia turns back in time to see her mom numbly cupping her hands around her vagina to keep her ex’s cum from leaking out.

She doesn’t really succeed. It still gets over the carpet.

Her gaze is dead as she slowly shuffles away. She comes back with supplies. She bends, still naked, to clean up the couch she was raped on. She cleans up the spilled food. She picks up the shattered plate pieces.

Maxen drops her dress and underwear into the trash bag too.

Diana does the dishes while her ex-husband watches over her shoulder. She soaps and scrubs the glass and eating utensils.

The video jumps forward. The numbers on the bottom are different again. Closer to now.

Emil: “There’s only so much footage you can store. Maybe… maybe…”

GM: They’re in Celia’s bedroom. Diana is still naked and tied spread-eagled across the bed. Her face is a bloody welt of black and purple bruises, so like that hospital visit of six years ago. Her head is propped up on a pillow.

“I have something for you, Diana,” says Celia’s dad.

He holds something up.

Diana screams past her gag, eyes mad with terror.

It’s a hacksaw.

“Don’t worry.”

“We won’t be interrupted this time.”

The shadows of the serrated edges slowly descend over her naked breasts.

Celia’s mom frantically jerks against her bonds.

But mostly, she just screams.

The video winks out.

The time stamp is about ten minutes ago.

Celia: One moment Celia is on the couch. The next she is not. She is gone, the door slamming shut behind her.

She runs.

She runs like she has never run before.

I’m coming, Momma.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XII, Emmett VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XIV

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XII, Emmett VII
Next, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XIV

Previous, by Emil: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett VI
Next, by Emil: Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett VIII

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XII, Emmett VII
Next, by Emmett: Story Ten, Emil III, Emmett IX

Story Ten, Celia XII, Emmett VII

“I’ll give you power, little toy. Three nights.”
Unknown woman

Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM

GM: Celia arrives at her mom’s place to find the pink Beetle still parked alongside the curb. She slides Em’s car into a parking spot. She opens the door to the apartment building and heads upstairs.

It’s when she’s halfway up the steps that she remembers her mother never gave her a key.

Celia: Too late. It’s too late to turn around. Her phone is in her pocket and a gun is in her hand, the one she stole from her new friend Chase and his psycho bitch friend. She takes the steps as quietly as she can, but the door swung open so she doesn’t think it even matters anymore.

This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go. This is not how tonight was supposed to go at all. She has no backup. No plan. Nothing but a pair of guns and whatever she can think of in the moment.

GM: Celia steps into the apartment. There’s food laid out on the table. Two big pans of lasagna.

They’re not full pans. There’s servings on six plates across the table. Celia can smell it up close. It’s got all the usual staples of ground beef, noodles, tomato sauce, and gooey melted grated parmesan, shredded mozzarella, and small curd cottage cheese, all seasoned with basil and garlic powder. Her mom has also added carmelized chopped onion, zucchini, summer squash, and spinach, presumably to make it more nutritious.

There’s also a separate caesar salad with croutons and the usual dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, egg, black pepper, mustard, and garlic, with grated parmesan.

Last of all is a pan of warm and gooey-looking chocolate brownies, firmer towards the edges of the pan and softer towards the center, with individual little chocolate chips poking out.

All that’s missing is the family to eat it.

Celia: Maybe they went to the… park. For a walk. A late night family walk, with all the dishes still out. That makes sense. Right? Total sense.

Celia doesn’t buy it for a moment. She edges past the kitchen, ignoring the way her stomach tells her it hasn’t eaten dinner yet, and into the family room. She doesn’t call out. She keeps her back to the wall. She won’t be grabbed from behind again.

Her mind makes up stories about her family. Horrible, horrible stories. Her siblings strewn across the ground, cut into pieces. Her mom laying in a puddle of her own blood. She sniffs the air, but all she can smell is the lasagna.

GM: There’s no one there.

Nothing but uneaten lasagna.

Celia: Of course her family isn’t in the family room.

They’re in their beds, dead.

Stop it.

She edges down the hall.

GM: The doors creak open. Celia didn’t go inside before, when her mom offered. Each room has two beds that are each big enough for two.

They lie empty.

Besides a phone lying at the foot of one of them.

It’s open to a text message.

Daddy come get us it’s just me the younger ones and your ex
Celia brought over a bunch of people earlier but they’re gone now
Please come get us!!!!!!

Below is the home’s address.

Celia: That.



Celia reaches for the phone.

She’s going to kill her sister. She will absolutely kill her. Wrap her fingers around her fucking neck and watch the life fade from her eyes.

She puts the phone in her pocket. Moves back out of the room to check the other, just to make sure.

GM: She finds nothing she wanted.

And everything she expected.


Celia: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea occurs to her. She doesn’t stop to think about it. She searches for the number on her phone. Calls the bar. Saints & Sinners.

Monsters, right? If Cécilia’s mother won’t help, there are other monsters out there. Monsters she’s willing to deal with.

GM: “Saints and Sinners,” says a bored-sounding guy. Music pounds in the background.

Celia: “Call for Chase,” she says sweetly. She describes him, just in case the voice doesn’t know who he is. “He’s a patron,” she adds.

GM: “Yeah, he’s here,” says the guy.

“Showin’ magic tricks to a girl.”

Celia: “Great, can you tell him that you’ve got another girl on the phone who has something that belongs to him? Tell him I stole it.”

GM: There’s a pause.

More pounding music. Indistinct voices.

“Uh, what’d you steal?” says the guy.

Celia: “Something from his bedroom.” She puts the right inflection in her voice, a little bit sultry, a little bit flirty, a little bit bored of this guy. “Tell him it’s Cici and that I want to tie up some loose ends.”

GM: Another pause.

More music. Foreign to Celia, and a little loud, but the kind Cici is accustomed to.

“Okay, he says to come over,” says the guy.

Celia: “To the bar?”

GM: “Uh.”

A pause.

“Where are you?”

Celia: “I’m asking where I can meet him, silly.”

GM: “Yeah, but like, where are you?”

Celia: “At home. Thinking about him.”

“And his friend.”

GM: “Okayyyy, where’s home? Like, address?”

Celia: Her life for her mom’s.

Her life for her family’s.

It’s a trade she’s willing to make.

She gives him the address to her mom’s temporary location. Checks to make sure that the safety is off on the gun.

“Tell him I’m waiting.”

GM: The man hangs up.

Celia: She finds a corner to make her stand. No one can get you in the corners. They can’t grab you from behind. Can’t sneak up on you. She leaves the door unlocked. There’s no point in pretending this is anything other than it is.

She sends a text to Em.

Keys are under the bed if I don’t make it out. There’s a file on my computer, clip.mp4. If you don’t hear from me soon, get it to Miranda.

She sends a text to Stephen, too.

I love you.

GM: Steam still wafts from the lasagna.

But it’s a faint plume.

Fading slowly against the night.

Celia: Ten minutes. The bar isn’t that far away. She’ll give them ten minutes. And if not… then she’s on her own. She’s faced worse before. And she has some idea where they might be.

She should have listened to Cécilia. Gotten them out immediately. Who gives a fuck about a failed test when her dad has her whole family?

She doesn’t care what Em said last night. She’s going to kill him.

GM: The clock silently ticks.

Seconds pass. One second to several seconds.

Several seconds to ten seconds.

Twenty seconds.

Thirty seconds.

Celia: Her nerves start to fail her.

She should go. Before they get here, she should go. Confront him on her own. She has the gun. People are afraid of guns.

She edges toward the window to peek outside. If no one is there she might still be able to make it to Em’s car.

GM: A hand pulls her back.

“Impatient little toy,” purrs a voice.

GM: They’re right there.


Her green eyes smolder like slow-burning coals as her perfect lips curl into a cruel sneer. She wears a strapless red minidress that complements her unblemished chocolate skin and snugly hugs her ample curves. She glides about in the gold-heeled six-inch platform pumps like she’s walking on air.

He cuts a handsome figure in his bad boy leather jacket, dark pants, and tight dark t-shirt that nicely shows off his abs. Gold glints from the Rolex and gem-set rings around his slender fingers. He’s shorter than the woman, slim and sinewy, like a cobra with four limbs. His lips are quirked in a self-content smirk as his dark eyes twinkle with devilish amusement.

They look like runway models. CGI models. Something off a magazine cover. The kind of beauty Celia works so hard to create every day at cos school and knows she never can, that will never last even if she could. Because it must come off at some point. Because everyone is ugly at some point.

But they aren’t.

Somehow, she knows, they aren’t.

They ooze sensuality with their every look, their every gesture. But it’s a predatory kind, the kind that gives Celia goosebumps and makes her hair stand on end and her gut twist, even as it makes her loins wet and her cheeks flushed.

They are monsters.

But they are such, such, beautiful monsters.

Celia: Celia’s stomach bottoms out. It just drops. Like it’s not there anymore. And whatever courage she thought she had fades before them. She hadn’t even heard them come in. The woman’s hands are on her, pulling her back, and she doesn’t fight against it. She welcomes it. Her body is their toy. Their happy little toy. Her lips curve into a smile at the sight of them.

Cici smiles at the monsters, because Cici is everything that Celia can’t be. Strong. Brave. Smart. Words she’d never use to describe herself, but with this mask she’s… not them, but willing to play with them, willing to take their castoff toys and discarded clothes and backhanded compliments. So when she smiles it’s not feigned because it’s not Celia anymore. Celia doesn’t exist.

“You made it.” Her voice is a delighted purr. Nowhere near as sensual as hers. A cub’s bark instead of a lion’s roar, maybe, but she’s trying.

I like moxie. It’s the only thing that will get her through this. She clings to that thought. Strong. Brave. Confident. Fierce. She channels it.

GM: The woman’s ruby-nailed hands trace Celia’s face. The nails are long and perfect. A predator’s talons.

“Were we late, little toy? Were you expecting us sooner?” she purrs back.

“We got so sad, after you ran out on us last night,” mock-pouts the man.

Celia: The touch sends a shiver down her spine. Her blink is just a hair slower than normal.

“No,” she says. “I appreciate your haste. And… Chase, I don’t believe you for a moment. You seemed well-occupied. But that’s why I called. I didn’t want my new friends to miss me overmuch.”

Celia nods toward her purse, sitting on the table. “I got you something. To make up for it. I was going to drop it off, but I couldn’t quite remember where you live.”

GM: “Oh? A present?” asks the woman, emerald eyes smoldering. She doesn’t let go of Celia, but her head slowly tilts away like a bird of prey spotting some new meal. Even the way her neck moves is perfect.

“I’d have preferred to steal it,” says Chase in that same mock-pouting tone.

The purse is suddenly in his hands.

“Everything tastes better when you steal it.”

Celia: “Well, silly, it’s not for you. You didn’t win the game.”

Looking inside, Chase can see a very small package wrapped in silver paper. There’s a card, too, with a lipstick kiss, but it’s not addressed to anyone.

GM: “Oh? So this belongs to someone else?” asks Chase. “Someone besides me?”

His devilish eyes twinkle as he turns a gloating smirk towards the woman. He pockets the card and bottle into his jacket.

“I think that does make it mine, now.”

A low, almost feline hiss sounds from the woman as her smoldering eyes set upon Chase. “That’s mine.”

“Takers keepers, cousin dearest,” he smirks back.

Celia: “I have something else you can steal. If you think you’re up for it.”

GM: The woman is gone. She’s suddenly right behind Chase, her beautiful features twisted with feral venom, her talon-like nails raised as if to strike.

Celia doesn’t see him turn. He’s suddenly facing away from her.

Low hisses split the air—but pause at her words.

“Oh?” asks Chase.

He doesn’t look away from the woman.

Celia: “Something more challenging than taking from a purse. But… I don’t know if you’re up for it, now.” Celia tilts her head slightly.

GM: Chase smiles darkly.

She sees it, for the first time.

Sees them.

Two sharp and protruding… fangs.

“Try me, little girl.”

His tongue runs slowly across them.

Celia: No.

It’s… no. Her eyes can’t be seeing this. They can’t be. It’s not real. But it explains… everything. Everything she didn’t want to think about. The darkness. The monsters. The blood. It’s right in front of her but she can’t believe it. She can’t stare too closely because then that makes it real, and if it’s real…

It can’t be real. Monsters don’t exist. They don’t pick you up at a bar and take you home and fuck you six ways to Sunday and then come when you call. Her mind jumps to all the possible scenarios. Prosthetics. A cult. A gang. A quirk. Don’t people in Korea file their teeth?

But she knows he is none of those things. Her mind won’t accept it but her gut knows, and it’s telling her to scream. To run. To hide. These are the monsters that live under the bed.

She has to swallow before she can get the words out.

“There’s a woman. If you steal her, you get a prize.” She can’t explain any further. Her voice already trembles, but she avoids the humiliation of stuttering.

GM: “What prize?”

They’re suddenly on the couch. Celia is seated on the woman’s leap. She feels the woman’s hands tracing along her breasts, pinching her nipples. The touch is electric.

“Aren’t you our prize?”

Chase’s nostrils sniff.

“She smells even stronger up close,” he smirks. “Someone’s had a wild night.”

Celia: Magic. She gets it now.

She is very, very still on the woman’s lap. Her nipples strain against her bra, clearly outlined by the thin shirt she’s wearing. She leans against the woman, arching her back into the touch. Her thighs rub together beneath her skirt.

“Am I what you want?”

GM: “We already have you, little toy.”

The woman’s electric fingers slide below her skirt.

“We can do what we want with you.”

Celia: “Of course—of course you can.” Happy little toy. She can be their happy little toy. For tonight. For tomorrow. For as long as they want her. As long as she gets her mom back.

As long as this increasingly stupid, dangerous, deranged plan actually works out.

Her legs slide to either side of the woman’s lap. Just like last night. Only last night she hadn’t realized what they were. Last night it had just been two people in an apartment with a body and blood. Now it’s… she can’t think the word. Life and death, maybe. And not just hers.

“What about what I want to do with you?”

GM: The woman’s fingers give Celia’s nipple an incredibly hard pinch. She almost cries out in pain, but it feels good too. The rippling shudder of pleasure seems to reverberate all the way down to her back.

“And what do you want to do with us, little toy? What can your devious little imagination think up to keep us entertained?”

“Mmm. So we steal the woman, and she does things with us,” muses Chase.

Celia didn’t even notice when his fingers slid up her pussy, the touch was that light. They absently stroke against her inner walls, back and forth. She very much feels that.

Celia: When he puts it like that it’s not much of a deal. They already have her. Spread open. Pliant. Willing. She can’t bore them. Boredom means death, she’s sure of it.

Chase finds her slick. She makes the noises that they wanted last night, only this time they don’t have to ask. She does it on her own as they touch and caress and pinch, each touch eliciting a different happy noise. She tries not to think about what he is. What he can do to her. How close he is. How sharp those—they’re not real.

“Y-you’re right.” Her breath hitches. She can’t help it. “I’ll do things with you… but you know that.” She pauses for only a moment, long enough to catch her breath, to form the plan. “You don’t want someone who is going to run screaming. You want someone who can—who can handle themselves. Someone useful.”

She tilts her head to the side, brushes her lips against the woman’s neck.

“You got a look at my ID, Chase. You know who I am.”

GM: “Oh, there’s a happy little toy,” sounds the woman, her voice something between a purr and a snarl. Her fingers are like cattle prods as they crush Celia’s nipples mercilessly hard.

“Louder, toy. Louder. I want to hear you’re the happiest little toy in all the world.”

Chase holds his fingers to his nose and sniffs. He smiles and traces them along Celia’s nose before starting to massage her clit, so lightly it almost feels like a breeze that’s doing it.

“Why don’t you tell us who you are. In your words. With happy noises between, like my cousin wants.”

Celia: There is nothing enjoyable in the way her nipples are handled. It hurts. She bites her lip to muffle the sounds of discontent, but it doesn’t take long before her teeth release her lip and she screams the way they want her to. It’s half a moan, in truth, a pleading sound that’s just shy of whimpering.

Her tongue flicks out to taste his fingers when they’re that close to her face. She keeps her eyes on him.

“S-senator’s daughter,” she gets out as Chase trails his finger across her clit. Her hips jerk. “Judge’s granddaught—oh, owowowow—” air hisses from between her teeth. “And—and my dad, he—ah—he makes movies, if you—if you’re into tha-aaaaah—!”

The secret she’d never told anyone. She doesn’t know anything else about him, but she knows that her mom might be dying while these two fuck with her, and if she doesn’t have a good enough offer then it’s all in vain and she’s dead too. She prays that it’s enough. That they’re interested.

GM: The woman’s fingers start to massage and knead Celia’s breasts softly, gently, teasingly.

“Happy noises, little toy. Louder! You’re the happiest little toy in the entire world, aren’t you?”

Chase’s fingers start to rotate faster, harder. They feel like actual fingers against her now.

“Oh, that’s a twist. I wonder what Daddy would do if he knew.”

The woman slides a long-nailed finger up Celia’s vagina. There’s that instinctive flinch—those nails will have to hurt—but the pain doesn’t come. The undersides of the woman’s fingers are an altogether different sensation than the ends of the short-nailed man’s. They’re harder and more direct.

“That’s a lot of connected relatives our little toy has,” she says. “But if she was so connected to them… what would she need us for, to find a woman?”

“Tell us who you are, little toy. What can you do besides make happy noises?”

Celia: “Dance,” she says. The word is half a gasp, torn form her the moment the woman asks, said without thinking. How can she think with their hands on her like this? How can she answer their questions when all she wants to do is lay back and writhe and let their touch send her into sweet oblivion? They are predators and she is their prey, and never has that dynamic been so sweet.

But dance isn’t all she does.

And while they touch and tease and caress, between happy noises, she tells them.

She spins a web with her words. They are beautiful, beautiful monsters, and she is nothing if not a fan of beauty. She lets them hear her passion—for how they touch her, how they make her body obey their whims without a word, and her work. She tells them that she is a purveyor of beauty. That she can take a normal, plain, mundane thing and turn it into a work of art. That with crushed powders and liquid ink and metal tools she can turn anything into something more. Ordinary becomes extraordinary. Extraordinary becomes divine. She can sculpt and shape and taper with shadows, brighten and broaden with light.

Chase has his magic drinks, the woman has her magic touch, and Celia has magic in a black bag: bottles and serums and brushes. People are her canvas. Faces are what she sculpts. Man into woman, girl into boy, ugly into beautiful. She can shave off years, soften hard lines, illuminate the most alluring features until they shine. She can add luster or remove repugnance.

The wave builds inside her while she speaks. Her words grow more fervored as she tells these two beguiling, pulchritudinous beings who she is. It threatens to drown her. To pull her under, wash her away as if she had never been. Their good will is her only lifeline.

Her words pour forth in a torrent of need. A need for them to see her, to understand what she is, what she does. Not some playtoy, not her father’s daughter, not the doormat mask she has worn for years, but her. Devoted. Lovely. Conniving. A liar without lies. A spider who spins her own truths, who sets the traps and lets the flies come in. A survivor, who takes the 2-7 offsuit hand she has been given and turns it into victory.

All her life she has let people see just the mask, the one that kept her safe in her father’s household. She played small to let others feel big. She backed down to let other people win. It served her then, but it does not serve her now. She casts it aside and tells them her truth.

GM: Celia’s truth is majestic. Celia’s truth is beautiful. Her craft is beauty. How can it not be?

Her words weave a spell over the pair. Celia can see the rapture in their eyes. The lust. The fervor. The hunger.

“You are such a happy little toy!” the woman exclaims, her eyes glassy. The pressure builds through Celia’s loins, then explodes. She screams out her truth as the orgasm comes, soaking the woman’s fingers, who keeps stroking her, building her towards another climax. There are more words from her, from Chase. They come out in an incoherent rush, like wolves trying to talk.

“Happy, happy little toy!”

“Spider!” breathes Chase, pulling out the woman’s fingers and burying his mouth over Celia’s womanhood.

She’s off the woman’s lap. She’s lying down in the air. The woman is standing on the couch, holding Celia aloft, hands along her head and legs, head under the small of her back. Chase is on the ceiling, clinging to it with his fingers and feet like some impossible centipede. He pleasures Celia’s most intimate spots with his air-light tongue, and then suddenly there’s a sharp piercing sensation that makes Celia cry out, but there’s bliss too, all-consuming, like they’ve stuck a vibrator up her soul. It makes her giddy and lightheaded like Em must feel on his drug trips. She smells something coppery as the man hungrily slurps and laps.

“Happy, happy little toy!”

“Spider! Liar!”

She’s not in the air. She’s on the rug. The woman straddles her, kisses her, pierces her. She feels that same sensation of pure bliss blossom through her neck as the woman’s electric touch resumes on her breasts, pinching and twisting and kneading. The man pleasures her lower lips, sucking ravenously as his tongue works like an artist’s brush, seemingly everywhere at once to create his masterpiece of pleasure. Celia wants to scream. Maybe she is. She probably is. Screaming her truth. Her pleasure. Her beauty. Their beauty. There is no difference. All is pleasure. All is beauty.

“Fuck, she’s sweet!” Chase raves. She isn’t sure how he’s talking clearly, because the sensation in her loins doesn’t abate. “It’s always worth getting them in the mood!”

“She’s the happiest—toy—in—the—world!” the woman exclaims. The bliss coursing through her neck ceases at those words. The loss is like a sword through her heart. Celia instantly wants to beg for it to resume, she can’t live without it, and it does, and it’s all the more sweet for that second of loss. Rapture shudders through her. Did she just cum again? How many times has she? How long has this even been going on? The coppery scent of her blood in the air is unmistakable. She catches glimpses of it, red over their faces and hands like so much makeup.

They love her.

They are killing her.

They adore her.

They are killing her.

But it is beautiful.

It is so, so beautiful.

“Show me, little toy,” purrs the woman. The rapturous sensations are suddenly gone, but the afterglow is like a bonfire, warming her to every inch of her bare skin (when did she lose her clothes?). She’s half-standing, the woman’s hand behind her head, all of her weight cradled in the woman’s hand like she weighs nothing. Celia can see her blood running down the woman’s perfect mouth, red and unmistakable.

“Work your magic.”

“Make me… more divine.”

Chase kisses the woman, lapping up Celia’s blood from her chin. There’s a low, almost playful growl in response, but her smoldering eyes rest firmly on Celia.

Her mom’s makeup kit must be around here somewhere.

Maybe she finds it. Maybe they do. The memories run through her hands like a soupy fog, like a half-forgotten dream just after waking up. The woman is seated on a chair in front of the bathroom mirror, tubes and bottles and brushes and containers all laid out. The “bag of goodies” to a younger Celia whose dad wouldn’t let her keep any at home. She can barely stand. She looks so, so pale in the mirror, and the red that’s all over her naked body definitely doesn’t come from a plastic container with the Pangloss logo.

“Make me more more divine,” repeats the woman.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Does this chocolate-skinned, wavy-haired, emerald-eyed vision of perfection even need further work?

“And tell us about this… woman, you want to steal,” remarks Chase. His feather-light fingers drum along Celia’s shoulders as he runs a sampling tongue along her neck.

Gossip at the salon. That’s normal.

Celia: She is already divine.

It is a cruel test, a twisted joke after their blissful time together. How can Celia take what is already perfect and make it better? But that is her task, and she will not fail at her task. Not for them. Not for this goddess.

The difference between a good painting and a great painting is said to be five strokes. The question is thus: which strokes? How do you know when you have gone too far, when you cannot take the paint back from the canvas? It’s a delicate line to walk.

But the woman is not a painting. She is a person. And while you cannot take away from a painting, you can take away from a person. Thus Celia has her plan. The harsh lights in the bathroom shine down upon the woman, and Celia finds the perfection—the true perfection—within. She is the marble block from which Celia will create David. A pair of hairs below her brows are removed with the gentle pluck of a tweezer. The brows are sculpted, brought into the modern era, given more of an arch that compliments the heart-shaped face.

She does not soften. She hardens. This is no blushing bride, no rosy-faced prom queen. This is a predator, and Celia uses that thought as her guide. Her head swims, but her hand is steady: enhancing the cupid’s bow with a liner the color of the woman’s lips, then filling it in as if it had been there all along. A second color across the whole of her lips, but not red. There has been too much red. Blush, but not at the apples of her cheeks, because that will drag her whole face down and make her look dowdy. It is placed higher, along the cheek bone itself, with such a deft, light hand that it does not even appear to be there except when when she turns her head a certain way. She wets an angled brush and dips it into the darkest brown shadow her mother has, using it to fill in the little gaps of skin-colored pigment between the woman’s lashes.

It doesn’t take much. It is subtle. Tiny little tweaks to take her from pristine to flawless. She lets her brushes speak for her, lets them pay the homage to her beauty. She lets natural elegance shine through.

And as she works, she talks. Not of what she is doing. Not of what they have done to her. Not that she wishes they would take her back into the other room for another round of that.

No, she tells Chase what he wants to hear. The answer to his question: she talks about her mother.

“A dancer,” she says softly, “whose legs were broken by her captor. Art and grace cut short. Hamstringed.” Her voice does not betray the horror that she feels at the memories of her mother’s attack. “She escaped, but he has come back for her. The piece of paper could not protect her.”

The angled brush is set into a small pot of inky black. Her final stroke: across the lids, then just beyond, rising at a sharp line toward the tail of the brows.

Wings, because how could Celia deny this falcon her flight?

GM: The woman stares at her reflection in the mirror.


Then she’s gone.

Celia is slammed against the bathroom wall, her head audibly cracking against the plaster. There’s bliss in her neck again as fangs pierce skin, but hot and burning this time. The woman’s merciless hands grip, hold, and pull, like they are disassembling her. Black pinpricks blossom across Celia’s blurry vision. She’s growing cold. The woman is sucking out her fire. Sucking out her life.

But through the dark and distortion. Voices.

“…I want her!”

Hissed. Venomous. Burning.

“We can’t.”

Tight. Reluctant.

The bathroom tiles slams up to meet Celia’s head as she crumples to the floor like a discarded doll. She hears glass shattering, pieces sprinkling everywhere like sharp confetti. There’s the shower curtain, that scrape of rings along the pole, the synthetic materials ripping and tearing. Cabinets smashing as they’re hurled. Glimpses of the falcon-like face, terrible in its wrath. More noises, from further in the house, as the woman mindlessly rampages and destroys.

Chase smirks down at Celia.

“Guess she likes you.”

Celia: Everything is farther away than it should be. The floor. The voices. Chase. Her vision swims in and out, black spots marring the colors. She is tender all over. Broken. She doesn’t understand.

“Wha—she c’n’ve.”

Her tongue is too thick. Eloquence is lost. Maybe it was never there to begin with. Maybe this whole thing was an exercise in futility, and she has just served herself to these people on a silver platter. Her head is cocked at an angle, pain shooting up her spine, through her skull.

The lights are fading. She doesn’t want to die. Her vision is blurry with blackness and moisture. She reaches for Chase, the tips of her fingers lifting up off the cold tile of the bathroom floor. Reaches for him because the goddess is gone, on a war path, and he is all that remains, and if she is going to bleed out here on the floor she doesn’t want to do it alone.

She tried. But she’s so tired now. The darkness is coming to claim her.


GM: “…amn it. Broken you… already…” sounds a distant voice.

There’s suddenly warmth in her mouth. Fire. Ambrosia. Bliss. Mother’s milk.

“…rink up, she’s goi to… nyway…”

Celia: Liquid fire pours into her mouth. Fills her. Warms her from the inside out. The first drink is reflexive, her body obeying the laws of nature. She swallows it down and goes back for more. Slippery, wet, viscous. It slides down her throat in one smooth motion and she sucks, hard, at the source. Eager. Her limbs tingle, her body tingles, everything feels… different. Better. Like the night on Em’s couch, the joint in her hand, after she had finished coughing. Or her first time with Stephen, that first kiss on her bed, the slow stripping after their date. The words he’d just said to her in the car. Magic. She’s not cold anymore. She’ll burn, if that’s what they want.

GM: She isn’t on the floor anymore, either. She’s standing, supping ravenously from Chase’s bleeding wrist. She’s giddy. Delirious. Everything is better. Her head is clear. Her pains and aches are gone. Even her broken arm feels fine. She discards the splint. Everything is so clear, so sharp, so focused. She feels on top of the world, drinking the gods’ own mana straight down her throat.

Chase waits for several moments, then shoves her off.

It’s like a stab to the gut. She wants it. She wants it, so bad. He has to let her have it-

The goddess reappears.

She wasn’t there. Then she is. Her made-up, perfectly enhanced face is completely still, like she hadn’t been destroying Celia’s family’s home. There’s no calming down. It’s like a switch flipped. Just hot. Then cool.

“I don’t care about broken things,” she says flatly.

The words are like a slap across the face.

But she studies Celia.

“So we’ll make this interesting.”

They’re suddenly in the living room. The destroyed living room, not that Celia notices. The woman’s face is inches away from hers. She can make out every stroke, every tweak, every touch-up.

She really outdid herself here.

“I’ll give you power, little toy,” says the woman. “Three nights. You’ll be strong. Fast. Tough. Irresistible.”


“Once your fire gutters out, you’ll belong to me.”

“And if you acquit yourself well tonight, I’ll reward you with something extra. Once the time is right.”

Suddenly they’re on the couch again. The woman is on top of Celia, straddling her, those green eyes smoldering like hotly-stoked coals.

She licks her lips. Her fang pierces all the way through her tongue. Blood drips over Celia’s neck and chest. The woman licks her lips some more, smearing the blood all over like a sanguine lipstick.

“Kiss me. And we’ll have a deal.”

Celia: Three nights.

Three nights, and then her life belongs to the woman.

It already does. There’s no choice here. No choice but to agree, because not agreeing means everything she has endured is for nothing. And she wants to belong.

Celia does not hesitate. Her arms move to encircle her body. One low, around the waist, the other sliding her fingers through the woman’s hair. Her grip is strong. Sure. Confident. She leans in. Her lips slide against the blood on the other woman’s mouth, her own parting, tongue flicking out to taste her, to get another hit of the sweet red offering. She is as gentle as the woman was that first night: not at all. It is not a kiss. It is a contract. A promise. A declaration, punctuated by an exclamation.


GM: Their lips meet.

Celia becomes fire.

It burns through her veins, painful yet euphoric, scouring away weakness and leaving only ashes and burning in its wake. She is wind. She is stone. She is sublime.

“Robot dancer.” What a joke how Isabel called her that. She could dance en pointe. She could dance en pointe on a balance beam. She could leap off that beam to tackle a football quarterback, all coiled grace and savage strength, like a tigress on two legs. She’s both her parents in their primes, and maybe more too. Even the pangs of hunger and thirst are gone. So is any desire to just lay down her head and rest.

She is fire.

She is diamond.

Light. Hard. Beautiful.


The woman is gone, but Celia sees her rising and getting off this time, like a fast-frame movie suddenly playing in normal speed. Chase wraps his arms around her waist.

“I like the alias,” he smirks. “But you should pick something besides Cici. She was just pretending.”

The woman’s jade eyes smolder in agreement.

“Good luck, little toy,” she purrs.

“Tell anyone else about us and we’ll kill you.”

The door slams and they’re both gone.

There’s just Celia.

Tomato sauce from her mom’s knocked-over lasagna is spilled all over the floor like pooling blood.

Celia: Celia watches them go. They are no longer indistinct blurs, no longer invisible to her. She can see them move. It does not detract from their nature to see them move; they are still what they are, and she is still what she is. Only now she is on their level. Now she has a gift.

She stays where she is. Alone. Burning.

No, not burning. Smoldering, from the inside out. Like the woman’s jade eyes.

Chase is right. Cici was just pretending. Cici will die, and in her place Celia will become someone else.

Jade, she thinks. She does not want to be a diamond. Everyone has diamonds.

She will be Jade. Precious. Rare. Vibrant. Shifting and sultry, dark and light, hot and cold.

And just as pristine as any diamond.


Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM

Celia: There is a list of things that Celia wants to accomplish. A list of problems she would like to fix. A list of issues that have come up around her that will be solved before her three days are up and her life belongs to the ebony goddess.

And she will make every second of those three days count.

Her mother’s house is in ruins, but she does not waste the time cleaning. She simply gathers her things, throws on an old dress and sandals, and goes. Back to Em’s, to find what she needs: the little baggies of coke in his sugar bowl. The weed, rolling papers, a lighter. A bottle of prescription meds that she can only assume he crushes and snorts. A camera, tripod, lighting equipment, leftover from the days of his ill-fated movie. She shoves it all into a bag.

First up: back to the dorm, to give the keys to Em, to check on Emily. She drives, even though she knows on some instinctual level that she does not need to. That she is just as fast as the beautiful beings who turned her into this.

She checks her phone while she drives.

GM: She retrieves the items from Em’s apartment without incident.

A showered and clean-smelling Emily lies fast asleep in her bed. The empty bottle of cheap whiskey is gone. Perhaps Celia could have postponed comforting her friend, but the expression on her face looks at peace, even if it is tired.

There are no messages on her phone.

Celia: Everything happens for a reason.

Celia will not beat herself up about the fact that she left to be with Emily. Emily is safe. Emily is healthy. Emily will be fine. And now Celia has the ace in her pocket, the thing that will give her advantage over Maxen. She leans down to kiss the sleeping girl on the forehead.

She sends a text to Em, asking where he is. She says she has his keys.

Then it’s down to the showers, to strip and rinse away the smell of sex. The water does not feel half as hot as the way they touched her, or whatever it was they gave her to as it slid down her throat. Blood. She knows it, deep in her gut, and even if she does not want to admit it to herself that does not make it false.

Once she’s clean she dresses in her own clothes, hanging her mother’s in the closet. She dresses as if she were going to dance, in a high-waisted leotard bottom, legwarmers that hit her mid thigh, and a pink cable-knit off the shoulder sweater. A black wraparound skirt that just brushes the tops of her legwarmers completes the look. Makeup follows, a natural look that makes her appear younger even than her 19 years, fresh faced and doe-eyed, with blushing cheeks and long lashes.

The goddess was hard, but Celia makes herself look soft. The promise of a good time, no fangs here.

She finds the clip that she had used to record her father’s abuse and slides it neatly into her hair, then she’s out the door. This time she runs. All the way to Stephen’s house.

It takes seconds.

GM: It’s an exhilarating run. It’s like being in a car without the car. Faster than a car. She skips and leaps and vaults over obstacles, blurs past pedestrians, even runs through traffic. Nobody seems to notice, though a few people stir at a seeming breeze. Celia can feel her heart pounding in her chest. She feels alive with every vault and leap and thump of her feet. It’s the best workout ever. She wonders how many calories she just burned. She barely notices the night’s cold. Southern Louisiana only gets so cold anyway.

Celia blurs to a stop at the Garrison family house and rings the doorbell several times. It’s eventually answered by Stephen’s father Henry. He’s wearing a bathrobe and pajamas as he opens the door to greet his son’s girlfriend with a slight frown.

“Celia? What is it at this hour?”

Celia: “Mr. Garrison, hello. I apologize for disturbing you at this hour. I would not be here if it wasn’t urgent.” Celia plasters on a pleasant smile. It’s forced, and he can see the concern in her eyes.

“Your son is missing. I know, you think I may be overreacting, and that… that is a possibility, sir, but the fact is that he was with me and then he disappeared, and he has been stalked in the past months, and I am deeply, deeply concerned that something has happened to him. If you’ve seen him… have you seen him?”

GM: Stephen’s father frowns deeply. “I haven’t. What do you mean that he’s been stalked? By who?”

Celia: “A woman.” A monster. “I don’t have the details, sir. I’m sorry. I thought maybe… maybe he was here, or he’d contacted you. He told me about the problem with the mafia, your history with them, and now that I can’t get ahold of him…” Celia blinks a few times. There’s moisture in her eyes she hadn’t realized was there. She can only help him if she can find him.

“I don’t know what it is, Mr. Garrison. I’m so sorry to disturb you. If you hear from him, can you call me? Let me know?”

GM: Color slowly drains from Mr. Garrison’s face.

But his jaw sets.

“Being notified of my son’s disappearance is not a disturbance, Celia. Now, the first 72 hours in any missing persons investigation are vital. When and where did you last see him? Have you been to his apartment?”

Celia: Celia gives him the information that he requests. She tells him that she hasn’t been to his apartment, that she was panicking and that she came here first. It’s a terrible excuse, she tells him, but that’s how it happened.

“I’m heading there now.” She gives him her phone number, tells him to call if he hears anything. “I’ll let you know what I find, Mr. Garrison.”

GM:We’re heading there now,” corrects Mr. Garrison. “I don’t see your car. Did you take a bus here?” He then seems to dismiss the question as completely unimportant before saying, “I’ll throw on some clothes. Wait here.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t like being told what to do. She doesn’t need to wonder what Jade would do in this situation. She knows.

She is Jade.

“Mr. Garrison, the Mafia could call at any moment to ransom your son. If you’re not home, they won’t wait.”

There’s an edge to her voice. A sense of importance and authority that wasn’t there before, as if she knows.

“We went through training when I was young, because of my father’s position. Please, listen to the experts.”

GM: The 40- or 50-something decades-practiced Mafia-busting federal prosecutor, who’s the son of another decades-practiced Mafia-busting D.A., who’s taught Stephen everything he knows about the Mafia, who’s in turn taught Celia everything she knows about the Mafia (in less than a year), doesn’t correct the 19-year-old girl who’s dressed to look younger than her age, and who’s telling him to listen to real experts. Or correct her about state senators’ families being unlikely to receive training that Celia did, in fact, never receive.

Instead, he looks at her like she’s a real adult who actually knows what she’s talking about, and simply says, “The scenario you’re describing would be out of character for them. But I’ll tell Danielle to watch the phone in case.”

Celia: “Of course, sir. I will defer to your experience. Thank you.”

GM: Mr. Garrison is back in barely any time at all. She hears indistinct but clearly panicked questions and exclamations from Dani, but Mr. Garrison tells her to be calm and that time is of the essence. He tells her where he and her brother’s girlfriend are going. He gets into his car with Celia and drives. It’s a grim ride. He doesn’t talk except to ask more questions about the circumstances surrounding Stephen’s disappearance.

He’s also brought two guns.

“Do you know how to shoot?” he asks.

Celia: “Empty the clip. Fire until they stop moving,” Celia says to him. Her voice is steady. “But I only know the theory. After this, I will fix that shortcoming.”

And she will. She makes that promise to herself. There are too many things that go bump in the night for her to not know how to shoot a goddamned gun.

GM: That feels like something Jade would know, too.

“Okay. Several things for you to know,” says Stephen’s dad. “First, guns are much louder than in the movies. Enough shots in a short enough time can permanently damage your hearing if your ears are unprotected. Be prepared for noise. The barrel will kick backwards when you shoot it, which we call recoil or kickback. Keep your grip firm. The barrel will get hot, too. You should also…”

He tells her various other firearms safety and operations tips like he expects her to actually and potentially shoot. He does not tell her she is a danger to herself and others, and that it is an incredibly stupid idea for someone with no training to potentially fire a gun in combat.

Celia: Celia doesn’t tell him that she has two of her own tucked in her purse, so she supposes that makes them even.

She thanks him for the information, and her fingers dial the number for Stephen’s phone again while she listens.

GM: “Stephen knows how to shoot. He could teach you,” Mr. Garrison says.

His grip tightens around the wheel, though, when the phone only continues dialing.

Celia: “He will,” she tells him, “when this is over. When we find him.” There is calm assurance in her voice. A cold detachment, so at odds with the way she normally panics. She can handle this. As soon as she finds him, he will be safe.

GM: They arrive at Stephen’s apartment. Mr. Garrison has a spare key. Stephen is lying face-down in bed, still in his day clothes. Mr. Garrison turns him over and shouts, “Stephen! Stephen!” while actually feeling for a pulse.

Celia’s boyfriend gives a groggy, “Da…?”

“Stephen! Thank god you’re safe!” his father exclaims, wrapping him in a crushing hug. Celia can see the wetness in his eyes.

“Wh… Da, I’m fi…” he slowly grouses.

He looks really pale.

“Celia… wha’re you doi’ here…?”

His dad frowns. “Are you drunk?”

“Wha…? No, an’ I’m 22 anyway!” Stephen retorts defensively.

Celia: Celia recognizes that look. The pale, groggy, disappearing act. Everything clicks into place. His stalker. Emily’s actions, the complaints she made about being dizzy all the time, low energy, always sleeping.

Anger surges through her. Stephen is hers.

“He’s sick,” Celia cuts in, voice tight. “My roommate… I think passed it to him. He saw her today.” She presses the back of her hand to Stephen’s forehead.

GM: The concern returns to Mr. Garrison’s voice. “With what? What does he have?”

Celia: “Flu, maybe.” The lies come easier. “Stomach thing. Dizzy, Stephen?”

She apologizes to Mr. Garrison for wasting his time, for waking him up, for dragging him over here. She says again that she panicked. She’s just been so stressed, she tells him.

GM: “We know this way that he’s sick,” Mr. Garrison says, dismissing the apology. He asks Stephen if he’d like to spend the night at home (and the day, if he doesn’t feel better). Stephen says sure, and supposes that he does feel dizzy. Mr. Garrison offers Celia a ride back to Tulane once they’ve gotten his son to bed.

Stephen says Celia could stay the night, too. He obliquely sidesteps the subject of them sleeping together (around his father) when he mentions the house has “felt big since Mom left.”

Celia: It’s on the tip of her tongue to tell him to go back by himself and let her take care of his son. But Stephen being around his father is probably better in the long run. She tags along, holding his hand in the back seat of the car, rubbing small circles across his palms.

“I don’t want to presume,” Celia says to Mister Garrison, “but my roommate has been sick for a while and I haven’t caught it, so it’s possible I’ve built up an immunity. I can get him settled and see myself out in a few hours. I have an early class.”

GM: Mr. Garrison nods at that and reiterates his offer to drive Celia back to Tulane. He’s already awake and doesn’t think he’ll fall back asleep for a while, not after the scare he had. Dani cries and hugs her brother when she sees that he’s home. He comforts her as best he can. He’s feeling really out of it.

Stephen is happy for Celia to settle him to bed. He’s feeling pretty low energy, though, and not up for any fooling around. But “maybe a BJ would get me feeling better…?” he asks with a hopeful grin.

Celia: Celia kisses his cheek instead.

“Tell me what happened. After you left the dorm.”

GM: “Oh c’mon… I’ll go down on you next time, promise…”

Celia: “Stephen. It’s really important. Was it the girl?”

GM: “Girl?”

Celia: “Your stalker.”

GM: “Uhhh…” he responds tiredly.

Celia: Her hands move beneath the blankets. She knows how to keep him up.

“C’mon, baby, tell me.”

GM: He gives a half-lidded grin. Several moments later,

“Y-yeah… I think I saw her, actually…”

Celia: Bingo.

“What else do you remember?”

GM: He blinks.

“Uhhh… not a lot… disappeared ’gain.”

Celia: “How’d you get home?”

GM: “Took m’ car…”

Stephens frowns.

“I… my memory’s funny…”

Celia: Celia reaches out to touch his cheek, rubs her thumb across his lower lip.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. You get some sleep. We’ll get it sorted.”

She moves her hand away to replace it with her lips, just a chaste kiss before she pulls back.

“I have to go. I love you. Call me if you think of anything else.”

GM: Stephen groggily asks what’s up with her family. Her mom seemed worried that her dad would do something.

Oh. They didn’t have dinner. That’s too bad.

He hopes Celia’s family members are all okay, though.

“Love you too,” he mumbles as he goes to sleep.

Celia: How many times had they done this to him? All those nights he never called or texted. All the nights Emily disappeared and slept all day.

Are there nights missing from her own memories? None that she can think of. Just the few with the man who came from the darkness. And if he’s the same as these other things…

Monsters. Monsters hunting her friends. Hurting them. Her friends. Her boyfriend. Her family, if she isn’t mistaken.

She’s on their level now.

She’ll fucking kill them all.

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Celia: Celia shoots Em a text.

Where’d you go? Have your keys.

Emmett: At a bar. keep em, i’ll be okay. You need me around?

Celia: maybe.

Emmett: what, do you have another friend who needs help in the bathroom

Celia: oh im sry r u mad i left to find out my mom was kidnapped

ur rite my bad

Emmett: He calls her.

Celia: She lets it ring. Listens to her ringtone. Dances a little. Finally picks up.

“Hi, Em.”

Emmett: “Goddamn, really?” he asks.

Celia: “Really ‘Hi’ or really ‘was your mom kidnapped by your psycho dad because you decided to help your roommate instead’?”

Emmett: “Did I rub off on you when I wasn’t looking, or did you just get meaner?” Em’s still coming down, with the help of an Irish coffee. He eyes the bartender and mimes for the check.

“How do you want to play this?”

Celia: “Do you want to rub off on me? I recall you turned me down last time.”

“I have a plan.”

GM: Yeah. That’s definitely meaner.

Emmett: “What is up with you? Normally I’m the only asshole in these conversations.”

And also, okay, maybe a little bit.

“What plan? Should I meet you?”

Celia: “Cécilia’s mom turned me down. So I made a different friend.”

She lets the words hang. Maybe he’ll get it.

Emmett: She can hear him stiffen in all the wrong ways. “What did you do, kid?”

No matter that they’re the same age. He sounds… scared. It’s not a good sound on him, even if it’s a touching one.

Celia: “Can’t tell, it’s a secret.” Her voice is sing-song. She even giggles. It sounds different. “Where are you? I’ll meet you.”

Emmett: She can hear his hesitation warring with his curiosity in the heartbeat that follows.

“Pick me up outside Soulé… Cici?”

He doesn’t mean to make it into a question, but he does.

Celia: “Jade.”

The line disconnects.

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Emmett: He’s waiting for her, wrapped in a relaxed-looking leather jacket that makes his arms look bigger than they are. He looks as close to sober as she’s ever seen him. Or maybe that’s just his mood.

Celia: “Hey, Em.”

Her voice comes from behind him. There’s no car in sight. She’s dressed as if she were headed to the dance studio, complete with leotard, wrap skirt, and legwarmers up to her mid-thigh. A gray purse is slung across her chest, its strap settled right between her breasts.

She smiles at him, and the smile shows the natural looking makeup on her face, carefully applied to make her look younger. More innocent. She leans in.

“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”

Emmett: “Not at all,” he says slowly, looking her over. “You seem… not terrified, right now. By your mom being kidnapped, and all.”

Celia: “Mmm,” she agrees, nodding. “I have a plan. I stole your drugs, by the way. I hope you don’t mind. Just a few. I’ll pay you back, but timing and all that.”

“I brought your keys.” She holds them out.

Emmett: “Wait, that’s… thanks… and also, what drugs? Not like ‘what drugs,’ like I don’t know what you’re talking about, but like, which drugs? And also, why?”

Celia: “Daddy’s out of jail,” she says flatly, “and I need a way to keep him there. Back up plan. Plans within plans.” She pauses, looks past him into the cafe.

“We should speak somewhere less public.”

Emmett: He glances over his shoulder at the restaurant they visited just last night. “I know a spot.”

“Oh. That’s what you were suggesting.”

Celia: “Was I?” She takes his hand, tugs him along toward his own apartment.

Emmett: “…oh. Okay, that works too.” When they’re inside he scratches at the back of his neck. “Um, can I get you something? A drink? Some of your innocence? If I can find it.”

Celia: “It’s in the bar,” she tells him, “with the guy who raped me last night.” Her head tilts to the side. “Or maybe with my daddy, when he started beating me. Or maybe,” she says slowly, “it’s with the only two other people I care about in the world, who both have the same symptoms of illness. Something must be going around.”

Emmett: “Yikes,” he mutters, pouring one for himself. He doesn’t drink it, though. He has a feeling now’s a bad time to. But it’s nice to hold in his hand. “Maybe I was patient zero, then. I haven’t been innocent for a year.”

“What’s your plan? Set Maxen up as a coke dealer? It’ll be hard, but I can see us doing it. If you can get him out of the house while I plant the shit.”

Celia: “He has the kids. And my mom. Isabel set them up.”

Celia wants a drink. She should have told him so. She pours one for herself, but doesn’t taste it as she takes her first sip.

“Did I tell you that I have video evidence of him abusing me? I was thinking of doing something similar. Rape. Drugs. Reasoning with him. Telling him to back down. And if not… well, I guess I just end him.”

Emmett: “Well, you say that,” Em says.

Then he peers at her.

“You really are saying that. What happened? What other… friends were you talking about?”

Celia: Celia raises her brows. She takes a drink. Back to that old game.

Emmett: “Fuck,” he says softly. It takes him a second. “Fuck. Are you gonna be okay?”

Celia: For the first time since she showed up behind him there’s doubt in her eyes. She drinks again, but it’s only to cover the way her lower lip trembles for just a second.

“I don’t know,” she says honestly. “If I do well, maybe.”

Emmett: “Okay,” he says. “Well… what can you tell me?”

Celia: “I don’t know. If I tell, I die. That’s the rule. And I don’t know how specific they are about that rule, if it just means them or all of them. But… we were right. About what we said about them.”

Emmett: “Okay,” he says again, like that was helpful. “What’s your plan with Maxen? Talk me through it.”

Celia: He isn’t getting it. Celia smiles at him. Shows a little too much teeth.

“I took your camera.”


Emmett: He smiles back in confusion. They both grin at each other unhappily.

“What are you going to goad him into doing?”

Celia: “Rape,” she says again. “Drugs. You had coke.”

Emmett: “You’re going to get him to rape you?”

Celia: “Mmhmm. Tragic, isn’t it?”

Emmett: “Jesus. How are you even going to do that? And… why? Can’t you frame him for the other shit? And…”

He hesitates, but he asks. Like a fucking chump, he asks.

“And, what do you want me to do?”

Celia: “You don’t think I can get him to?” Celia bites her lower lip. “You don’t think I’m cute enough for him to want to fuck me?” She trails a hand down her chest, right between her breasts. “Don’t you want to fuck me, Em?”

Celia turns it on. Whatever charm they gave her, whatever it was the woman did to her that makes her irresistible, she taps into that now. She wants Em to want her. She wants him to want her because of last night when he turned her down. She wants him to be so into her that she is all he can think about.

He wasn’t into her broken self. He didn’t like the pity party that she invited him to. But this? This person that she is now, this confident, catty bitch? Oh. He wants that, because she tells him that he does.

She glides across the room to him, takes the drink from his hand. Sets it down on the counter. Her hands start at his shoulders, work their way down his chest. Both hands. He hasn’t even commented on her lack of sling. She wants him to pay closer attention to her. The jacket is the first thing she takes off, sliding it down his arms to pool in a leather pile behind him.

“Tell me,” she whispers in his ear, “tell me that you want to fuck me. Tell me how after I left last night you thought about pinning me up against the wall with my legs around your waist.”

Emmett: He does, already, but he starts to shake his head, starts to say something catty and self-assured that’s code for, “You’re too good for me.”

But then she does the thing.

Her breath is sweeter than absinthe when it touches his ear. He wants her to whisper more things, say his name more, wants to see her name in his mouth, wants…

…he hasn’t wanted anything this much for so long. He’s lost in it, the wanting, the thing that leads him from disaster to disaster. The wanting is the only part of life that he’s good at.

“I did,” he says, his breath tickling her neck. “Fuck, I did. I thought you would hate me. I didn’t want you to hate me but I wanted to fuck you so so bad. I want to now. You’re so…”

He’s grabbing at her, clumsy, like he’s just waking up.

“I’m sorry,” he tells as he holds her, twirls her like they’re still in the Paris Room. “I’m sorry I didn’t.”

Celia: There’s something endearing in the clumsy way he touches her. The way he fumbles, falling all over himself to apologize, to explain his behavior.

As if she cares.

He turned her into this thing when he turned her down last night. Sent her running right into the arms of someone else. Something else. A monster.

And, oh, how magical that was.

Laughter, light and giddy, bubbles up from inside of her, spilling past her lips as he spins her around. She twirls him, too, pushes him back with a hand on his chest until he’s against the wall she mentioned. Her lips are at his throat, fingers deftly pulling the shirt from his body. She doesn’t kiss. She nibbles. Bites. Sucks. Leaves a trail of marks on his neck until she reaches his jaw, the corner of his mouth, his lips proper.

“Hush,” she whispers to him, “happy noises, now. Make it up to me. Show me a good time, Em.”

Emmett: Something in him recoils. Something is confused.

But it is something quiet, next to the wanting.

He almost throws her on the couch, falls to his knees and pulls at her skirt. His mind scrambles over the hours of whoring, the various positions and tips he’s accumulated.

“Happy noises?” he asks.

Celia: Her skirt comes off in one smooth motion, one easy tug. Her fingers hook around the waistband of the black leotard and pull that off, too, and she is bottomless in front of him, smooth and slick and already spreading her thighs so he can get between them with his tongue. She lays back, watching, expectant.

Emmett: He tears at her and pulls himself between her legs even as she’s making way for him.

“You might not be able to hear me,” he says, and then he starts.

It’s one of the first things Christina had made sure he knew how to do. Had frankly offered to have a girl practice with him, a minor sunk cost for the profits he could turn. Sometimes that was all the date really wanted, after all.

To be worshiped.

He worships her, and the noises he makes might be prayers, and they are panicked, hungry, and happier than any she has ever heard him make.

Celia: In the end, Em isn’t the one who makes those noises. It’s her. Her lips parting as he moves his tongue between her legs. Her panting, gasping, writhing on the couch, knuckles white where they grip the cushion. Her nails dig into it.

Worship is right. He’s on his knees like she’d be on Sundays at church, and the irony isn’t lost on her that this is the same sort of sin she’d burn for. It isn’t the same as the feather-light touch of Chase, the knowing teasing from the woman, it’s a skill all his own. Different. Devoted.

She loves it. Not him—but what he’s doing. The way he’s doing it. The ensnaring power she has over him. Will it and it happens. Delicious. She says his name, “Em,” nothing more than a breathy whisper. She puts a hand against his head, pushing him away. She wants to know how far it goes.

Emmett: He stops, his lips and cheek slick with her, his expression frozen with uncertainty. His eyes flicker over her, desperate but worried. “Is… something wrong?”

Did I fuck up again?

She can see it in his eyes. He will beg for her.

Celia: She wants to hear him beg. Wants him to make up for the time he shot her down. It’s a mean, cruel thing she wants him to do, to crawl and plead and beg to be allowed to touch her. She almost tells him to.

But it’s enough knowing that he will.

She rises in one fluid movement, holds out her hand to him, has him down on the couch before he can complain. Her fingers undo the belt, buttons, zipper, and she has his pants down his legs and tossed aside. She kneels between his legs instead, presses her lips to the inside of his thigh. Then takes him into her mouth.

Emmett: He’s undone. Naked as the first time they met, his eyes fierce with pleasure. He loses himself to her. He lets himself be stolen.

When they’re done, he’s crying. Not heavily, not sobbing, just tearing gently. He doesn’t even seem to notice, and if she was to point it out to him, he’d admit he has no idea why.

“You’re magic,” he tells her, after it makes sense to talk again. “Fuck. I’ve never met anybody like you. That could do that to me.” He’s wrapped around her, holding her tightly to him on the couch, their clothes still discarded. “I fuck for a living. And I would go broke trying to pay for that.”

Is that romantic? He can’t tell. He’s too relaxed to lie.

Celia: Magic. She likes the sound of that. She likes being magic, being worshiped, being desired. It’s a heady, intense rush, and that’s after everything they just did to each other, the moves he showed her from his months of whoring and the evening she spent as a toy.

She could get used to this.

Emmett: Then he frowns. “Wait, so you’re still trying to get your dad to fuck you?”

Celia: The tension returns to her face as he asks about her dad.

“You don’t think it’s a good idea? State senator caught raping his own daughter, evidence of drugs and abuse?”

Maybe she’ll make him take Isabel instead. Really show her how much Daddy loves her.

Emmett: He hesitates. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, for what you’re trying to achieve. It’s just, well, do you want to do that to yourself? Even outside it being incest, you’d be… well. You’d be getting fucked.”

Even if you can turn him on, he thinks but doesn’t say.

Celia: “He’s not my real dad,” Celia says flatly.

Emmett: “Oh.”

Celia: “Just the fuck who raised me.”

Emmett: “He is that.”

“But do you… want to? Still.”

Celia: “Do I want Maxen Flores’ red, shining face hanging over me while he grunts?” She laughs. “No.”

Emmett: He laughs, too. “God, with that bald-ass head, too. I’ve seen him on TV. He probably looks like a football when he’s fucking.”

“I mean, besides, that would also sink your own reputation. You don’t want that.”

Celia: “Nothing by half-measures. If I ask him to do it I’m sure he’d try to show me a good time. And isn’t that fucked. You think he’ll lay me down on a couch like this, use his tongue like you—”

He cuts her off. She pauses.

“You’re right.”

“I should just gut him.”

“Take his leg off with a saw the way he did to my mom.”

Emmett: He strokes absentmindedly at her face, her hair.

“You’re beautiful,” he says. “And you’re scaring me.”

He hugs her, tries to bring her closer than she already is, pressing her to him.

“I don’t want you to have to regret anything. Promise me you’ll let me help. Let me do the worst of it, if it comes to that.”

Celia: “I’ve got three days, Em.”

She sinks into him. Into the comfort that he offers, the warmth that he provides, the friendship that she needs right now. Someone who will do anything for her, who wants to help, who she can call at three in the morning when she’s just been raped and he comes running. Something like guilt washes over her at what she’d just done to him. Made him do.

She’s just as bad as they are. Was this the deal? Trade her soul, her morals, her everything for a chance at revenge? She’d been sweet once, hadn’t she? When she first met him. He’d called her a doe.

Now she’s… a rat, maybe.

She clings to him, holds him close, presses her cheek against his chest. It’s not real, but she wants it to be. He’d told her once that he was hung up on someone, that only one person could love him because she was just as fucked up as he is, and she wonders if that’s true for her now too.

“Three days and then I’m not me anymore. It’s like they’re inside me. Taking over.”

Emmett: “Then I’ll find a way to keep you you,” he says. “I’ll stay with you. I’ll help you remember yourself. You won’t be alone.”

“But just… take a breath now. You have three days? That’s basically forever.” He says it like a teenager saying they have all weekend.

Except, they are teenagers. Both of them.

Celia: “You can’t be near them. Em, they can’t know about you. They’ll destroy you. Whatever bad things you’ve done, they’ll do worse. Believe me. They’re the monsters that we thought they were.”

She pulls back just far enough to look into his eyes.

“Promise me, Em. You won’t get involved with them. When they come for me, you won’t come looking. Here, now, this is fine. This is us. But out there? They’ll kill you.”

Emmett: “I won’t go looking for them,” he says. “Not if you come to me. Keep yourself you. Don’t let them take that from you. Do what you have to, kill and fuck your way through the people stupid enough to stand in it, but don’t forget who you are. Promise me, that.”

Celia: She nods her head, then tucks it back against him so he can’t see the doubt in her eyes. She doesn’t know if she can promise him that. She’s already spiraling out of control.

Emmett: “So,” he says. “What do you need from me?”

Celia: “I wasn’t planning on taking you with me. Could be dangerous. There’s a… I think he has a friend, too. Like mine. Can’t go at night. But he has my mom, the kids. God only knows what he’s doing to them right now.”

Panic won’t serve her. She breathes, like he always tells her to.

“I think they’re after Stephen and Emily, too.” Everyone around her is in danger. Em now, too.

“I waited too long. Should have gone there first.”

Emmett: He pauses.

“Night, you said. Are they… not a problem… during the day?”

He rubs her arm, calmly. Tries to make her feel safe.

“That means we can wait a few hours. For morning. We can have Miranda hack him. Figure out what he’s been saying on his phone. To his lawyers. Whatever. I might be able to bribe some of his guards, too—y’all live in Audubon, right? I know a guy in Blackwatch.”

Celia: “I…”

She hadn’t put it into words. Not what she had seen. Not yet. She doesn’t know that she wants to. Isn’t that telling? It’s against the rules.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I think, maybe, they might not be. I tried to talk to Miranda. But she—God, she’s crazy. I don’t trust her, not to sit on something if it needs to be. If you think you can reign her in, fine. Who’s your guy in Blackwatch?”

She doesn’t know why she asks. She doesn’t know any of them.

“Wait, how well do you know him? Would he… can he check the house? See what’s going on?”

Emmett: “I can talk to Miranda,” he assures her. “She’s crazy, but I am too, and our crazies can talk to each other.”

“And yeah. I’m not sure if it’s the best way, you know, witness and all that, but I can probably find a way to get you intel on the house.”

He runs his fingers through her hair, tracing where it touches her spine.

“If you kill him…you have to assume you’ll be found out. Just the way these things go. You won’t be able to lie. So we’ll have to run.”

There’s no discussion in that we when he says it.

Celia: That we warms her more than it should. Or maybe it’s the hand he has on the back of her neck, or the other arm around her, or the encore of their evening together playing in her head.

What would it be like to run, to leave all of her problems behind, start up somewhere else with him? How long before he realizes what she did to him and hates her for it?

“I can’t run,” she sighs. “I made a deal. But I might know someone who can get us intel on the house. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to him, but maybe…”

Emmett: “Maybe?” he prompts.

Celia: “Maybe he’ll talk to me. He’s kind of… weird. Used to tutor me. Good with computers.”

Maybe she should have reached out to him instead of Miranda.

Emmett: He nods, thinking of Emil. “Computer people are super weird.”

He kisses her forehead, and hugs her. “Wake me when you decide to make your move. I’ll follow your lead. Just… try to think about things before you do them.”

Advice he has never followed, and which feels alien to say.

But it’s the kind of thing somebody should have said to him, at some point.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what she says. He holds her, and strokes her hair, and doesn’t say anything for the rest of the night.

Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM

Celia: It isn’t until Em has fallen asleep, conked out after their planning session at Celia’s insistence, that the guilt finally hits her. It had come up while they were on the couch, but now it’s overwhelming. Crippling.

She raped him.

She knows it on some instinctual level, that what she did to him isn’t right, isn’t normal. It’s because of the deal she made with the ebon-skinned goddess. It’s some evil part bubbling up inside of her. Jade, she called herself, and isn’t that a riot. Hard and cruel, just as cruel as the demonic monster that gave her the power. And, God, what beautiful power it is. Em was helpless before her. Ensnared. On his knees, worshiping. It was magnificent, beautiful…


Terrifying that it consumed her so fully. Terrifying that people exist who have these powers, that they can do these things to others, that a plea to save her mom has turned her into this. A monster in her own right. Does that make it right? Does the end justify the means? Or is she damned now, her soul destined to burn forever in the fiery pits of Hell like Father Michael preaches every Sunday?

He turned her down. She was raped. And she raped him in return.

It’s an ugly word. She thought so when it happened, when she told him about it, and thought she might be ugly too. Unclean. She knows now that it was the truth.

She made a deal with the devil for salvation and instead she turned to sin.

She leaves Em where he lays in untroubled sleep to search her face in the mirror above his bathroom sink. The light is harsh. It washes her out. Shows the scars on her face from all the time she picked at the acne as a teen. Are the marks bigger now? Can people see the corruption, the rot inside of her? Eating her away from the inside, turning her into just as much of a twisted, evil thing as Chase and the woman.


She’s a rapist.

The urge to smash the mirror wells up inside of her. She lifts a hand—then turns away before she can do something stupid. It isn’t the mirror’s fault. It’s hers. The mirror is just showing her the truth of what she is, what she’s becoming. Sharing blood with that thing took every bit of her clarity away.

And soon she’ll belong to it. To her. Forever. That’s what she said. Three days of freedom, of power, and then captivity. To the hot and cold, raging, powerful, beautiful predator.

It will destroy her.

Maybe she deserves that.

She needs to go to her mom. To get her out. That should have been her first visit. Not the dorm, not Stephen, not Em. Her mother is her priority, like she should have been all along. Too afraid of her father finding out she has an illegal boyfriend than standing up to him. She had the clip. She should have buried him.

Should have done it differently.

And deep down she knows why she didn’t: that thing in the darkness. That man who wore her father’s face, who tucked her into bed, who let her daddy get away with trying to murder her mom. He’s there. Waiting. She can feel it.

She isn’t a child anymore. He won’t put her to bed and kiss her goodnight. He’ll put her head through the wall. Break every bone in her body. Rip into her with his fangs.

Consume her.

She will be powerless to stop it. She’ll want him to do it. She remembers what it felt like when the woman was drinking her dry. When Chase bit into her. She didn’t want them to stop, didn’t want it to ever end. Even when the dark spots began to blur her vision she still wanted him, her, them to hold her as she died. She would have done anything for them. Anything to keep it going.

She will not go down like that. Not to this thing that destroyed her family. They would be whole, happy, healthy if not for him.

She will wait until dawn. Wait until the sun’s rays scorch the earth and drive the monsters back beneath the bed. And then she will hunt him down, and she will end him.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VII

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI
Next, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VII

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI
Next, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VII

Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI

“I am tired of being scared of him.”
Diana Flores

Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009

GM: There’s a Times-Picayune article about a state senator who was arrested and released. It was never even posted to the paper’s front page. Strangled before its birth.

Aborted and sent to Emil’s crematoria.

It’s just like her one-time tutor said. There are always intrepid hackers and disgruntled reporters who leak such aborted stories to select messageboards. The lowest, hidden levels of the internet. Spawning grounds for filth and deceit. Intrepid web trawlers such as Celia can still find them.

She always did pay attention in computer science courses after that tutoring session.

Stephen, meanwhile, still hasn’t texted back.

Celia: Released. It’s been less than 48 hours and he’s already out. And the only article that mentions it is this one, buried so deeply on an obscure message board that the only people liable to believe it are the conspiracy theorist nut jobs who also troll these forums.

Like Miranda. Celia wouldn’t believe a word that came out of that girl’s mouth.

The whole point of these boards, Celia knows, is the relative anonymity of its members. But if she can find out who posted the article, maybe she can get in touch if she needs to put the rest of the story out there. She starts digging.

She pulls up the Times-Picayune website in another tab to see what their story is, too. Someone silenced it, and the editor in chief’s name should be online, which will give her some idea as to where to start.

After another brief moment of hesitation she goes back to the message boards to for any additional information on the supposed sex ring as well. If someone else can back up Miranda’s claim then maybe bringing down the whole lot isn’t a bad idea.

GM: The Picayune has no other story. Senator Flores’ arrest and release was simply never even posted. The editor-in-chief’s name, Matthew Herczeg, is easy to find with a simple Google search.

Celia cannot find any evidence to back up Miranda’s claims of an a city-wide sex ring. There are instead claims of multiple sex rings operating with nigh-impunity throughout the city, each one having carved out its own territory and clientele. Some are high-class escort agencies that posters claim have everyone from the mayor to the police superintendent on their lists of clients. The Evergreen Plantation on Royal Street is cited as a frequent spot for “dates.” It’s a posh club owned by a rich playboy, Leon Gressau. Posters claim others sex ring are trafficking organizations that bring in staggering numbers undocumented immigrants through the city’s port. Authorities are all paid off. The girls who come in all disappear.

The username of the person who posted the article is CygodeNt. Celia isn’t able to track down their real identity, at least in the time that she has, but she can contact them via PM through the messageboard.

Celia: Celia takes a few notes on a piece of paper to reference later. She doesn’t have time to get into everything now with the depth she’d like, not if she wants to make it to dinner. Stephen still hasn’t gotten back to her, either.

She picks up her phone to send a few texts.

To her mom, Kids at dinner or just us?

To Emily, Checking in. wanted 2 make sure ur good.

She debates texting Stephen again, then finally picks up the phone to call him. He should be out of class by now, right?

GM: From her mom: Yep, kids will be there! They’re all awake now.

From Emily: i bombed the test. spent all my time sleeping. when i could have fucking studied. i had extra time. i could have gotten an A on this. fuck my life.

“Hi, you’ve reached Stephen Garrison. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” sounds her boyfriend’s voice.

Celia: “Hey Stephen,” she says to his voicemail, “can you call me? As soon as possible. Okay. Um. Bye.”

She hangs up. Checks her texts. Kids are all going to be there.

Well fuck.

GM: There’s still no response.

Celia: Fuck you, too.

She sends a text back to Emily, oh no! sorry 2 hear. we will study 2gether next time, u got this.

She’s more bothered than she should be by Stephen’s lack of response. Guilty conscience, maybe. Concern that his stalker finally caught up to him. Concern that her stalkers—can she call them that?—caught up to him. Traced her back to him. But why him? There’s nothing that ties them together aside from their relationship. It’d make more sense to go after her family. Plus they’re easier to find. There’s no way that they took Stephen.

He’s just mad at her. For… something. She huffs. Boys.

GM: my grades have all been slipping. this exam was my chance to bring it up. and i blew it. i can’t get a 4.0 in this class, it’s impossible now. i blew it. i fucking blew it. so i could sleep. i hate my life.

i’m gonna get drunk on something cheap

Celia: Em, you blew 1 test 1 time. its gnna be ok. we’ll see if we can get extra credit for u or something and then a tutor or extra study sessions, and maybe leave 1 of ur jobs so u have more time 2 study.

also if ur drinking just be safe ok

GM: it’s not i can’t get a 4.0 anymore even if I get perfect grades on everything else and i can’t quit because i need the money i’m fucking broke i don’t have a family who’s paying for everything like you

i’m just fucked whatever i do

Celia: extra credit? or explain what happened? maybe he will let u retake.

whats more important to u? school or money? ur on scholarship. if u lose it then yes ur fucked. so cut back on work hours to focus on school.



GM: i cant go to school anymore if im even more broke i can’t pick between them im barely hanging on

ive begged the prof for extra credit already he’s sick of me

im sick of me

i hate my life

i work so fucking hard and its not enough its never enough




i just wa to go to school and study and be a doctor

i hate my body im sick all the time

prof hates me falling asleep in class

im always so tired

im sick

and drunk

polished off


Celia: hold on what do you mean you’re sick all the time? do you mean b/c you’re tired?

GM: what you want my symptoms

nice thin abou premed major

know all the ways im fucked wo doi




weak immu sys

come dow w shit

i lied abou isurac

u have to ha a poli

or u get expld

i lied

cuz im broke and cant buy 1

im lying

they find out im fucked too

haha im fucked so ma ways

Celia: Emmy where r u right now? dorm? im coming back 2nite so we can figure this out ok? ill bring dinner

GM: dorm wr else

i never leave

xpt wor n clas

i ha no life

im drunk

Celia: ok. emmy. i got u. stay there. ill be by in a bit. we’ll figure it out okay. ily im not gonna let anything bad happen. we got this.

GM: There’s no response.

They can hope.

Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009

GM: It’s a short drive from Em’s apartment to the Flores family’s temporary home. It’s a relatively familiar route to Em: Marigny has the best clubs outside of the Quarter, with more of a bohemian/LGBT and less tourist-centric vibe. The address is closer to the quieter, more residential Bywater and away from the most raucous partying, though.

GM: Celia also gets a text from Stephen during the drive:

phone was dead c u there

Celia: “Uh.”

GM: Actually, more like at the end of the drive. She can see her mom from the window. She waves when she sees Celia. And the boy she’s with.

Emmett: “Um,” he corrects her, “I say ‘um’ when I’m fucked up over something. Wait, what are you saying ‘uh’ about?” He brings the car to a slow.

Celia: “Stephen texted. He’s coming to dinner. Said his phone was dead.” It’s a whole new flavor of panic that sets in now. No longer a ‘why are you ignoring me,’ but more of a ‘I kissed this guy and cheated on you.’

“Em, you can’t tell him. You can’t. About what… about last night. Any of it.” Throwing myself at you, especially not that.

“And I told my dad we broke up. Oh my God Isabel is going to see him and tell Daddy.”

They should just leave.

GM: Stephen’s car pulls up.

That’s pretty soon after saying he’d see her there.

Emmett: “Calm down,” he says instantly. “It’s not a problem. I’ll let you out here and drop you off, just like a friend would. Remember, I’m just a guy who was in your dance class. This is normal.”

GM: Stephen gets out of his car, shoots off a text, and walks up to the building’s front door. Celia’s mom looks at her phone and disappears from the window.

Emmett: “Text me if you need me to pick you up. You can think of a lie to tell them if you have to. A meeting with friends or something. I believe in you. Stay calm, and text me if you need me. I can stay close.”

GM: Celia’s mom answers the door, smiles, and hugs Stephen. Then she points at the car with Celia and Em and waves happily.

Stephen looks at Em.

Emmett: “Celia, take a deep breath. We’re gonna both get out, I’ll say hi, say I’ve got to go, and I’ll get back in my car and leave. No problem.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Okay. Okay okay, okay.” He’s already here. At the door. Before she can warn him about Isabel. Before she can grab him and run. And now Em is… Em is offering a solution. Breathe. She does that. Three times, just for good measure. It helps. A little.

“Okay. We can do this. Just saying hi. Gay dance friend. Okay.” Her head bobs.

Emmett: “Perfect, darling. Lights, cameras, action.” He steps out of the car, smiling wide, and waves at the pair.

He waits for Celia but doesn’t open the door for her, and lets her lead the way.

GM: “Sweetie, it’s so good to see you!” Celia’s mom exclaims when she gets out, hugging her tight. She sounds like she’s greeting her daughter after weeks apart.

“It’s been such a busy day, with all the kids… it’ll be really nice just to all sit down together a big dinner,” she says, but turns to greet Em.

Emmett: “Diane, right? It’s been a few years,” he says, holding out his hand to to the older woman. To Stephen, he looks him up and down a moment longer than necessary, holds out his hands, and says, “You must be Stephen—Cici has been talking my ear off about you. I wish I could stay.” He pouts magnificently.

GM: “Oh, it’s Diana—but my husband actually called me Diane once or twice, so it happens all the time,” she says in a laughing tone. She hugs him instead of taking his hand, though more briefly than she did Celia. “And I remember you! You’re Elliot, Cécilia’s boyfriend.”

“Are you two doing it long-distance, now that she’s off at Wellesley?”

Emmett: “I was,” he laughs, “but that was a few years ago,” he says, returning the light hug. “And no, we went our separate ways that year, actually, but I’m glad she’s doing well where she is. I know I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years.” He touches a hand to his chest and grins.

“I was just giving Celia a ride here, but I’ll get out of your hair.”

GM: Stephen slowly shakes Em’s hand. He can see the reproach in Celia’s boyfriend’s eyes when he calls Mrs. Flores ‘Diane.’ One’s elders in the South are traditionally addressed as ‘Mrs.’ or ’ma’am,’ after all, though Em always hated that. His father said he had “Yankee blood in you.”

“Oh, that’s nice to hear about her. Are you new to the city, Elliot?” Stephen asks.

Emmett: “I grew up here for the most part, but I try to see it with fresh eyes. Spent a lot of time traveling when I was young,” he says apologetically.

“Sorry if I seem abrupt, or eager to fly, ma’am,” he says to Diana. “I’m hurrying all over the place, these days. Drama classes and auditions and all that.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing drama, Cécilia had so many good things to say about that movie you were working on,” Celia’s mom remarks. “And nothin’ to apologize for. Thank you so much for driving Celia over! We’ve all been busier than moths in mittens here today. I hope you like lasagna, we’ve already got a plate set out or you.”

Celia: If life is a movie, Celia thinks, then Em must be the leading man. That boy is good. It’s the only thought on her mind as she follows him out of the car and toward her mom, listening to him schmooze and flatter his way into her heart. She leaves him to it, fading into the background. When had she become an extra in her own life?

Stephen, though. Her heart skips when he looks her way, and she’s got her hand in his a moment later. She tucks herself against his side.

“Oh, Momma, I don’t know if he can stay. He said he was going to swing by the dorm to visit Emily. She hasn’t been feeling well.”

Maybe they can both get out of this. Dinner with the whole family is bound to be a completely awkward affair. Send us home with food, Mom. Come on.

GM: “Oh, did you come here from somewhere besides the dorms?” Stephen asks.

Celia: “From McCalister,” Celia tells him. She presses her face against his chest, looking up at him from beneath her lashes. “I was giving him some feedback on dancing,” she lowers her voice, “he’s not as strong a dancer as I am. But Emily texted earlier and is having a hard time. She failed her test. I feel like it’s my fault because she was in the hospital with me that night instead of studying.”

“She’s been sick, said she was going to start drinking.” Celia bites her lip. “I’m just kind of worried about her.”

GM: “Oh, no!” exclaims Celia’s mom concernedly. “Then it’s settled, we’ll have Emily over too. There’s no better cure for somebody who’s feeling in the dumps than smiles and company. A car ride over might not be a walk in the park right now, but if she’s well enough to drink she’s well enough to get her butt over here, too.”

Celia: “Oh, Momma. I don’t think she can handle this many people right now. I was thinking I could just take her a plate, to be honest.”

GM: “Sweetie, self-medicating by drinking alone is not healthy. Emily might be a lil’ grumpy at the thought of coming over, but trust me, there is probably no better thing for her right now. She won’t be able to drink and I want to talk with her about some stuff anyway, if she’s goin’ to be our housemate. That’ll also help take her mind off the test and put it to work on somethin’ more constructive.”

“Your mom’s right,” says Stephen. He’s put one arm around Celia’s shoulder, a few moments after she leaned against him. “Socializing has lots of health benefits.”

Celia: “Well… we could go back and keep her company. I just don’t think she’s up for the distraction of all the kids right now. That’s a lot.”

Emmett: Em’s caught a little off guard by Celia talking about this Emily person, but he recovers quickly.

“Y’all seem like you’ve got a lovely family gathering going. I wouldn’t want to intrude on that, and I don’t think Emily would either. Why don’t I go make sure she’s alright, take her out for dinner, all that, and you folks can enjoy your meal?” He glances at Celia. “What dorm are you in again?”

Celia: “Josephine Louise. 216. That’s probably the best case.”

GM: Celia’s mom just smiles and emphatically shakes her head. “Too late! You’re in our hair like gum now. Any friend of Celia’s is perfectly welcome to have dinner with us. The kids are still pretty quiet, so this is the perfect time for them to get to know Emily if she’s goin’ to be moving in with us.”

“Yes, I’d also like to get to know Elliot,” says Stephen. “I’ll go pick up Emily. Celia should spend this time with her family.”

“Oh, that’s a just perfect idea, Stephen. I was goin’ to ask who should drive. Didn’t you meet Celia through Emily?”

“Yeah. We know each other.”

Celia: “But you just got here. I haven’t seen you all day, Stephen. And, Mom, if she’s already been drinking she probably shouldn’t be around the kids.” She shouldn’t have opened her mouth about Emily.

GM: “Oh, that’s true,” frowns Celia’s mom. “Hmm. I really don’t want to just leave her alone, though. She was there for us.”

“Okay. I’ll stop by her dorm, with food. I want to say thanks for all she did anyway. And if she seems up for it, I’ll drive her back.” She winks at Celia. “Plus you can get some practice babysitting, with these two fine men in case it feels overwhelmin’.”

Emmett: Em pauses and looks at Celia. It’s her call.

GM: “Yes, that sounds good, Mrs. Flores,” says Stephen. “It has been a while since I’ve seen Celia.”

“Perfect! Okay, let’s go on up and introduce y’all to the kids.”

Celia: “Mom. Wait.” Celia tugs at her mom’s hand. “There’s a problem.”

GM: “Oh, what’s that, sweetie?”

Celia: She glances at Stephen with her eyebrows raised.

“They don’t know I’m dating him because I told Dad we broke up. So if it gets back to him…” She trails off.

GM: Celia’s mom glances briefly at Em, then just gives her a rueful smile.

“Somehow I don’t think he’ll be too mad. He’s got other things on his mind.”

Like, next to the fact they got him arrested, ‘stole’ his children, and are pressing for full custody, alimony, and child support.

Celia: “He’s already out.”

“And I didn’t want to air our business in front of everyone,” she says to her mom with a sidelong look at Elliot, “but the advice I was given by a friend of mine is to move you guys to a different location, with a friend or family, until he’s… settled.”

GM: The smile on her mom’s face dies.

Celia: “So… yeah,” Celia finishes lamely. The implication is clear: if the kids meet Stephen as her boyfriend then his house isn’t safe.

GM: Celia’s mom glances at Elliot, as if deciding how much to say around him, then back to her daughter.

“No,” she finally says.

“Ma’am?” asks Stephen.

“I am tired of being scared of him.” Diana’s eyes are angry. “I have worked all afternoon on this dinner, while juggling childcare, legal work, finances, and house listings. I was really looking forward to this. I am not going to let him ruin it. We’ll eat, enjoy ourselves, and then talk about what to do next.”

Celia: Well damn. There’s that fire, Momma. Finally.

“Okay.” Celia nods. “Okay,” she says again, moving back to Stephen’s side.

If her mom isn’t going to be afraid of Maxen then she won’t be, either. She’s just as strong as her mom is.

Emmett: Em actually smiles, and says, “Those are strong words, ma’am. I don’t know much about your situation, but that sounds like the right way to live your life. I’d be honored to join you for dinner, if Celia isn’t too embarrassed to have me over.”

He’s impressed with this woman. She isn’t the timid lady who auditioned badly for a villain.

Well, here comes the awkward. Hope Cici can take it.

GM: “Thank you, Elliot. Though with this much of our dirty laundry in the air, I’d hope she’s past feeling too embarrassed right now.”

“Are you sure you want to be away from your kids right now, ma’am?” asks Stephen.

Celia’s mom purses her lips. “Celia, does Emily have family nearby? It sounds like maybe not, with the whole movin’ in situation?”

Celia: Em’s voice is in her head, telling her to lie. More people added to the mix is not something she can handle right now.


Then why does she need to move in with you this summer, stupid?

“Well, sort of. Her mom is in… Baton Rouge. For work. So, y’know, close by.”

GM: “Okay. It sounds like Emily really needs her mom right now. Can she be over to the dorms this evening? Do you have her number?”

Celia: “I do! I’ll text her. Why don’t you guys go inside and I’ll be in in a sec?”

Celia steps away from the group. Sends a quick text to Emily to ask how she’s doing.

GM: There’s no response.

Celia: Cool. Celia calls her instead.

GM: She gets Emily’s voicemail.

Celia: Probably passed out, right? Drunk. Right? Tired? She’s always tired. Probably turned her phone off.

She catches up with them, since that didn’t take long.

“I can’t get ahold of her. Must be in a… meeting.”

GM: “Okay,” says her mom, “here’s what we’ll do. Celia, you can bring Emily some food and hugs. She was there for us and she sounds like she could really use a friend right now. If she seems up for it, you can bring her to dinner. In fact, I want you to push her to be up for it. Company will be better for her than eating a sad plate by herself, or just with you. Emily was there for us, so she is a more than welcome guest in this house.”

“But not if she’s drunk off her rear. I’m sorry, but she can’t be around my kids if she’s drunk.”

Emmett: Em offers to go get her. “I know we’ve gone back and forth on this, but it seems like the least I could do as a guest. Wouldn’t feel right, being waited on while Celia went and picked up our friend. And you two—” he says while looking at Stephen and Diana, “have been waiting all day to see her, not me. I’ll pick up Emily and I can look after her if she needs to be looked after. I have a sister who hits the sauce a lot too, I’m used to that kind of thing. You folks should just be focused on having a nice time.”

GM: “Hmm. How well do you know her, Elliot?” Mrs. Flores asks. “If she’s been drinking to self-medicate, I really want it to be someone she’s really close to, like Celia.”

Emmett: “Oh, I’ve known her a while, now. We used to look out for each other at parties, that kind of thing. I can help her feel safe.” He lies like he needs it to breathe.

GM: Celia’s mom nods. “Okay, does that sound good to you, Celia? She was there for us when we really needed her, so we shouldn’t do things by halves.”

“I admit part of me feels a lil’ bad over it not being you or me. Actually, really bad. But if Elliot’s her friend that sounds like where he’s most needed.”

Celia: “Yeah, Elliot, why don’t you check in on her? I’ll just have a quick dinner here and then be back shortly. If her ex shows up just make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Emmett: “Ugh, that guy,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll be fine. Better text her to let her know I’m coming over, for what that’s worth.” He swigs his keys from his pockets, says “goodbye” and “thank you ma’am,” nods to Stephen, and heads for his car.

GM: Celia’s mom lays a hand on her shoulder. “Sweetie, I want you to stay with us. We have… things to talk about.”

Celia: “Uh…”

GM: “And to face, as a family.”

Celia: “Mom, I promised Emily that I’d be with her tonight.”

GM: “Sweetie, I need you tonight. We need you tonight.” Her mom’s face is deadly serious.

“But, okay. If you promised Emily. Why don’t you go there with Elliot, and like I said, give her hugs and food. Bring her back for dinner if she isn’t drunk off her rear. Leave her with Elliot if she is.”

“I’ll go with them,” says Stephen. “I know her too.”

Emmett: Dammit.

“Sure,” Em says jauntily. “Best not keep her waiting.”

Celia: “Great!”

As if I didn’t suggest this twenty minutes ago.

GM: Everything but going back with Stephen, at least.

“Okay, tell y’all what, we’ll just have a later dinner,” says Celia’s mom. “I’ll keep the lasagna in the oven, and lay out another place, just in case Emily can make it.”

Celia: “That sounds good, Momma. Sorry this came up, I know you wanted a big thing. I’ll make it up to you for making you wait. And we’ll talk. Just… tonight is…” Celia pulls her mom into a hug. “I love you, Momma.”

GM: Celia’s mom closes her eyes as she hugs her daughter tight. “I love you too, Celia. More than anything. I’ll expect you back sharp with a sober Emily, hear?”

Celia: “We’ll stop for coffee on the way. I’ll put her in the shower.” She kisses her mom’s cheek.

“All right, who’s driving?”

GM: Celia’s mom abruptly hugs her again. It’s squeezingly tight. She gives a low sniff.

Emmett: “My car, may as well be me,” Em says jovially.

Hmm. How to keep this fuck from realizing I was just lying my ass off about knowing this girl.

GM: “Might as well be me, actually. I’d feel good being in the driver’s seat next to Celia,” says Stephen.

Celia: “I’ll drive and put you both in the trunk, to be honest.”

Emmett: He laughs at Celia’s joke, and hands her the keys. “Hey, why not. Been a while since I hung out in my own backseat, anyways.”

GM: Celia’s mom is still squeezing her.

Celia: “Momma, you gotta let me go so we can go,” Celia says gently.

GM: “I know.” Her mom gives another sniff and lets go, but cups Celia’s cheek with her hand. Her smile looks fragile but heart-deep. “I’m so proud of you, sweetie. You’re the whole reason we’re all here tonight. That we went to court, that we did… anything, to stand up to him.” She sniffs again. “I’m so, so proud.”

Celia: “I know, Momma. We’ll beat him. We will. We’ll be back in a jiff, okay? I love you. Tell the kids I said hi.”

GM: “You’ll say hi, in a bit. We are having this dinner.” Her mom hugs her again. It’s just as tight as the second time, but she pulls away after a moment with a rueful smile. “Okay. Third time’s the charm. Go be there for your friend.”

“See you soon, Mrs. Flores,” Stephen says as he unlocks his car. He holds the door open for Celia.

Emmett: “Oh, I thought we were gonna take mine. Since I might end up not coming back, and all.” He keeps his face blank, innocent.

Celia: “Tell you what, El,” Celia tosses the keys back to him, “why don’t you meet us there so we’re not stranded.”

GM: Stephen looks nonplussed until Celia does.

Emmett: “Makes sense too,” he says happily, smiling at her proudly.


GM: “All right. See y’all soon!” Mrs. Flores waves. She waits for them to get in their cars, then walks back to the apartment’s front door. She winces, holds her leg for a moment, then favors the good one.

Emmett: “See ya’ll. Race ya.”

Then he’s gone. Like the wind and the good times.

Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009

Celia: Celia waits until both Emmet and her mom have gone to pull Stephen in for the kiss she’s been thinking about all day. It’s brief, not nearly long enough to sate her, but they’ve got somewhere to be.

“I missed you,” she pouts. “And I got rid of him for us, so if you want to take a quick detour…”

GM: Stephen lets Celia kiss him, but doesn’t return it as he gets in the car. He closes the door behind her, twists the ignition, and drives.

“Are you sleeping with him?” he asks bluntly.

Celia: “Whoa,” she says, shocked at the turn of questioning. “No. What? Why would you think that? Stephen, he’s… I’ve seen him in a dress and makeup before. No.”

“Is that why you ignored my calls all day?”

GM: “So you haven’t? I’m just being jealous and paranoid?”

Celia: “Yes, Stephen. I didn’t sleep with him.”

GM: Stephen pulls the car over by the curb, ignoring an angry honk that goes up from another driver. He turns and looks at Celia.

“Look me in the eye when you say that.” His voice is hard. “That you haven’t cheated on me with him.”

“My grandpa said you can always tell in someone’s eyes.”

Celia: Celia is taken aback by the fervor in Stephen’s voice. She doesn’t like that he doesn’t believe her. She doesn’t like it at all. But she also gets it, the fact that he wants to make sure she wasn’t messing around on him, and she wants it to be true. So she reaches for his hand with hers, and looks him in the eye, and tells him the truth.

“Stephen. I did not sleep with him. I have not slept with him. I don’t want to sleep with him. I…” she looks away at this part, and a flush comes to her cheeks. “I really, really like you. Okay? Like. A lot. Like… it scares me how much I like you sometimes because I… because you know about me. Everything about me. And I keep thinking I’m not good enough, that you’re going to get tired of the family drama, but… God, Stephen, okay, I might actually be in love with you.”

She carries on, in a rush. “I was anxious all day when you didn’t get back to me. All day. I sent you that heart and I thought maybe you were reading into it and then I was like of course he’s reading into it and then you finally got back to me and there was just this flutter and I knew. And I’ve known for a while. Please, don’t… sorry. Sorry to spill this on you, oh my god please pretend I didn’t tell you that.”

GM: Stephen stares back into Celia’s eyes with all the intensity of the prosecutor he wants to be as she talks.

It’s a truth she spins to satisfy any lawyer.

After all, she didn’t cheat on Stephen.

With Emmett.

Then she says that four-letter word.

The mask of the relentless Mafia-busting federal prosecutor, the man Stephen wants to be, falls away. He isn’t that man. He’s just another young and bumbling and confused college kid like she is, with a four-letter bomb dropped into his lap.

He stares at her for a moment like a deer in headlights.

“I… I think I might love you too, Celia.”

His face turns red.

“And I feel like such an… asshole.”

He hangs his head.

“I’m. I’m really sorry…”

Celia: There’s that flutter again. The one in her stomach. It starts deep in her belly, warmth, and spreads to the rest of her. She can’t help the way she smiles, the light that’s in her eyes. Stephen loves her.

Stephen loves her.


It’s magical and beautiful and she hadn’t realized how desperately she wanted to hear him say that until he does. And she doesn’t care that he just accused her of cheating, that they’re in the car on the side of a busy street, that people are waiting on them. She unbuckles her seatbelt and shifts until she’s on his lap. She takes his chin in her hand, lifting his face to hers.

“Say it again,” she whispers.

GM: Stephen wraps his arms around Celia’s waist, like he did when they first met and she wasn’t sure what to do with her hands. The red coloring his cheeks seems to drain away at her touch, leaving only a huge, almost disbelieving smile that lights him up all the way to his eyes.

“I love you,” he repeats slowly.

He stares at Celia with that almost disbelieving smile for a moment, then leans forward and kisses her deeply. It’s not a passionate kiss so much as it is a warmly intimate one, like her boyfriend is pouring out all of his heart in a third, wordless I love you.

Whore, whispers Paul.

Celia: Whore, whispers Chase.

Happy little toy, whispers the woman.

Celia can’t get them out of her head. She lied to Stephen. She lied. But now she’s on his lap, and he’s kissing her, and he just told her that he loved her, and as much as her heart wants to leap into the air and sing and dance it it shackled by the fact that she is a





Her back is up against the steering wheel, her thighs on either side of his lap, and the windows are clear. She doesn’t care. Her hand slides between their bodies, fingers fumbling to unbutton and unzip his pants. She will make those voices disappear.

GM: “W-we’re in public…!” Stephen half-laughs, half-whispers. His hands rest on her waist and shoulder. But he seems like the one unsure what to do with his hands now, and whether to stop or encourage his girlfriend.

Celia: “I don’t care. I need you.” Her words are half a growl against his lips. She lifts her skirt, slides her panties to the side. She’s already wet, and he’s hard, and what else is more important in the world than that?

Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009

GM: It’s Emmett’s first time to Tulane in a while. He last went there on a college tour with his parents. They’d said he could go to any college he wanted, but this was a good local one (where they worked), so it was one option to consider.

It was strained, though. Like everything was at 16.

Now there’s no Tulane or parents who want him to go to college, or who cook him lasagna like Mrs. Flores makes for Celia, who really wants her around, who hugs her three times and says how much she loves her.

There’s just an empty apartment. With Hot Pockets and Nutella and butter sandwiches.

Emmett: Not that he has been thinking about that.

Because he hasn’t.

At all.

MOVE, SHITBIRD!” he yells at a mildly inconvenient driver.

GM: He gets an angry honk back.

What was it Mrs. Flores said to Celia, exactly?

I’m so proud of you sweetie. I love you so much. I’m so, so proud. I love you more than anything.

It was some iteration of that.

Emmett: People say a lot of things. Like “Heil Hitler.” Or “You just need to apply yourself.”

People lie.

He drives to Tulane, thinking about all the coke he’s going to let himself do later.

GM: Josephine Louise House, better known as JLH, is a three-story red-bricked building that serves as one of the girls’ dorms. It looks pretty old.

Em might wonder what’s taking Celia and her boyfriend so long.

Or he might not.

The desk coordinator glares at him when he comes in. “Excuse me, boys aren’t allowed in Josephine Louise! You need to be accompanied by a resident!”

She glares at him a while longer.


Emmett: He holds up a hand and smiles. “I heard you, I just wanted to make sure I heard you right. Accompanied by a resident, you said?” He sighs. “That’s gonna be hard. My friend texted me from inside her dorm and she’s not really in a position to get out. I can wait a little longer for her roommate to get here with her boyfriend, but I hope she isn’t, you know…” he makes a face and drops his voice.

“Unconscious. She was drinking herself under the table on the phone earlier. It’d be awful if she hurt herself like she said she was going to. Ugh, her family might even sue. Do they make you sign anything to do your job?”

GM: “Oh my god,” the desk coordinator sighs.

“Fine, fine. Just go straight to her dorm.”

Emmett: 216, he thinks as he takes a flight of stairs up. When he finds the door, he knocks on it and calls, “Emily? It’s a friend.”

GM: There’s no answer.

Emmett: “Emily, I’m a friend of Celia’s. She’s worried about you.” He knocks incessantly.

GM: “Mmm, friend troubles?” remarks a redheaded girl in a turtleneck who’s walking by.

Emmett: He rolls his eyes and mouths ‘I know’ to her, even as he keeps knocking.

GM: There’s no answer.

“Dunno how much you can do if you don’t have a room key,” says the redhead.

Emmett: “Yeah…” He shakes his head. “It’s upsetting. My friend sent me here to look after her, but she’s with her boyfriend and they’re worse than rabbits, so of course they’re going to take forever. What am I supposed to do?” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Just keep knocking, I guess. Unless something better comes along.”

GM: “How about you keep me company in my dorm?” the girl smiles.

Emmett: He shrugs his shoulders and smiles at her.

“I mean. I am supposed to be accompanied by a resident. At all times. The girl down there was very clear about that.”

GM: The redhead takes his hand.

Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009

GM: It doesn’t take the lovers very long to consummate their feelings. Celia climaxes before Stephen, but he does too. They’re soon spent and draped over each other on the car seat, hugging through their sweaty and sex-smelling clothes.

“Wow,” remarks Stephen, his cheeks still red. “That was…”

“Jesus. I can’t believe we just did that, right here.”

He’s grinning as his eyes sweep the sidewalks. There’s a couple people staring. The windows are actually steamed a bit. Celia thought that only happened in movies.

Celia: Celia’s face is flushed, cheeks red and eyes bright. She doesn’t care that there are people looking. She can barely make them out through the fog on the windows—she laughs at it, pointing it out to Stephen and telling him she didn’t think that was a real thing that happened—and anyway it’s dark. She slides off of him and back onto her own seat, fluffing up her hair and wiping the sweat from the back of her neck. His cum drips out of her when she moves. It’s an altogether interesting experience, and she can feel it pooling in her panties, which are now… well, ruined, probably.

“Yeah,” she agrees, breathing heavily. “That was… yeah.” She giggles, telling him that they should get going once he buttons himself back up.

GM: Stephen waves jauntily at one of the onlookers.

Celia: “Oh my god, don’t!” But she’s laughing as she grabs at his hand to put it down.

GM: Stephen rolls down the window with his other hand.

“Hey! COME GET SOME!” he yells, laughing his head off.


The indistinct onlooker quickly bustles away.

Celia: “Stephen!” She covers her face with her hands. She can’t believe he just did that.

GM: Stephen laughs harder.

“You started it!”

Celia: “Just go!”

GM: “Yeah, we should go again!” he laughs, squeezing Celia’s breast.

“I wonder if we’ll draw a crowd…?”

“We could charge for viewings.”

Celia: “Or,” she says, removing his hands from her, “we could go back to the dorm because we have people waiting on us, and once we get rid of them we have all. Night. Long.

GM: The mirth mostly disappears from Stephen’s face at those words.

“Don’t you want to be there for your family, though, in case your dad…?”

He clears his throat, raises the window, and twists the keys. Starts driving.

Celia: Oh. Nothing to bring a girl down after sex like the mention of her father.

“Right.” She looks down at her lap. Suddenly the feeling of him inside of her—sans condom, so it’s actually him, not the synthetic latex—is a little more dangerous. A little less sexy. A little more reckless. The onlookers are potential photo leaks waiting to get back to her father.

“Right,” she says again, as if that means something.

GM: Stephen clears his throat again uncomfortably and drives.

“Sorry. That… really killed the mood. But if your dad’s out of jail…”

Celia: “Yeah. They need to move. They shouldn’t stay where they are. It’s not safe.”

GM: “Does h…” Stephen trails off.

“Wait. Are you on the pill?”

Celia: There is a very long, very awkward silence.

GM: “Oh, fuck,” Stephen whispers.

Celia: “Oh, fuck,” Celia echoes.

GM: “Okay. There’s… we can pick up a pregnancy test. And an emergency contraceptive. Both. To be safe.”

Celia: Celia sinks lower into her seat. She covers her face with her hands. She can’t believe they’re having this conversation. That they need to have this conversation.

Talk about mood killer.

“They work for 72 hours. Sooner is better,” she finally says. Emily had told her that.

GM: “I thought you needed to wait three days…?”

“Fuck. I don’t know anything. Just to use a condom, and clearly not even that.”

Celia: “No. You take it right after. I… I think.”

Maybe the 72 hours thing was that she had to wait that long. Emily will know.

“Don’t. Don’t do that. We both… we…”

Her, it was her who did this.

“Don’t,” she says again. “It’s fine. We’re fine. One time. J-just stop at the drug store and we’ll ask.”

GM: “God damn it,” Stephen swears softly. “Okay, we can ask the people at the pharmacy. When to take it. They’ll know. If it’s not there on the box.”

“Box? Is that what it comes in? Fuck, I don’t know anything.”

Celia: “You have to get it from the person. You just ask for it. It’s not… I mean, they tell you those things when you buy medications.”

GM: “I haven’t ever needed to buy medication. Yay me.”

Celia: “First time for everything, right?”

GM: “Yeah.”

There’s a pause.

“Celia,” he says, “I can’t have a kid right now. You can’t. We’re way too young.”

Celia: “What? I—I know that. Of course I know that. I wasn’t… you don’t… Stephen, I didn’t plan this, it just—of course I don’t want a kid right now.”

GM: “Okay. Good. I know you didn’t. I’m just saying, to be clear.”

Celia: “Wha… what if the thing…?”

GM: “The thing?”

Celia: “What if it doesn’t work?”

GM: “I think it works most of the time. Just like condoms. More than condoms, I think. But that’s what we’re getting the pregnancy test for.”

Celia: “Okay. We should go now. To be safe. I’ll text them that we’re… getting ice cream.”

GM: “Good idea. And we can get an abortion if it doesn’t work.”

“Well, you can, I mean.”

Celia: Celia presses a hand to her stomach. She doesn’t mean to, it just happens. She doesn’t say anything. She nods, but the movement is small and jerky, barely a nod at all.

GM: “…are you okay with that?”

“Celia, we can’t have a kid. I don’t make nearly enough money.”

Celia: “I know! I know that. I don’t want a kid. I wouldn’t—we can’t. Of course we can’t.”

GM: “I don’t even want to think about kids until I’m a lawyer, and probably not for a while after. My dad would be furious.”

Celia: Mine too. He’d kill me. Maybe even literally.

“I know. We’re not. It’s… it’s okay. We’re getting the pill thing, and it’s fine.”

GM: “Right. I’m just saying, if it doesn’t work, abortion. We have to.”

Celia: “O-okay.”

She prays to God that she does not need to take that route.

GM: “And, maybe we should get you the pill too, while we’re there. In case something like this happens again. You know, spontaneous sex in the middle of a public street.”

He grins faintly at that.

Celia: “Can I do that? You can just… buy it?”

Why hadn’t she thought of that?

GM: “I… don’t know. I’ve never bought the pill. But why not?”

Celia: “We can find out. And… maybe go to a clinic if not.”

GM: “I feel like such a dumb kid.”

Celia: “Don’t. You didn’t… I mean we … we both did. It’s both of us. We’ll get through this. It’s probably nothing. Just imagining the worst case scenario is normal for people. So it’s fine. We’re fine. We get the contraceptive and then we’re fine and I’ll start taking the pill and… and it’s fine.”

GM: “Right,” Stephen agrees, squeezing her hand.

“It’ll be fine.”

Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009

GM: They stop off at a drugstore and pick up some EContra EZ and a pregnancy test. They are not able to buy the pill over the counter. The pharmacist rolls his eyes at the young couple when they have questions and tells them to “pay attention to the box, since you clearly couldn’t be bothered to in sex ed.”

“What sex ed?” Stephen glares back. “Thanks for being so helpful.”

The older man just ignores him.

“What an asshole,” Stephen mutters after paying for the items with his credit card. “They don’t teach anything besides abstinence!”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything in the store. The whole store was looking at her. Judging her. Thinking that she’s a whore. She can feel it in the way they look at her. She kept her eyes on the ground the whole time, wishing it would open up and swallow her down.

She remembered the ice cream, though.

“I know,” she says when they get back to the car. “I don’t know why they call it education if they don’t tell you anything but not to have it or you’ll go to Hell and get STDs and have dumpster babies.”

GM: “Yeah.” Stephen shakes his head. “I guess we can try another store and see if they have the pill later. And maybe you can take this once we’re back at your dorm. It says the sooner the better.”

Celia: “Right. Yeah. As soon as we get back.”

GM: They’ve also picked up some ice cream to bring Emily. Celia’s mom sent an, Oh my god! I forgot to give you food for Emily!!! text message a little while ago.

Celia: its ok mom we got ice cream.

lol jk


GM: Ice cream is good, get her something!

But don’t give it to her if she isn’t drunk, don’t want to spoil her appetite. :)

The pair arrive back at Josephine Louise a little while later. Emmett doesn’t seem to be around. Stephen doesn’t seem to much miss him.

“…what was that you said about him wearing a dress?”

Celia: “Oh. That. Listen,” Celia reaches for his hand, lowering her voice even though no one is around. “I am not supposed to talk about this, but I think he’s super gay. Like… ‘let me put makeup on his face’ gay. Just don’t mention it, okay? I don’t think a lot of people know, I think he’s pretty closeted, but I know he was seeing a guy for a while.”

GM: Stephen frowns. “Your mom said he was some girl’s boyfriend. But I guess that’s the definition of closeted.”

Celia: “He dated my friend in high school. He and I never talked back then, but… yeah. I think he just kind of figured it out recently, or became more open about it, but still not a lot of people know.”

GM: “Well, drama major.” Stephen rolls his eyes.

The desk coordinator gives Celia and her boyfriend a judging look, but doesn’t stop or speak to them. They go back to Celia’s dorm. Emily is lying face-down on her bed. There’s a bottle lying at the corner. Her hair is mussed and sweaty-looking. She doesn’t respond as they come in.

Celia: “Emi?” Celia crosses the room to Emily’s bed, reaching out to gently shake her shoulder. “Emi, sweetheart, wake up.”

GM: There’s a low moan.

Celia: “Can you grab her some water, Stephen? The fridge?”

Celia climbs onto the bed with the half-asleep girl, rubbing a hand along her back.

“We brought ice cream. He should have been here by now. Elliot, I mean. Did you see his car?”

GM: “I didn’t,” Stephen answers as he grabs the water. Every fridge in the South has a pitcher of ice water. He pours some into a cup.

Emily just gives another moan.

Celia: “Can you call him? See where he is?”

Maybe he bailed. Maybe he is tired of her shit and instead of saying anything to her he just dipped. Maybe he was pulled over for speeding. Or in a car accident.

Celia takes the water from him, fishing the pills out from her purse. First things first. She takes one, then sets an alarm on her phone to remind her to take the other tomorrow. Then she nudges Emily until the girl slides over and Celia can pull her head onto her lap.

“Emi, wake up.” She taps her cheeks lightly.

GM: “I don’t have his number,” says Stephen.

Emily’s eyes are puffy and red from crying. Her face is pale.

“Whasit…” she grogs. “‘M tired… fuck m’ life…”

Celia: “Hey, Emi. Hey. I’m here. We have some water for you.” Celia holds the cup out. “Have a drink, you’ll feel better.”

GM: “I… feel… like… shit. Cuz m’ life is shit. Shit. Shit. To’al shit.”

Celia: “No, sweetheart, no. You’re not. You’re not at all. You hit a rough patch. It’s okay. We’re gonna get it taken care of for you. Hire a tutor. Mom’s getting a new place. We’ll figure out the other thing.”

GM: Emily starts crying.

“I’m… fucked. I… bombed… the test. I won’t… get… med school. It’s… too l… I’m fucked… I fucked it all up…”

Celia: “One test, Emi. One test. It’s going to be okay. I promise you it’s going to be okay. We’ll fix it.”

GM: Emily cries some more.

Stephen looks a little unsure what to do, but sits down next to Celia. “Hey. It’s just one test. You can retake classes, can’t you, if it’s really bad?”

Emily just keeps crying. “I’m so… tired… I can’t… keep up… I can’t… I can’t… I’m try… I’m tryi… I can’t…”

Celia: Celia gives Stephen the run-down in a quiet voice, filling him in on what’s been going on with Emily lately. The late nights and bad grades and extra jobs. She doesn’t tell him about the insurance, though, since it might get her expelled.

GM: “Geez. I knew you were working a lot, but I don’t know how you do it,” Stephen says.

Emily buries her face against Celia’s lap as she sobs. “I wish… I had… a fam… mom… like… like yours…”

“Who l… l… loved… me… who g… gave… a… damn…”

“Wh… who’d… pay tui… buy me cars… make me… food… bu… jus… care…”

Celia: “Sometimes,” Celia says quietly, “you’re born into a shitty family and a bad situation. And you can let that hold you back, or you can pick yourself up and move on. Family doesn’t have to be the people who share your blood. Family can be people who love you, who you love, who look out for you.”

“So if you want my mom, then she’s your mom too. She loves you, Emi. I love you. Okay? We’re here for you.”

GM: Emily’s quiet for a moment. “Y… you’re jus… you mea…?”

“Th… thas wha… they said i… foster… care… but they… din…”

“…we had… this one… day… we were all playi… some playgrou…. whe… grownups came… talked to us…. sat d…. cided who to adop… like… we were pets… at a…. pet store… they… wouldn… even… talk to me…”

Celia: “Oh, Emi.” Celia pulls the girl against her, as tight as she can given her arm and their positions. She holds her close, rests her chin on Emily’s shoulder so that they’re cheek to cheek.

“Yes. Yes, of course I mean that. Of course I do. You are not that little girl anymore. You are amazing. You are brave and selfless and so smart, you are so generous, you are the best friend I could ever ask for. More than that, Emi, you’re my family now too. Okay? You’re mine now. I’m yours. That’s how this works.”

“I know a guy,” she says to Emily, “who used to tutor me when I was in high school. I’ll give him a call. See if he has any recommendations for the classes you’re in. Or the campus has the student center, I know they do writing help, I’m sure there’s help for this too. Okay? We’ll get school figured out. You’re going to be an amazing doctor some day. Remember when you fixed my arm? I didn’t know to do any of that, but you fixed it up so it didn’t hurt and called my mom and took me to the hospital, and when they forgot to see the rest of me you took care of that too.”

“So you got this.”

GM: Emily doesn’t say anything for a moment. She lets Celia hold her, then pulls herself up, turns around, and half-hugs, half-collapses over her friend. She still doesn’t say anything, but gets snot and tears all over Celia’s already sweaty shirt.

“Tha… sounds…” she sniffs. “Really gre…”

“I’ll… tutor’s ok… but I jus… wanna be less sick…”

Celia: “We’ll get that straightened out too. Take you in to see someone. Find out what’s going on. Okay? We’ll take care of this. I’ve got you, Emmy.”

GM: “But I don have… insur…” Emily trails off, then mumbles, “Oh… kay. Okay… you’re such a goo… frien… me having this… pity party…”

Celia: “I know, baby. I know. We’re gonna figure that out, too. I’ve got you.” Celia rubs her back. She doesn’t seem to mind the snot and tears on her shirt.

GM: Emily might be taking up a lot of Celia’s attention right now, but it doesn’t escape her how Stephen gets up from the bed and quietly exits the dorm room.

Her roommate doesn’t say anything more. Just clings to her for a while.

Celia: Celia is content to hold Emily for a while. She doesn’t say much else, just rubs her back and kisses her cheek, tells her that she loves her occasionally.

Only when the tears seem to have run their course does she bring up dinner.

“You hungry? We can grab something. My mom invited you to dinner, but uh…” Celia glances at her phone. It’s been a while. “Might be over. I can find Stephen and El and make them take us out. Watcha say? Night on the town?”

GM: Emily gives a half-choked little laugh into Celia’s ear. “I’m. I’m a mess, right now. I’d… not be really good…”

She sniffs again and gets out, “But I’d… I’d love to have… quiet dinner with you… your mom… if she’s… she’s a really good cook…”

Celia’s phone has some increasingly frantic texts from her mom that end with, CELIA ARE YOU SAFE????

Celia: “Not tonight,” Celia tells her. “The kids are all there, it’s chaos. But soon. We’ll meet up with her. She’s an amazing cook and you’ll love it.”

She texts her mom back.

GM: There’s no response from her mother.

Celia: “I’m gonna find the boys, okay Em?”

Celia calls Em first. The real Em.

GM: “O… okay,” Emily sniffs. “I should… maybe clean up…”

Celia: “Get a shower in,” Celia agrees while it’s ringing. “I’m gonna change.”

GM: “Y… yeah…” Emily sniffs. She reluctantly lets go of Celia and slowly ambles off the bed. She closes her eyes and holds her head for a moment. She looks unsteady on her feet. The bags under her eyes are so heavy, and her complexion so pale.

She seems to recover, enough, after a few moments. She takes a deep breath. As she shuffles out of the room, she turns around and says,

“Celia… I love you too.”

Celia: “Oh… oh, honey, I didn’t realize…” Celia hangs up. She strides across the floor to Emily and has her arms around the other girl in seconds. “Come on, I’ll help.”

GM: “I… can make it, I was just… in bed a while…”

Celia: “I’ve got you,” Celia says again. “I should shower anyway.” She scoops up the bag of toiletries on their way out the door, throws it over her shoulder.

GM: “Yeah, you…” Emily gives a low laugh, “smell like sex…”

Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM

Emmett: Em picks up his phone as he closes the redhead’s door behind him. His head feels better than it has in a week. He’s light as a kite and high as a feather.

“Hey,” he says. “How much did I miss?”

Celia: Em hears Celia’s voice, muted, before she hangs up.

Emmett: “Oh. Okay, cool.” He makes his way to a bathroom, stops, realizes he’s about to become a sex offender, and instead walks back towards the door of 216.

I remembered the number! he thinks gleefully. I never remember the number. Maybe I’m finally ready to be an adult, instead of whatever the fuck I’m doing with my life.

Then he realizes he’s walked past it.

GM: The redhead, in the meanwhile, is also gone. Em made it to second base with her. He might’ve liked to go further, but the drugs they did together were great. Really great. She told Em to let himself out whenever. Pretty trusting to leave him with all her stuff.

Emmett: He was in such a good mood after that he doesn’t even burglarize her dorm. It’s a new day.

He knocks on room 216.

Celia: The door of room 216 opens. A girl’s voice drifts out, “…smell like sex,” and Celia’s laughter follows it. It’s cut short when she sees Em standing on the other side, hand poised to knock. She has her arms around Emily and a small bag slung over one shoulder. She looks surprised to see him.

“Hey! There you are.”

Emmett: “Sorry,” he says with a chuckle. “I got distracted along the way. It’s been known to happen. ADHD and all that.”

He looks to the other girl. “You must be Emily, this is a little awkward, but would you mind pretending that we’ve been friends for a few years around Stephen? Long story, but it’s for Celia. Right, Celia? God, isn’t Celia the best?”

GM: The other girl looks even more strung out than he is. She looks like Celia is half-carrying her.

Emmett: “…sorry if that’s a lot to take in right now.”

GM: Emily starts crying.

Celia: “Oh my god, El.”

GM: “She… she is… I don have… she said she’d be… my famil… she’s… so nice…”

Celia’s phone rings. It’s Cécilia.

Emmett: “I know,” he says beaming, looking a little confused from one girl to the next. “Celia’s a wonderful friend. We all agree. Is there anything, I um, can do for you?” He blinks, and then remembers, “Oh, and my name is Elliot. But please call me El.”

Celia: “Hold on,” Celia says. She fishes the phone out of her pocket and glances at the caller ID.

Perfect timing.

She tries to open her phone with her one arm still around Emily, but it’s tough. “Here, hold her up a sec, we’re heading down the hall to the showers. Emily, this is El, he’s also a good friend, he’s gonna help us down the hall.”

Celia flips the phone open.

“Cécilia. Hi.”

She makes a shushing noise at Elliot. Very pointedly.

GM: “Celia, hi,” sounds the voice of Em’s old girlfriend. There’s a faint laugh. “I can’t get over how similar our names are, sometimes.”

Em hears every word.

Celia: “Ha, right? That was… definitely frustrating sometimes in high school when people called me the wrong name.”

As if they could ever confuse the two girls. They’d done it to be mean.

“How’s it going?”

GM: “Right now I’m a lot more concerned with how you’re doing,” Cécilia answers seriously. “So I talked with Maman about your family’s situation.”

“And she agreed the best options for you right now are your grandmother’s house or a women’s shelter.”

Celia: “Ah. Okay. Thank you. I will talk to Mom about it again. I appreciate it.”


GM: “Have you gone to either of those, yet? It’s getting late, and that’s when a lot of incidents tend to happen.”

Celia: “Ah, no, there was something that came up at school. I’m trying to handle it now, actually, then go back and grab Mom and the kids.”

GM: “Oh, no, is it anything I could help with?”

Celia: “Ah, well, I’m not sure. My roommate is just having a tough time, but we got it figured out, I think. She’s just been sick a lot lately. Dizzy. Tired. Pale. That kind of thing. So we’re just figuring out our options. Little too much to drink tonight, so I’m getting her cleaned up.”

“Hey, do those shelters help with, uh, illness?”

GM: “Hm, they aren’t doctors. They have first aid kits, home remedies, and beds to sleep things off, but they usually provide referrals to other health services for anything that’s really serious.”

Celia: “Ah, right. Figured I’d ask while I had you on the phone here, long shot. No insurance, that kind of thing.”

GM: “Oh, that is a problem,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “There are a couple free health clinics in the city. How bad would you say her symptoms are?”

“If she seems like she could be okay in the morning, I might focus on getting your family somewhere safe first, and dealing with that later.”

Celia: “Hey, Cécilia, can I call you back about this? I’m, uh… I mean it’s…” she steps away for a moment, watching Em and Em head down the hall toward the bathroom.

“Listen, it’s pretty ugly. I need to take care of this and then grab my mom.”

GM: “Of course. Let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”

Celia: “Will do. Talk to you soon.”

She hangs up.

“El, give me your keys. Get Em back to bed. I have to go. I’m taking your car.”

GM: “Thought we were gonna shower…” Emily grogs.

Celia: “You’re gonna shower with El, sweetheart. If he touches you in a bad way let me know and I’ll take his balls off, okay? My mom is in trouble. Dad is out of jail. And I just—fuck, I left them there.”

The realization is hitting her for the first time. She should have stayed. She fucked up.

Emmett: “Okeydoke, slowpoke. Get it? Because you took forever to get here. Can’t complain. Oh, fuck, keys.” He tosses them to her.

To Emily, he says, “Sorry, but I’m also good company. Just not necessarily for showering. Ooh. Although I would not say no to a shower.”

“Wait, what? That feels like a weird thing for you to volunteer me for.”

Celia: “She’s drunk, she does not give consent. Em, I love you.”

She doesn’t clarify who she’s talking to. She tosses Emmett the bag with the shower supplies and room key. She’s gone before his complaints register.

Emmett: “Wait—I—”

He looks at the drunk girl in his arms, then at the shower supplies in his other hand, then down the hall at the bathroom.


Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM

Celia: Celia doesn’t walk. She runs. Down the halls, down the stairs—the elevator is too damn slow—she’s got Em’s keys in one hand and her phone in the other. She doesn’t have time to slow down for the girl in her way, so she shoulders past her, and even as the desk attendant—fuck you, Beth—yells at her she’s pushing open the doors to the hall to hit the parking lot.

She calls her Mom while she looks for Em’s car.

Pick up pick up pick up.

GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores!” sounds her mom’s smiling voice. “Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


Celia: Celia hangs up. Dials again.

She finds the car she’s looking for and slides in, throwing it into drive.

GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


Every time.

Celia: Fuck.

Celia tries Stephen next. She’s glad she has Em’s address memorized, because she’s stopping there first.

GM: “Hi, you’ve reached Stephen Garrison. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”


Celia: “Hey it’s me just wanna know where you disappeared to. Call me. Love you.”

She hangs up. Guns it. The streets fly past. She’s at Em’s place before she knows it, though it still feels like it has taken too long. There’s a very real sense of dread coiling in her gut right now. She fumbles with the keys until she finds the right one and lets herself in, tearing through the house to find her purse. The gun. Both guns, really, since she didn’t trust anyone enough to keep hers at the JL dorms.

She searches Em’s bathroom for a painkiller, too, because her arm is throbbing and she is not going to go into this in pain. Whatever this is.

Then she’s back in the car on her way to her mom’s temporary house. She tries the phone again, not expecting much.

GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”


Celia: “Hey Mom can you call me please it’s urgent okay love you bye.”


Why. Why did she leave? Emily could have handled one night on her own. Em could have handled her. Where the fuck did Stephen go?

She takes a breath. Calls her dad.

GM: “You’ve reached the Flores residence. Leave a message and we’ll call you back,” sounds her dad’s voice.


Celia: “Dad? Are you there?” Desperate times, she tells herself as she speaks to the answering machine.

GM: There is no response from the phone.

Celia: “Dad, it’s Celia. Call me.”

GM: There is still no response.

Celia: She hangs up. Tries his cell phone.

GM: “You’ve reached Maxen Flores. Leave a message and I’ll call you back.”


Fucking voice mail.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V
Next, by Narrative: Celia XII, Emmett VII

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V
Next, by Celia: Celia XII, Emmett VII

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V
Next, by Emmett: Celia XII, Emmett VII

Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V

“When in darkness… the only thing you can be expected to be is yourself.”
Emil Kane

Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009

GM: Day comes. Em and Celia are both still there. The monsters haven’t gotten them.

At least not yet.

It’s late. Around 1 PM. Celia supposes that’s another day of classes she’s now missed. There are texts from Emily, Stephen, and her mom about where she is.

Her mom says she’s got the restraining orders picked up. They were approved.

Like that will make anything better.

Would you and Stephen like to come by for dinner? I’m making a big batch of really cheesy lasagna. :) the text ends.

Emily also adds, thanks for breakfast, nice not having to cook

Celia still feels sluggish and tired. She can’t have gotten a full 8 hours. When did they go to bed?

Celia: Celia leaves the still-sleeping Em lie and pads quietly out of the room, phone in hand. She returns a few texts.

To Emily, no prob. love u. mom said u can move in this summer.

To Stephen, hey. crazy night. call u soon!

To her mom, what time? Emily said thanks for bfast.

And, finally, to Cécilia: hey call me when u have a sec please its urgent

GM: Emily responds, oh great!!! we’ll stay roomies :D

Stephen doesn’t immediately reply.

Her mom sends back, 6:30, but maybe stop by at 6. Tell her she’s very welcome!

Cécilia also does not immediately reply. It’s an hour ahead in Massachusetts.

Celia: Celia takes advantage of the momentary lull in messages to call her dad’s house phone.

GM: “You’ve reached the Flores residence. Leave a message and we’ll call you back,” sounds her dad’s voice.


Celia: She hangs up.

GM: Celia has time to shower again, if she feels like it, and to rummage through Em’s fridge for something to eat. She can see her mom wincing at the contents. It’s almost exclusively frozen meals, some restaurant takeout, and lots and lots of Red Bull and other energy drinks, along with a half-eaten white bread Nutella and butter sandwich.

The pantry shelves are much the same. There’s various prepackaged sweets and fried snacks, all high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Junk food. There’s lots of Nutella, too, along with ramen, booze, assorted candy, and Kraft mac and cheese. The white powder might be sugar, though it’s funny how it’s in little plastic baggies.

Em looks like he’s going to eat himself into an early grave with this diet. It’s a 12-year-old boy’s culinary dream.

Then again, she supposes he doesn’t have to do much cooking with a restaurant literally downstairs.

Celia: You need some real food, Em.

Once she’s done rummaging through his fridge, Celia helps herself to the shower. She doesn’t skimp on the hot water, letting it cloud the room once more, just like she did last night. It burns, but not enough. Not enough to get rid of the stain she feels on her soul. Stephen’s lack of response weighs on her, but she tells herself that he’s in class. He has to be. Otherwise he’d call. Right? Maybe the heart she sent freaked him out. She tries to remember if they had plans last night. No, how could they? Dad is in jail. That throws a wrench into everything.

What am I going to tell him?

The water isn’t hot enough. She’s still shivering, even under the spray.

After the shower she helps herself to more of Em’s clothing, a simple tee-shirt this time, and pulls on the same sweats from last night. She doesn’t think his jeans will fit, and she… doesn’t want to wear his whoring clothing. She microwaves a meal for herself, then cracks an energy drink. Maybe that will clear the fog from her head.

She stares at her phone, willing it to ring.

GM: Celia doesn’t feel the water until her skin starts turning red. She’s not sure how much time passes in the shower. She feels like she zoned out through it. She stares at herself in the mirror for a while. She looks so pale. Her head still feels funny.

The Four Cheese Hot Pockets rotate around in the microwave before it dings that it’s done. They smell like coagulated cheese and pastry dough.

She’s halfway through one of them when the phone rings. It’s her longer-named former classmate’s number.

“Hi Celia, you said it was urgent?” she greets. “I’m sorry I couldn’t call you back sooner.”

Celia: How is it, Celia wonders, that she burns her mouth on the outside of the pastry but the middle is still cold?

“Cécilia! Hi. Yes. Do you, uh… do you have a minute? I need… help,” she finishes lamely, after a brief pause. She closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers.

GM: “Yes, of course. What do you need help with?” Cécilia asks.

Celia: “It’s… a long story. Just just listen, okay? It’s… I never told you this. You asked, once, in high school remember? About my mom. The separation. And… Cécilia, my parents, it was ugly. My dad is not… he’s not a nice guy. He tried to kill her. It was before you moved here, but that’s why her leg is like that. I saw him. And he’s been coming down hard on Isabel and Sophia and I. The boys are okay, but… but we… you know those rules we had? Those were all him. And if we broke them, he’d…”

She trails off. Her voice catches.

“Cécilia, he beat me. The other day. He did it when I was younger and he did it again now. Until I was bleeding. He kept going. And locked me inside my room. I had to go out the window. I spent the night in the ER. There’s a retraining order, my mom took the kids, but… but we know who he is, Cécilia, we know people like him aren’t stopped by things like this.”

It hurts, to admit it out loud to her friend. To uncover her dirty secrets in front of the flawless Cécilia. She is glad that she does not need to look the other woman in the eye, to see the pity or judgement or compassion.

GM: “Oh mon dieu,” Cécilia whispers. “I’m so sorry you and your family have had to go through that, Celia. You and your mom are both so nice. That’s just… unconscionable, what your dad did to you. You don’t deserve to suffer like that, at all.”

Celia can’t see the pity or compassion. But she can hear it.

Celia: “He’s why I didn’t go away to school,” Celia presses on, voice cracking. “To keep them safe. I couldn’t just leave them. And he… he knows it was me, who called the police, he knows, and… I… he tried to kill her for wanting to leave him, what is he… what is he going to do to me?”

GM: “I don’t know, and I hope you never do. First, do you know where he is right now?”

Celia: “I think he’s still in jail. But I don’t know. I haven’t gone back home.”

GM: “Oh, he’s been arrested? When was this?”

Celia: “Two nights ago. Not even. The middle of the night before last.”

GM: Cécilia asks a number of further questions to ascertain the Flores family’s current situation, then says, “Okay, that clarifies a lot of things. And you’re scared your dad is going to come after your family?”

“I’m sorry, of course you are. I’d certainly be.”

“Is that the main thing your family needs help with? Or are there other things, too?”

Celia: She doesn’t know how to tell her. About the monsters. The rape. Em. She’s quiet.

“Yeah,” she says at last.

“That’s that’s mostly it.”

GM: “Okay. So you’ve said your family is staying by themselves, in an apartment they’ve rented. That doesn’t sound very safe to me, especially if it’s been one and a half days since your dad was arrested. He might have already gotten out. And like you’ve said, a restraining order may not make any difference to him. Do you have any other relatives in the city you could stay with?”

Celia: “I… no.”

Maybe. Grandmother. Or… dad’s dad.

“Maybe,” she corrects herself.

Her eyes dart towards Em’s door. She has to trust him, right? He was telling the truth.

Is your mom a crazy psycho demon monster?

It sounds insane.

GM: “Maybe. Okay, what is it that has you unsure?” Cécilia asks.

Celia: “My mom and grandmother have a feud about ancient history that has nothing to do with this but they’re both being stubborn because why not, right?”

GM: Cécilia asks Celia about her grandmother, then says, “Okay, so a judge sounds like one of the absolute best people you could stay with. A restraining order might not have many teeth, but trying something around your grandmother could get him in very serious trouble.”

“That might deter him. And if it doesn’t, that’s definitely a win for you if he winds up in prison.”

Celia: “Cécilia… what about… could your… mom..?”

She doesn’t want to ask. Asking admits she believes in monsters. She doesn’t want to live in a world with monsters. She gets the words out anyway, as halting as they are.

GM: “Yes, I can definitely ask my mom to help. What do you need from her?”

Celia: I don’t know, Cécilia, I just heard that she’s a man-eater.

“Can I… should I talk to her? Explain? Maybe she’ll have an idea…”

GM: “Of course, if you think it’d help,” Cécilia answers seriously. “But these sorts of situations are difficult. She may not have a better answer for you than me.”

“Though actually, I had one thought, if the feud between your mom and grandmother is really serious. What if your brothers and sisters stayed with your grandmother? Would your mom be okay with that?”

Celia: “Maybe. It’s worth looking into. Gets them out of the way, out of his path if he… if he comes after us. I’ll talk to her. I don’t know what the issue is. They won’t talk to me about it. I hate—I hate this. I hate not having an answer. I hate him.”

GM: “It’s beyond horrible what you’ve described your family as going through,” Cécilia answers. “You definitely have every right to hate him for what he’s done to you. What about your mom? Does she have somewhere she could stay that’s not by herself?”

“And here’s a related question, actually. Who are the people in your life you really trust, who you’d be most comfortable knowing all this?”

Celia: Her mom doesn’t have the money to spring for another hotel or apartment. Maybe one of her friends, from the old days. She doesn’t think her mom would want to bring this into McGehee.

“My… I mean I’m seeing someone, he knows about it. And my roommate.”

And Em. He knows. He knows more than all of them.

“But… I don’t… I don’t think she can hide out with any of them.”

GM: “Why do you say so there? Do they have families that she could stay with?” Cécilia asks.

Celia: “I’d have to ask. I think he’s mad at me. My roommate doesn’t have a family.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I ask why, or is that really none of my business?”

“I just bring it up because if your boyfriend knows and he has a family, they might be an option.”

Celia: Celia hesitates.

“It’s… please don’t repeat this, okay?”

GM: “Of course. I won’t.”

Celia: “I was… assaulted. Last night. I… I made a bad decision, and there was… I think someone put something in my drink.” She squeezes her eyes shut tight, wiping away the tears. She’s not going to cry. “I don’t know what happened. And I didn’t get back to him. And now he’s not getting back to to me, and… I think I…”

Oh, she is going to cry.

“And he w-won’t talk to me.”

“And it w-wasn’t my f-fault.”

GM: “Oh my god,” Cécilia breathes. “I’m so sorry, Celia. You’ve been through so, so much.”

“You are absolutely right, it was not your fault.”

Celia: “I can’t tell him be-because what if he… what if he thinks it was, and he c-calls me a slut, and he’s right.”

GM: “He’d be wrong. You’ve been under immense stress. Someone else took advantage of that.”

Celia: Once they start, Celia can’t stop the flow of tears. She presses a hand over her mouth to quiet them, hyper-aware of Em’s presence in the other room.

“I’m s-sorry,” she says after a moment, “I didn’t mean to unload that on you.”

GM: “That’s a good thing, too, because I don’t think you would have otherwise. And I’m glad you did. I’m amazed you’re still keeping it together like you have, Celia. You’re so strong.”

Celia: “I don’t feel very strong,” she sniffs. “Crying on the phone.”

GM: “Everyone would be hurt by what you’ve described. Everyone would need to cry and let it out. That’s actually a sign of emotional intelligence, being able to know the proper time and place to let out your emotions. You’re crying here, where it’s okay to, instead of in the middle of school or work.”

Celia: She’s right. Of course she’s right. Celia nods her head, though she realizes her friend cannot see. She wipes away the tears anyway.

“Right. Of course.” She sniffs again, wipes at her nose. “Thanks.”

GM: “You’re welcome. But okay, I think the boyfriend crisis is something to deal with later rather than right now. Your family needs to be kept safe from your dad right now.”

“My mom does a lot of charity work. She’s worked with various domestic violence service organizations. They have shelters for women and children in your family’s situation. Group homes where everyone can stay to get back on their feet, usually for a period of months, and where it’s hard for their abusers to get to them.”

“They can also help women get in touch with resources like legal help, housing, food stamps, and whatever child and family services they need. They also offer counseling and therapy services. But most of all, they offer a safe place to say. There are lots of people there who all know what your story is, and are committed to keeping you safe.”

“Does that sound like an option that might be helpful to your family?”

Celia: “Yeah. Yeah, it does. Thanks. I’ll should I just reach out to her about it?”

GM: “My mom can be hard to reach, as she doesn’t really like talking over the phone. But tell you what. Go to the New Orleans Women & Children’s Shelter on… hold on a second…” There’s a pause. “2020 S Liberty Street, with your family, and tell them the Devillers sent you. They know my family’s name.”

Celia: “Cécilia… I… I really appreciate it. But I’m trying to cause as little disruption as possible for my family. Can you have her call me, maybe? When she’s free? Please?”

“Or I could swing by the house. At her convenience.”

GM: “That would probably be better. Like I said, my mom really doesn’t like talking over the phone. But I don’t know when she’ll be free. She’s usually pretty busy. That might be days away, so I would go to the shelter with your family as soon as possible. Most domestic violence incidents occur when the abuser is off work, and your dad might already be out of jail.”

“Or is that maybe not a helpful option after all?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I’m going to see what I can make work. Maybe I’ll just… swing by and leave a message, and go to the shelter in the meantime, and see if Grandmother can take them if not.”

Or maybe, Celia thinks, this is really a blessing. Maybe she isn’t ready to deal with monsters, and maybe Cécilia’s mom is out of her league. Maybe getting her involved will make things even worse. Hadn’t Em had to kill someone as payment?

She isn’t sure that’s a bridge she can cross.

GM: “Leave a message with my mom, you mean? I could pass it on, if you had something for her. She’s less… picky about taking my calls, if it’s for an emergency. Which this definitely is.”

Celia: “Yes.” Celia seizes the opportunity. “Can you… can you tell her…”

Em said not to use his name. El isn’t any good either. She can’t just out the woman and cry monster, not if she wants it to go well. And she does. She wants it to go very, very well. To make her problems disappear without paying for them in blood.

“Can you just tell her that I’m your friend, and I need help, and I’m scared, and… Daddy is… he’s powerful, and I just need protection, more than this restraining order, whatever she can give.”

“And that I’d be my family and I we’d be really, really grateful.”

GM: “Okay. I can pass that along,” Cécilia says. “But, Celia, my mom isn’t a police officer or judge or anything. I don’t know that she might be able to do anything more for you than I have. So I would definitely not wait on us to go to the shelter or your grandmother’s.”

Celia: “I know. I know. I will. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

GM: “You’re welcome. I’ll call you as soon as I hear anything. Will you call me, as soon as you’re at the shelter or your grandmother’s, or if you run into any trouble?”

Celia: “Of course. Of course I will. Thank you. You’ve really… you’re really the best friend I could ask for, I want you to know that.”

GM: “So were you, at McGehee. And your mom was the best teacher I could ask for. I… I really hope your family is able to escape your dad, and all the nightmares he’s put you through, to come out the other side. You’re good people who deserve good lives.”

Celia: “Thanks, Cécilia. That really means a lot.” There’s a smile audible in her voice. “You know if you ever need anything… I mean once this is over and I’m not running around like a crazy person.”

GM: “That’ll hopefully be really soon, for both of us then.”

“Good luck, Celia.”

Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009

GM: Em groggily wakes up. It’s around 2 PM or so, so not that late an hour for him to be greeting the day. Celia is missing from his bed.

His stuffed nose is runny. His head feels all foggy. His stomach’s really growling, too.

The comedown always sucks.

There’s that Nutella and butter sandwich in the fridge. Maybe a sugar high will take the edge off.

Emmett: Maybe. Maybe it will.

No. No it didn’t.

As he washes down his latest regret with a fresh one in the form of a heavy-on-the-oj screwdriver, his waking coma eases up, and he becomes aware that Celia’s in the room.

“Oh, shit. Hey. You’re up early.”

Is 2 PM early for other people, with full lives and families and shit? Must be.

He doesn’t look good at the moment. His hair’s greasy, and the shadows under his eyes are darker then the bloodshot eyes themselves. “Caught me before my makeover. Ha. Haha.”

He disappears back into his room, and emerges a minute later looking better, his eyes brightened but still reddened. He lights a hastily rolled joint and sits next to her. "Did you call Cécillia?

He can tell she has. She seems… relaxed.

Celia: “You should shower,” Celia says to him. It’s not unkind, just factual. There might be some hot water left. Maybe. Her hair is still wet from her own shower earlier, but she has it pulled back from her face so it doesn’t get in the way.

“I did. She… might get me in contact with her mom. And if not…” Celia trails off. “Maybe it’s better if not. Maybe I just forgo monsters altogether.”

Maybe I just move back in with Daddy and ask him to keep me safe from his friends.

“I can’t tell if she knows. Boyfriend hasn’t texted. Or called. Mom is inviting us to dinner. Not not you, us, I meant my… my boyfriend.”

That she cheated on. She looks away from him.

Emmett: He sniffs himself and acknowledges the point. “I can’t make that choice for you. About Abélia, I mean. It’s risky, but if she wants to help you, I believe Maxen isn’t going to be able to bully her. That doesn’t mean she isn’t her own kind of spooky. She never really came after me, though. And I turned out fine.”

He lets that sit for a moment, taking a long drag off the joint. He doesn’t react to her bringing up her boyfriend, but asks, “Are you nervous about that?”

Celia: “About dinner? No. We’ve had dinner with her before.” Though her siblings will be there this time, and that’s… complicated.

“I practiced the story on her. About the bar. I don’t know if I should tell him, though.” He’ll want to do the right thing. Report it to the cops. Rape kit. Test her blood for the drugs she’d claim was in her system. That’s just trouble waiting to happen.

“You could come to dinner,” she says after a moment. “Get some real food in you. Noticed your fridge is, uh…”

Her eyes dart towards the Hot Pocket still on her plate. Pile it on, right? Find a way to explain him to Stephen.

“If she doesn’t get back to me I’m just… gonna go after him, I think.” Maxen, she means.

Emmett: He stiffens slightly at the invitation, and looks down at himself, considering. “As a friend?”

Then he frowns at what she says she’s planning. “Do you think… he’s gone after her?”

Celia: “As my date, obviously. My other boyfriend.” Celia rolls her eyes. “Yes, as a friend. You have time to change. If you’re not interested that’s fine too. My mom is just… she likes to feed people. And you already know my sister.”

Gone after who? It takes her a minute.

“You mean Cécilia’s mom? I don’t know. I doubt it. He doesn’t have a reason to. Said she just sits on the sidelines. Nobody important. His words.”

“Is she as scary as you said?”

Emmett: “Oh. Oh, I thought you meant your mother.” He looks relieved. “No, I’m not worried about him doing anything to her. You’ll understand when you meet her. She’s… something.”

Celia: “Oh. No. I…”

Maybe. Maybe he did. Maybe that’s why she can’t get him to pick up the phone.

“Cécilia thinks I should move them. I need to convince my mom to go to my grandmother’s house, but they’re fighting for dumb reasons.” Celia doesn’t know the reasons.

“I want them to move. To go anywhere else so those things don’t find them.”

Emmett: “Well, easy answer to that is to stop them fighting somehow. Convince them that this is bigger than their history. This is your future.” He makes a rolling gesture with one wrist. “That kind of thing.”

Celia: “Ha, my future. Their whole fight was about me. Grandmother wanted Mom to abort me.”

Awkward. She hadn’t meant to say that. She leans back against the couch.

Emmett: “Getting them to move… I don’t know, if you can get a loan or some money real quick you might be able to rent a place to keep them that’s not easy to look up, but I don’t know how you can keep them away indefinitely.”

He doesn’t look happy to say it.

“I don’t know who you can go to for help against them, other than Abélia.” He says that name in a half-whisper.

Then he hesitates.

“I… I actually do, maybe, but it’s kind of a cure-worse-than-disease situation.”

Celia: “Who?” She’s intrigued, but skeptical. Even Cécilia’s mom is out of her comfort zone, let alone someone else.

Emmett: He shakes his head, his face already pale. “I shouldn’t have mentioned. It’s the person who had me… do the thing I told you about. I don’t ever want to see her again in my life, and I owe her already. Getting in touch with her would be dangerous in the first place, too.”

“Look, I don’t know. If you could get out of the city, I would say that. But your family’s not gonna want to move.” He wrings his hands. “I think that the key has to be surviving until you can meet the lady. Because without her, I honestly don’t know what we can do to get them off you. Before, she was just a dangerous answer. Now… she might be your only one.”

Celia: “Wait. You mean… her mom wasn’t the one who had you do the thing?” Celia is having a hard time following. There are too many pronouns, not enough concrete answers.

Emmett: “No. No, she was… she didn’t make me do anything. She was just… creepy. Really fucking creepy. She breastfed her youngest in front of me, and the milk was black.” He doesn’t elaborate. “And she… she read my mind. Or something like it. She’s hard to keep secrets from.”

Celia: “…but you think she’s not human.”

It’s the first time she’s put it into words. Not. Human.

Emmett: He shakes his head.

“I know she isn’t.”

Celia: “How?”

Emmett: “She told me as much. She said I knew how to lie, and that any human would have fallen for what I had told her. And there were… other things.” He shakes his head. “I just knew. You don’t have to believe me, it might even be better if you don’t, but she’s not human, any more than the ones that had you were.”

Celia: The ones that had you. God, that phrasing. She almost regrets telling him. She pulls her knees up onto the couch, hunches her shoulders.

“You think I should get out. Just… leave? What about you?”

There’s a pause. She reaches for his hand.

“Come with me. We could…. fuck it, we could just go.”

Emmett: He smiles faintly as she takes it. He squeezes hers back.

“Where would we go?”

Celia: “Literally anywhere. Out of the city. I don’t care. We can just leave. There’s nothing keeping us here.”

Emmett: Em looks at her. “There’s nothing keeping me here, Celia, and I haven’t been able to go. You…” He smiles faintly. “People with nothing to lose don’t get to go to family dinners and worry about keeping their boyfriends. You know? You’re thinking about leaving. And you’re right, we could. But you would have to leave all that.”

He stands up, and heads back to his room. “Think about it. I’ll take a shower. When I’m done, if you want to run, may as well hit the road soon. And if you don’t… I guess I’m going with you to dinner.”

Celia: Why, she wonders, is he always right?

She can’t leave. She knows that. She can’t just leave and abandon Emily, her family, Stephen. Even if she made a life with Em somewhere else—and that’s awkward, isn’t it, considering he turned her down—she’ll feel the guilt about leaving everyone behind. She checks her phone again, looking for a message from her boyfriend. Maybe that will ground her.

Nothing. No call, no text, no nothing. She considers throwing her phone at the wall.

She huffs and sits back on the couch. She has other things to worry about than boys. Like what she’s going to tell her mom about bringing Em to dinner. And what she’s going to say to her siblings.

And, oh yeah, the monsters.

Emmett: When he returns, more than half an hour later, he looks like a different person. His hair’s been combed, his eyes look better, and he’s dressed simply but well, black slacks and a white shirt under a comfortable-looking blazer.

For a moment, he almost looks like Elliott.

“When’s dinner?” he asks gently. “And what’s your story about me?”

Celia: “You clean up nice.”

She sets her phone aside, pretending that she hasn’t been staring at it for the better part of the day waiting for it to ring. She stares at him instead, chews her bottom lip for a moment.

“Six. You know my mom is going to be there. And my sister. And… the rest of them.”

Why had she invited him, again? Ah, right, he’s got no food here and can’t take care of himself. Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe he’s about to ruin everything.

“I have no idea what we’re telling them. Ran into you at school? Technically it’s not a lie, we just leave out the cross dressing and the whoring and the Cos angle. And the murder. And the spending the night together. And literally any of the rest of the truth.”

“Yeah, so we just… lie through our teeth.”

Emmett: He nods, first at her obvious understatement, then at the recon she spells out. She probably doesn’t think of it that way.

“We lie through our teeth,” he agrees happily. “And we do it so they don’t have to know the truth. Don’t let yourself feel guilty for protecting your family, Celia. As for what we tell them… we have time to practice. I’m Elliott. I’m studying film at Tulane. It’s a dream I had from high school, but not something I think I’m cut out for—I’m considering majoring in…” he snaps his fingers, “Drama instead. I took a dance class once, a few weeks back, and that’s how we met. I help you practice sometimes. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but don’t be afraid to let them know you’re pretty sure I’m gay when I’m not in the room. No weird questions about why you’re bringing me home then, right?”

He spends the next few hours asking her about her siblings, what they’re like, and advises her on how to lie to them.

It’s fun to teach people things you know, he reflects. Maybe that’s why his parents do it.

Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009

Celia: Hours later, Celia has gone to her dorm room and back to gather a few things. Em drives nice guy and waits while she goes up the stairs to pack a bag. Emily is nowhere to be seen, but Celia leaves a note for her.

Spending the night w/ Mom. Be safe. Love you.

Staring at her phone hasn’t made it ring, and her boyfriend’s lack of call or text response is starting to worry her. But she’s at Em’s now, laptop open on his coffee table, scrolling the internet for any mention of her dad. Every so often she calls the landline, just to see if someone picks up.

She’s back in her own clothes, at least, and did Em the favor of doing a load of laundry while he got up to whatever it is he’s up to tonight. If the smell of weed permeating the air is anything to go by, she assumes he’s high. She’d feel awkward for invading his space if not for the fact that he’d said that she could, and… and there’s nowhere else for her to go. Her dad’s house isn’t safe. Her mom’s house isn’t safe. The dorm isn’t safe. She’d even told Emily to spend the night elsewhere, but she doesn’t know if the girl took her seriously.

So she kills time, scrolling through articles online for mentions of her dad, and finally types his name into the search engine. She checks her phone while she waits for the results to load.

She’s waiting for Stephen to call. She knows that, even if she won’t admit it to herself. She’s waiting for Stephen because she’s afraid to call him, afraid of what he’s going to say to her. At some point she sends him another text, inviting him to dinner at her mom’s. Lasagna. But that’s it. She can’t look desperate. It’s a game. There are rules. You can only text so many times before you have to wait.

GM: Calling her dad’s phone gets no response. Celia finds plenty of online mentions about her dad, but sees none about the state senator being arrested. The news outlets have other things to report on.

Celia: Celia thinks this might be a good sign. If her dad’s arrest isn’t in the news, then the party doesn’t know yet. The blackmail angle is looking… okay. Maybe.

GM: Luckily, she also learned a thing or two about unreported news few years back.

Thursday afternoon, 7 September 2006

Emil: It’s been over a year since Katrina and the city is still damp with the same water. Most days it just hangs in the air, pregnant with something foul. It sticks to your skin, and doesn’t let go even as you sweat it out, too humid out to evaporate.

Today it is raining. Hard.

The petrichor perfume arrests the senses. Ever since the storm, it’s tended to linger in places it shouldn’t be. Comes off the dirt, flung far by the hurricane winds. The pleasant scent, tainted by mold and mildew, hangs around the many floors of Tulane’s Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.

From the high ceilings, puffed out air ducts drape down, temporarily installed after the HVAC systems were destroyed. They threaten to stay indefinitely.

The study rooms are up the stairs. They creak as she ascends. She finds the room empty, and dark excepting for a lamplight. There’s a sample laptop there her tutor borrowed from the university, in case Celia couldn’t bring her own. A note is attached to the lid.

There’s also a flashlight sitting on the desk, and the empty packaging of D batteries.

Celia: “The basement?” Celia stares at the note. He’s got to be kidding. The basement is… is creepy. Probably. All basements are creepy. And there’s a flashlight, which means there’s no lights in the basement, and that’s even worse.

Maybe it’s a joke. Maybe he’s lurking somewhere nearby, ready to laugh at her. But she looks around and doesn’t see anyone that the name Emil Kane could belong to, and with a scowl she scoops up the flashlight, battery, and laptop. She checks the light to make sure it works before she heads down the stairs.

She’s still in her school uniform, fresh off the bus from McGehee. It’d dropped her at home but she’d made the four minute walk to campus for her tutoring session and now, heading into the basement with the flashlight clutched between her hands, she wonders if she should have changed first. What if it’s wet? Dirty? Of course it’s dirty. And she’s wet, too, thanks to the rain. Her socks are soaked. She should have asked Daddy to drop her off.

She has to ask for directions to the basement steps, and the kid who gives them to her leers a little more than is called for at the sight of her McGehee skirt and wet shirt. But he shows her, and she starts down the steps with the light leading the way.

“Emil?” She pronounces it like ‘Emily,’ only without the ‘Y.’ Ehm-ill.

Emil: It’s dark down there, the steps don’t creak. Instead, the plastic tarps that cover them crinkle as bubbles of air move under the wrinkled surface. She nearly slips a few times, the damp, rusted railing scraping against her palm as she steadies herself.

Dark water splashes into her socks from a disturbed puddle as she nearly trips down the last, obnoxiously longer step. The words ‘Watch Your Step’ are just barely visible in faded yellow and black.

There seems to be nothing in the darkness, nothing but her echoing call, which bounces off walls and skyscraper bookshelves which blip in and out of existence as her flashlight scans the room.

Celia: Watch Your Step. Right. Thanks for the heads up.

Celia reaches the bottom of the stairs and looks around, flashlight shining in front of her. She’s getting a bad feeling about this.

“Hello?” she calls out. “Emil? Are you down here? There’s a perfectly good room upstairs…” she trails off. She takes a step away from the stairs, wondering if this is some sort of nerves test. “Are you even down here? I can’t pay you for your time if you don’t tutor me.”

GM: Well, her dad can’t pay him. But she could spend the money, and her time, on something else. Something besides wading through dark and half-flooded creepy basements by herself.

Emil: “Celia?” a voice echoes out from the darkness as two pinpricks of blood-red light wink in and out of view down one of the far halls of barren bookshelves.

“Is that you?”

There’s the sound of cloth stretching, flapping fabric, the sloshing of thin liquid, and then an electric tick, before an amber-colored light flickers to life from a lamp. There’s a tall man hunched over a wooden table, his stature exaggerated by the long shadows and his willowy frame. What looks like an old overhead projector weighs heavily on the wooden table, next to various blanket-covered tubs.

The red pinpricks of light shining from the curious-looking goggles he wears melt into the warmth of the glow. He takes them off along with the bulky headphones wrapped around his neck and the scarf covering his mouth, revealing his face. It’s a rich mahogany, carved out of a good heartwood; straight from the core of the tree. She can count the rings in the creases of his smile, portents of laugh lines and promises of wrinkles.

“Come take a seat, but be careful with those puddles, nothing worse than walking with a wet sock.”

She sees clotheslines hanging above his head from the bookshelves. Various papers, washed out by the light, are clipped to the lines at several points.

Celia: It’s rude, Celia thinks, to shine a flashlight directly into someone’s face. But that’s exactly what she does when his voice comes out of the darkness, before he turns on the lamp that offers some small amount of illumination in this dim, dank basement.

What is on his face? She can’t help but stare, perhaps a moment longer than is necessary. This is her tutor? This… this weird, goggle-wearing, basement-dwelling, black guy? There’s no way her dad would approve of this.

That thought makes her take a step forward, conscious of the puddles she has to step around to get to him, flashlight bouncing with every step. She sets her bag and borrowed laptop on the corner of the table.

“Why,” she asks, “are we in the basement?” Her socks are wet. She blames him for it, even though it was the rain outside that did it. “And what are these for?” she reaches for the glasses.

Emil: He doesn’t stop her from inspecting them. If he catches onto her uncertainty, her judgement, he doesn’t show it. He still smiles.

“We’re here because of Katrina. Because this city has a high water table and the architects of this library thought it wise to build a basement in spite of that fact.” Condensation drips from the water-logged ceiling tiles high up above. “I work here, for the library, doing archival and restoration work of whatever they could find in the aftermath of the flooding. This basement, if you could believe it,” he says, gesturing around the massive room, “used to be filled floor to ceiling with all manner of books, manuscripts, newspapers, government records, microforms, and records. One of the largest physical collections of music in all the fifty states was held right where you stand.”

The scent of vinegar wafts from the covered tubs.

“Nearly everything. Washed away. Gone. All that’s left now is in boxes like these,” he says, gesturing to the stacks of cardboard filing containers that sit on the side of the table.

Celia: Celia’s nose wrinkles at his explanation. Some might find it fascinating, the restoration work that he is doing, but she sees it for what it is: a waste of time. The school was stupid to build like this, and he’s stupid if he thinks that one man’s efforts will be enough to bring it all back.

“The basement flooded,” she says slowly, “because of a hurricane, and when it rains it gets wet down here, and you still have these things in cardboard boxes?” She sets the goggles down and moves around the table to peer at the things hanging on the clotheslines, then reaches for the blanket covering one of the tubs.

“What’s in here?”

Emil: She’s insulting him. Insulting his intelligence. Either that fact hasn’t dawned on the highly recommended tutor’s mind or he knows something she doesn’t, for his grin stretches into something wider, though his lips become no thinner.

Indistinct black and white photographs, sepiated by the amber light, hang from the lines which sway along the eddies of the basement’s cool air.

“Tools of the trade. Truth-serum floating in solution. Renders the invisible patterns of silver halide crystals coating photo-paper visible to the naked eye. I’d hold off on uncovering it, you won’t like the smell.”

Celia: Her hand stops before she lifts the blanket, and she looks back to him as if he has just spouted German. She blinks, then sits down.

“How does that work?” Maybe a second explanation will help her understand what he means, with the halide and crystals and whatever else he’d said. It isn’t what she came for, but Daddy won’t say no to extra lessons.

She knows what he thinks of her.

Emil: At that question, his eyes smile too.

“You can imagine it like this,” he says, holding up his finger, before pressing it onto a fresh piece of paper, and removing it. He holds up the blank sheet of paper for Celia to examine.

“What do you see on the paper?”

Celia: “Uh… nothing…?”

Emil: “And yet,” he says, bending below the table to reach for something before placing an open jar of blue powder and a brush in front of her, “We know my finger print is there. I pressed fairly hard into the paper, just as we might project a negative image onto photopaper. It leaves an invisible imprint, a residue thickest at the contours of the negative.”

“We call this accumulation of residue the latent image.”

Celia: Celia picks up the brush and dips it into the powder. It’s like loose pigment eyeshadow, or a pan of blush that has fallen and shattered on the ground. She draws the brush across the paper where he touched, leaving behind a small film of powder. She taps the brush off as she would any makeup brush and sets it aside, then looks up at him expectantly.

Emil: He’s nodding to some unheard beat. He looks content. He blows lightly over the surface of the paper, dusting off the excess powder. In the light, the azure colored spiral remaining on the paper looks near-black. It loops tightly and dissolves into dust at its edges.

“Now you see it, the image that was hiding behind. The unseen residue catches the powder, holds tight, to make itself seen. Residues attract residues. For photopaper, it is not powder but developing solution that emphasizes the residues, not air that disperses the excess but vinegar and water. But in the end, the effect is the same. Hidden truths are unveiled.”

Celia: Her brows lift.

“You’re like… really into this stuff. That was kind of poetic.” Even if it is weird. “But why the basement? Are you double-dipping? Getting paid while you get paid?” Daddy wouldn’t like that. Daddy wouldn’t like that at all.

Celia kind of does, though. It’s smart. He seems smart too, in a nerdy, basement-dwelling kind of way.

Emil: “I could tell you some part of the truth, that I need a pitch black room to not damage the images, that tuition is a burden that can’t be surmounted by only working one job at a time. But that’s not the whole truth. That’s not the important truth. It doesn’t explain why you’re down here.”

He looks into her eyes for a moment, as if reading some text in the reflection.

“I think you already know the answer, in the same way we knew the fingerprint was there before you brushed it into visibility. It’s the latent image of the same answer to many of the questions you’ve had.”

He plucks a negative from below the table, and places it into the projector-looking device. It shines a light down onto the fresh sheet of photopaper underneath it.

“So tell me, what things don’t make sense here? What is the residue in this room?”

Celia: Oh my God is this a test?

Celia deflates. The residue in the room? That doesn’t even make sense. There’s residue all over. There’s… the boxes in cardboard. The dirt. The water. The literal residue of them, existing, being down here like this.

“I don’t know,” she says, rather than guess wrong. She crosses her arms, like a petulant child.

Emil: He nods and continues, undeterred. “Yes. You do. You’ve pointed them out. One by one, everything that is out of place.”

“It’s okay to be wrong, the path to correctness is paved with incorrect guesses. Let them guide you.”

He takes the paper from the light and switches off the projecting device, the paper appears unchanged.

“For instance,” he offers, “you asked why are we in the basement when there’s a perfectly good room upstairs? One you know I’ve likely visited recently given the note I left and the theft-risk of leaving a laptop unattended.”

Celia: The path to correctness is paved with incorrect guesses. And he’s her tutor, sort of, so she’s allowed to be wrong in front of him, and there’s no one here that will laugh at her. She bites her lip, though, because she doesn’t want to be wrong, and she doesn’t want to look stupid, and he’s already approved he’s smarter than her.

“Because… something is wrong with the room upstairs?” Because it’s dry, maybe. Or comfortable. Not creepy. Has lights. “Um. Because there’s a lesson down here?”

Emil: “Pre-cisely,” he expresses excitedly.

“Lessons don’t reside in public libraries or schools. Unadulterated truth lives only in the shadows, the gaps. That is where people hide the latent images of their secrets. We come down here to reveal them.”

He uses a pair of tongs to slide the paper under the blanket and into the first of the tubs.

“Down here, there are no eyes to watch nor ears to listen. So then, with that in mind, do you think I brought you here just to ask you about your B- in Calculus?”

Celia: He’s so weird.

She’s kind of into it, or would be if her socks weren’t wet.

“Are you going to tell me about the Illuminati and ask me to join your cult?” But she’s smiling, and maybe it lets him know she’s just messing around. She studies the laptop. “Well. I don’t really need a laptop for math since we have calculators, but you provided one, and you’re talking about secrets, and…”

She bites her lip again.

“No,” she finally says, “I don’t think we’re here to discuss Calculus. But also,” she says in a rush, “are we going to discuss that because Daddy said I can’t go to college if I don’t get A’s.”

Emil: He chuckles at the mention of the Illuminati as he moves the sheet from the first tub to the second. She can see the blur of an image forming in the moment the paper is transferred.

“We are. Upstairs I left a packet of problems for us to work through. Good ones too, with satisfying numbers waiting at the end of clever simplifications. I am your tutor after all.”

It’s a shorter stay in the second tub before tongs place the photopaper into the third.

“And we can go there right now, you can ignore the little inconsistencies you saw here… like those cardboard boxes you mentioned.” he says, leaning in across the table.

“Or we can stay down a little bit longer, and I can tell you a secret.”

Celia: “I like secrets,” she says. The answer is instant. She’s paying rapt attention to him now, sitting up in her seat, eyes fixated on him and what he’s doing.

Emil: “I’ve lied to you multiple times, hidden things in half-truths, during this conversation. Even if you accepted the explanations I gave you for them, you caught them as soon as they were pitched. Your grades paint a poor picture of you. Before I tell you my secret, I think I should let you know.”

He looks dead serious when he says, “You are sharp, Celia. So much smarter than your father was.”

Celia: No one has ever called her smart before. Not smarter than anyone. Not smarter than Daddy, certainly. That’s why she needs a tutor. Because she’s stupid. Because the numbers in class don’t make any sense.

Her mouth is dry. She licks her lips, looks away. She doesn’t know what to say to that. Maybe he’s just messing with her. Maybe Daddy is testing her, seeing if she reports back about her tutor being black, or meeting her in a creepy basement. Maybe he’s about to do something to her, and she fell for it because she’s so stupid.

She pushes back from the table. Her hand closes around the flashlight. She’ll hit him if he comes at her. She’ll scream. She’ll run.

She waits.

Emil: But she waits for little but her tutor taking the image out of the third and into the final liquid bath.

“If you play your cards right, you can expect brighter things in your future. Better than just a seat in the state senate.”

She sees him recognize how tense she is, he nods like he did before. “Every time I lied to you, you rationalized the fib. You were not made uncomfortable.”

“There’s a reason you feel on edge, it’s because your gut knows I’m right, that I’m telling the truth.”

Celia: “Um.” She isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “So I’m… smart. And you think I’m hiding behind bad grades to downplay the fact that I have a brain and I’m not just a pretty face because it’s easier to pretend to be what the world expects?”

Her smile is sweet, and she blinks large eyes at him in the dim light of the basement. Her head tilts slightly to one side, then she giggles. It’s girlish, exactly the kind of facade she was talking about.

“That’s so silly.”

“What’s the secret?”

Emil: “Those are your words, not mine, Celia. Though now that you say it yourself, it doesn’t sound so silly to me.” He looks at her with soft eyes, nodding gently. “When in darkness… the only thing you can be expected to be is yourself.”

Celia: That lump in her throat is back. She isn’t sure where it’s coming from or why it’s there, and she glances away from him.

He’s wrong.

Isn’t he?

She takes a moment to gather her thoughts, to slide right back into unassuming high school airhead. It’s not hard when there are so few to be found.

“What’s on the schedule for today, Mr. Kane?”

Emil: “Hey. It’s okay. We all wear masks sometimes,” he says, speaking to the lump she’s trying to suppress. It’s like the words she puts up as a front are naught but dust in the air, “But strength comes in choosing when to do it, on your own terms, for your own purposes. No one else’s.”

Celia: Her smile freezes on her face. She doubles down. When her words finally come out her voice has been modified just slightly, a little more light and airy, a little more Southern, dropping the occasional letter from the pronunciation of her words.

“I’m ‘fraid I don’t quite know what you’re gettin’ at, Mista Kane. You got my head all ker-fluffled.” Another giggle, and she waves her hands in front of her face to accentuate her point. “Maybe you had me confused with someone else? If you’re double-booked I can reschedule.”

Emil: He simply looks at her for a second, his face flat. “I don’t believe I have. And I am not.” He retrieves the photopaper from the tub and holds it up, so he can see it. It’s still blank from the other side. Emil looks content with it.

“This paper holds one of the secrets I’ve been hoping to tell you. Has your father ever told you how politics really work around here?”

GM: He sure hasn’t. Celia is just an ornament to be married off.

Celia: “Daddy knows a woman’s place isn’t in politics. It’s at home. Makin’ dinners and raisin’ babies.” Her smile grows fond. “You ever have a nice pecan pie? My daddy loves his pecan pie. I make a good one, too. The key is to preroast the pecans, see.”

GM: Celia’s mom was the perfect political ornament, too. Ballerinas are already supposed to be graceful, silent, and pretty. She was always smiling and looking good along her husband’s arm, though Celia doesn’t ever recall her being involved in serious political discussions.

Her brothers are another story, though. Logan is still pretty young, but Dad likes to have David listen in on those. He’s going to intern for Senator Malveaux’s staff once he’s old enough.

Celia: She tells him that, too. About her brothers. How they’ll be great politicians someday because they’re learning young.

“Just like Daddy.”

She meets his eyes, dares him to contradict her.

“That what you wanted to tell me, Mr. Kane? That it’s all in the blood?”

GM: She should watch out, too.

Blacks are all Democrats.

Emil: “No. I’m afraid that’s not the case. If it was all in the blood they wouldn’t have to be learning young. They would simply assume their roles naturally as birds fly from the nest.”

“What is carried through from parent to child is name, legacy. And it has to be given with consent of the parent. An illegitimate child shares blood but not name.”

Emil: “But that is no matter, now. I wanted to show you what politics looks like behinds the scenes, and politicians are anything but behind the scenes.”

Water drips down from the paper he holds, it stings the ground with a hiss. “But, well… do you remember back in the 2003 campaign when your father was down in the polls? Then out of nowhere, a scandal with his opponent, Bill Jay Roberts.”

Celia: Celia goes very quiet at the mention of the 2003 election. She just looks at him, all pretense dropped, her eyes hard and lips flattened into a very thin line. After a moment she gives a minute nod.

“I remember the election. Not the scandal.”

Emil: “Of course. Your father wouldn’t have shared it when you were that young. The sexual assault of a young female aide isn’t exactly a dinner table topic, now is it?”

He stops for a moment to look her in the eyes. “That must have been a hard time for you, what with the divorce. I’m sorry.”

Celia: He doesn’t know the half of it. And she doesn’t want to talk about it. She looks down at the table. Somewhere, far away, she can hear her mother screaming. Her stomach ties itself in knots, and below the table her nails dig into her thighs.

“Yes,” she says, voice softer than it has been, “it was. And I told you he doesn’t talk to me about politics, I… didn’t know about any sexual assault.” Just the normal assault. Just the hacksaw in the hallway.

“How do you know about that?”

Emil: “Divorce is a matter of public record. To find it, you need only ask…” He waits for a moment.

“It’s also listed on Wikipedia.”

Celia: “Ah. Is that why you brought me down here? To tell me you know about my dad’s divorce? I haven’t seen her, if that’s your question.” The lie comes easily. She’s used to saying it around her family and her dad’s friends, at all the events they go to when people ask. Haven’t seen her. Don’t talk to her.

Is this a test?

GM: It’s even true, too.

They’ve talked on the phone. But she hasn’t seen her mom in person since 2003.

Emil: “Not at all,” he says, shaking his head.

“I just noticed how you reacted when I mentioned the year, wanted to make sure you were all right talking about the campaign.”

“I know how it feels to not have a parent around,” he admits.

Celia: “I’m fine talking about the campaign. I just don’t really know much about it. I was a kid. Daddy doesn’t tell me those things, and he didn’t then either.” Not smart enough. Wrong gender.

Emil: “That’s why I’m telling you about it now. So you have the context you’ll need when I tell you the rest of the story.”

“Would you like some tea?” he asks, hanging the photopaper from the tallest line with a clothespin and retrieving a box of Lipton, a pair of mugs, and a miniature hot water heater.

Celia: Celia glances over her shoulder at the steps she knows are somewhere in the distance, as if debating if she should call it a day and go back home. But he’s offering tea. And he still hasn’t told her the secret, and there’s a little voice inside that thinks it might be important. Maybe. He had to have lead her down here for a reason, right? And if it was nefarious he’d have acted on it already.


“Um. Okay. Tea sounds… nice.”

GM: The heater seems odd, though. So do the mugs. Sweet tea comes in glasses.

Celia: Celia is too polite to mention it. Maybe he lives down here and has to boil the water to sanitize it.

GM: She’s heard of people who had to do that after Katrina. She never did.

Emil: The water bubbles and pops over the heat.

“So like I was saying, one day, the news was everywhere, and the chest pounding about the accused politician’s sexual impropriety began on that same day.”

“Your father’s at-the-time poor polling was flipped on its head. Moral outrage does the Republican Party wonders.”

He pours the water into the two mugs over the tea bags. Curiously, Emil uses three bags for his own.

“How many teaspoons?” he asks, referring to a glass jar labeled SUGAR.

Celia: “Two.” She’s not going to drink it, though. No telling what’s in the sugar, or the tea bags. Maybe he’s waiting to roofie her. Drag her out of here when she’s unconscious instead of risking it if she screams.

“So the scandal hit and my dad won because it made the other guy look bad.” Just like an envelope showed up at her house that ruined her life because of what her mom did. “Are… sorry, are you implying my dad was behind that?”

Emil: He smiles, doling out the sugar. He puts half a teaspoon in his.

“I don’t make implications, Miss Flores,” he says, stirring his tea. “I develop photographs.”

His tea looks blacker than black, the three bags crowd the cup, but he doesn’t remove them before drinking deeply from the mug.

“You had questioned using these cardboard boxes earlier, for holding items in need of restoration.”

“You were right to do so. They hold something far more important than barely audible Buddy Bolden recordings. Hidden truth.”

Celia: Her tea sits untouched in front of her. She watches him drink, as if looking for signs of poison or dizziness. A sudden collapse, eyes rolling back into his head, mouth foaming.

His questions are even more dangerous than the tea, though, and she is sure that he knows it. She still doesn’t know his game, doesn’t know what he wants from her. She nods once, to show she’s listening.

“Is that why you found me? To tell me he’s a bad guy?” The words are barely above a whisper. Her hands have moved to close around the mug, knuckles white. If she’s in trouble then she’s in trouble already. She hasn’t admitted to anything, she thinks. Just asked.

Still, Daddy would be mad.

Emil: He’s looking into her eyes once again, reading something in the whites, he drinks another gulp of tea.

He shakes his head.

“No. I’m not here to slander your father. The worst your father did in this case was approve a strategy. Sign a document. He’s a delegator, as are most politicians. And you found me, like everyone else, from a friend of a friend. You paid me to teach you, so I want to teach you something valuable to your future. In addition to Calculus, of course.”

He sips some more, savoring it, before continuing. It must be bitter with how dark the liquid is, but his expression reads like he’s eating a beignet a la mode.

“As the daughter of a state senator, no matter how much you distance yourself from politics, at some point or another, one of these ‘scandalous leaks,’ regardless of its veracity, will target you. I’d like to teach you how information like this spreads, and how to know when its happening before anyone else gets word.”

The mug clinks against the table as he places it down.

“I’d like to help you stay protected.”

Celia: A hysterical little giggle gurgles inside of her. It is up her throat and past her lips before she can stop it, and only the hand that she presses against her mouth catches it before it can travel too far and let the world know of her desperation.

Protect her. He wants to help protect her.

It’s too late, she’d like to say to him, the files came for me that same year. But she stops herself. One, because only she, her mother, and the person who sent it know the truth. And two, because it has not yet ruined her life, so she will not be the one to blurt it out here to this stranger.

Hasn’t she been dreading this day? Someone finding out about her, revealing it to Daddy, the fallout that would occur then? Of course he would not love her anymore. Of course she would be abandoned, homeless, beaten. Because, despite what this man thinks, the worst that her father did was not sign a piece of paper.

None of these thoughts make it past her lips the way the giggle did seconds ago. She swallows them back down to the place where she can protect them, deep in the hot recesses of her belly where they gurgle and boil and burn, and she fixes him with a look that is equal parts skeptical and hungry.

“Okay,” she says to him, nodding. “Okay. Yes. Show me.”

She doesn’t ask why. Why this stranger wants to help, what he thinks he knows. He’d said he thought she was smart, bright, had a good future ahead of her. Maybe she does. And maybe he’s full of it. And that’s okay too.

Emil: “All right. Let’s do this then.” Her tutor moves to lift one of the boxes onto the long table between them. His long, spindly arms hang off his shoulders and wrap under the box, cradling it far too closely for its heft, before he drops it on the table. Inside are a series of documents, from which he selects a newspaper cutout.

“You might recognize Bill,” he says, pointing to the black and white image of the politician, looking especially haggard. Set adjacent to his photo is that of a youthful-looking white woman with tears streaming down her face.

“Media called her ‘M’ for a time, until some reporter forgot they weren’t supposed to mention her full name. Since then, it was ‘Mary Anne Cooper.’ She gave a series of televised interviews. Very moving, very believable. Southern belle archetype. Couldn’t hurt a fly, modestly dressed, soft-spoken and youthful. The perfect picture of innocence.”

“A little too perfect, to be honest, but those polled didn’t seem to catch on. Especially since there was talk of video evidence of the assault.”

Celia: Celia stares down at the photos. Bill. The man responsible for putting her mother in the hospital. He didn’t do it, of course. Just signed a piece of paper. Like her father did. She curls her fingers around the mug of hot water in front of her—an insult to call it tea, really—to control the trembling.

These men destroy innocent lives. They don’t care who they hurt. They don’t care who they have to step on to get to where they want to go. They just grab and grab and grab for more and more and more until the whole world is as rotten as they are. Diana didn’t deserve what happened to her, but Bill didn’t care about the fallout. Just like M didn’t deserve what happened to her, but her daddy didn’t care about the fallout, or that he ruined a woman’s life.

They’re nothing to him, after all. Second class citizens. They have a place. He probably thought he was teaching her a lesson, too. Don’t meddle in the affairs of men.

“Was there? Video proof?”

Emil: “She had this lawyer with her during every interview. He had this gimmick where he would hold up the VHS tape in front of the camera and re-explain how tragic the woman’s story was. Her general youthful look, plus the worried paternal figure of the lawyer, only added to the perception of her as a child, which really touched people’s hearts.”

The picture of the man is on the table, his hair is slicked back, with what must be a gallon of grease. He looks on the verge of tears himself waving around that tape.

Celia: “But they never played the tape? You make it sound like they never played the tape. They just had a tape, which doesn’t mean anything. It could have been a Barney rerun or something.”

She taps a nail against her mug of tea.

“So there’s not really any proof. Just acting. And people believed that because they… cried?”

She shouldn’t sound so surprised. She’s done it.

Emil: “No. At least not publicly. And when you know how these decisions are made, it starts to make a lot more sense.”

He looks at the mug for a moment, before commenting, “That tea’s going to get cold.”

“The story went that M never wanted this to go public. She had discussed the events with a friend of a friend of hers, they encouraged her to talk to some other folks. Eventually, someone leaked it onto the internet. The lawyer came soon after, pro bono, then the interviews. No one expected her to show the tapes, that was for the courts when they pressed charges. But the leaks came with a warning, the tape could be made public at any time should the leaker deem it necessary.”

Emil takes another sip from his teabag-crowded mug. “Course, charges were never filed, nor was the video published. Everything got much quieter after your dad won.”

He pours more water into his own, but the color of the tea-saturated fluid gets no lighter.

Celia: Of course he comments on the fact that she’s not drinking it. She peers at him, then down at the cup, and says very flatly, “Nothin’ personal, but down here our tea is cold and in a glass.”

She smiles, as if that might take the sting from her words, and spreads her hands as if to say ‘what do we do?’

“So, for clarity: was M ever loyal to Bill, or was she just waiting for the right moment to turn on him? Or was this truly a case of someone assaulting her and someone else just convinced her to have Bill take the fall?” There’s a pause, then, “what happened to her since?”

Emil: He looks at her for a moment. “You implying that I’m not as much from down here as you are?” It isn’t a look of hurt, just an intensity in the way he’s reading her.

“It’s a little more complex than that. With things like these, missions like these, each member of the mission has to be kept as much in the dark as possible.” He takes out a graduation photo of a girl who looks strikingly like M, excepting her hair, makeup, and the shape of her nose.

“Before this happened, she was a senior at Loyola majoring in poli sci and acting. Spent some time interning for Bill’s team earlier in her life, but left when she landed her position as a staff aide for your father”

Emil plucks the same picture off the clothesline that he had left to dry some minutes prior. It shows Maxen front and center, with a group of employees surrounding him. He has his hands on M’s shoulder. His stare bores a hole out the image. The amber light bathes his visage in devilish fire.

Celia: Celia doesn’t know how to respond to that, though now she knows for sure he’s not around here. No one around here would ever be as direct as he is; they hide their poison in apple pies and smiles.

She doesn’t visibly recoil from the photo of her father and the girl, but there’s a new tightness to her lips, and she only briefly glances at it before looking away. The pose, with his hands on her shoulders, is reminiscent of the family portrait hanging in their foyer.

“She ruined herself for him.” For a job.

Emil: “It’s more complex than that. She earned the position on her own merits. And your father never asked her directly to do anything uncouth.”

Emil places down a print out of various emails from Maxen and his secretaries commending her stellar work ethic. They call her the office daughter. Maxen writes that he’d be proud to have her as his own. Maxen’s encouraged the whole office to play matchmaker, to find her a good husband.

“She was an accomplished graduate. Admired by her superiors. And like I said, your father’s schedule alone requires him to delegate work.”

“It was about the time of her hiring that your father had become a client of Auburn Political Partners. It’s a political consulting company. Unlike most consulting organizations, their services went beyond running numbers and giving advice. You see, the laws in this state are a little funny around consulting. Consultees have diminished legal liability similar to that of corporations covering actions taken by consultants. Of course, consultants don’t normally do a great deal of actual work themselves beyond giving advice. Auburn Political used this legal wiggle room to offer a more… varied array of services to people like your father.”

Celia: She reads the line three times about how Daddy would be proud to have this other girl as his own. She feels something pricking the corners of her eyes and blinks a few times to clear it out. Has he ever said that about her? Would he, if he knew?

Daddy loves me, she tells herself.

Celia is absorbed in the email messages and almost misses what he says, but she catches on at the end.

“So they can do shady things,” she prompts, “like tell his staff aide to… pretend she’s assaulted.”

Emil: With a sigh, he states, “It’s more complicated. It’s always more complicated.”

He drinks deeply from the mug once more, and fills it up, adding another tea bag.

“They delegate too. Even more so than your father. All they technically did was run a few numbers, find that there’s a risk of your father losing the coming election, and after running a few more numbers, decided they needed to call on some friends of theirs to help patch up that eventuality. Everything is done through layers of proxies, so everything stays hidden. Everyone looks innocent.”

“Moral outrage rouses the voting populace, so they sought to create some. M just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The first thing they told her that she was being scouted for a special acting role. The chance of a lifetime. And her office family encouraged her to take it.”

She can see the hints of future wrinkles writhing on Emil’s forehead as he speaks.

“Acting classes. Social experiments. That’s how it started. Then they did market research, they needed to find the perfect girl. They planted friends to make her insecure about herself. Her chest, her voice, her nose, her hair, her skin. They were all too happy to provide her the makeover she wanted, she needed. Their friends remade her body. Breast augmentation, rhinoplasty to give her that button nose, skin bleaching to give her that porcelain color, you name it. Changed her name too, to Mary Anne. Played better with their statistics. Her name was Victoria,” he says, pointing out that name’s presence in the emails with the tip of a pencil.

“They made her into the perfect girl they needed. They made her ask for it too.”

Celia: Well, Victoria is kind of a stripper name.

She finally sips at her tea. It’s weird, really, and she wrinkles her nose and reaches past him for the sugar. Adds another teaspoon, then a second. Stirs.

“So they… changed her. Sent her back to Bill. Was the accusation of sexual assault false?”

Emil: “Initially, yes. There was some inappropriate behavior, which she made complaints about to Auburn Political, but no assault at least, from Bill.”

He places the documentation of those complaints before her. She sounds uncomfortable, but still determined to complete it. She sounds like she wants desperately to please the person she writes it to.

“M had gotten close to Bill. His campaign, funnily enough, had hired a sister company to Auburn for their own use. Your father paid more, though, and that’s part of why M rose so quickly. After a few months of closeness and evidence collection of meetings between Bill and M where they are the sole people in the room, M left Bill’s team and began preparing with the lawyer. The leak was about to be opened.”

Celia: “So… it’s all circumstantial. There’s literally no proof, except for these emails.” She looks up at him, brows raised as if she isn’t quite sure that she understands.

“Which puts them in the room together, but doesn’t prove that they actually did anything.”

Emil: He shakes his head in response. “Remember, Celia, this was a media campaign. They weren’t trying to put Bill away, they were attempting to hurt his chances politically. In addition to the Southern cherub that was M describing the purported assault in awful detail in the delicately brutal, heart-wrenching way only a true victim or a professionally trained actress could do, M had spent her time as Bill’s staff aide developing mistrust of Bill among her coworkers. Whispers of his inappropriate behavior were swirling around the office like wildfire. But M had made them promise to keep quiet, she needed her job and claimed to be afraid he would fire her should these accusations come out.”

“In the courtroom of public opinion, that was all the evidence they really needed to condemn him. It did not help that most of Bill’s female staff quit in protest when the allegations were leaked.”

Celia: Oh. Right. There wasn’t a trial. This isn’t a court.

“It’s literally just lies, you mean. That’s what they do. Lie about each other, sway public opinion, make people not want to vote for them. Anyone could lie. I could say something about Daddy or his boss and… and just ruin them.”

There’s a pause. She sips her tea again and seems to find it acceptable, because she drinks half the mug before she sets it down.

“How do you protect yourself from that? From people just lying? How come no one demanded to see the video?”

Emil: He smiles at her interest. The way she comes to that conclusion. About what she can do to people. About her power.

“Oh, they did. Some people questioned it being hidden. Others shamed them for wanting to reveal something so personal and awful about this woman’s life. Certain journalists looked into it and attempted to make some claims. Attempted to sway public opinion to demand a video. But your dad has some very good friends in the media. Those articles, those calls to actions, they had a way of just,” he snaps his fingers, “disappearing. Before they even got published.”

“But…” he says, placing a series of plain text documents on the table marked with a stamp that says PREPRINT, “that doesn’t mean the articles were gone forever. No one likes to have their job threatened, after all. No one likes to be silenced. It’s human nature.”

“I could tell you how they do it, where the aborted articles go, how you find them, if you want.”

Celia: “So I can find the articles?” she wants to make sure that she understands this. “You’re telling me they kill the articles, but that they’re out there, waiting to be found. But… if they’re silenced by the mainstream media, what good does that to? That they exist, I mean. If no one is reading them.”

Emil: “Because if someone goes through the effort of aborting an article in preprint, it must have something mightily dangerous inside it. And when something is dangerous to someone, that means it’s worth finding. Knowledge is power, after all.”

“And,” he grins, “as it turns out, in the same places you find aborted articles, you find the spawning ground of leaks. The only difference between the two, is that when something leaks, someone wants it found.”

Celia: “How does that protect me?”

Emil: He leans in, sips again from the tea, and says, “Here’s how. It means if you pay attention, or if you have someone pay attention for you, you’ll know when someone is about to spread lies about you, know when someone intends to ruin your reputation.”

“Of course, perhaps that isn’t useful on its own. Someone’s trying to spread those lies, make them heard. And even if they fail to, once you put it on the internet, it’s there forever. Someone’s gonna see it, eventually.”

“And all that’s true, unless you know that there are people who moderate those lowest, hidden levels of the internet, those spawning grounds for filth and deceit. Unless you know the people who can make information disappear.” He has a prideful look in his eyes, a vigor she hasn’t seen thus far.

“It doesn’t take a hurricane to do it either,” he says, looking over the vast void of information, the empty graveyard of the barren shelves. Dead knowledge.

“People like your father know the men who abort articles. I know the men who run the crematoria.”

Celia: “Why?” she asks him, again. “Why are you showing me this? Telling me this? You said I had a—a bright future, but what does that even mean? You don’t know me. You know my daddy, and what he did, and that’s…”

Celia trails off, at a loss for words. She finishes her tea, then the sugar that was pooling at the bottom of the mug, and finally looks back up at him.

“Why?” she asks. “Why tell me? Why go through all of this? I just… I don’t understand.”

Emil: “Statistically, you have a significant chance of obtaining influence over one sector of society or another. The simple fact that you attend McGehee exponentiates the number of influential individuals you’ll interact with over your life. Your family’s wealth aids you even further. The remainder of my estimation comes from my positive assessment of you during this conversation. To put it shortly, the numbers look good.”

“Many people come to figures of esteem, such as your father, offering their services for money and influence, but those people are not to be trusted. No matter what shoddy work they do they’re confident that they’ll be compensated. They have no loyalty, no reason to put effort into your success because they advance themselves either way. I come to you at what you might call the bottom floor, because I want to support your growth. You can think of this as an investment in your success.”

“I’m not looking for money, I’m looking for a willingness to cooperate in matters which bolster both of our successes. In other words, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

Celia: Ah, there it is. The catch. Yes, he’ll offer services now, and he fully expects something from her in the future. She’s heard her dad behind closed doors having this kind of conversation, and the fact that he never thought to school her in them prevents her from being coy now.

“Information now for future usefulness because you think I’ll be someone,” she muses. “Because even if I’m not, I know people, or will marry someone, and that’s beneficial. I’m on my way up and you’re…” She looks around the basement, brows raised, then back to him.

“Then you’re pledging loyalty to a 17-year-old girl. Not my father. Not my friends. Not my future husband. Me.”

She takes another sip of the tea.

“Okay,” she says at length. “I’m listening.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia IX, Emmett IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia IX, Emmett IV
Next, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI

Previous, by Emil: Story Nine, Emil VIII
Next, by Emil: Story Ten, Celia XIII, Emil II, Emmett VIII

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia IX, Emmett IV
Next, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia XI, Emmett VI

Story Ten, Celia IX, Emmett IV

“Make happy noises, little toy.”
Unknown woman

Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, PM

Celia: It’s late when Celia finally texts him. Later than dinner. But that’s how her plans have seemed to go lately, off script, and that’s how late she slept after passing out in her dorm. She hadn’t expected him to keep his evening open for her, but she also doesn’t triple check their vague plans. She simple sends him a brief “omw” text and heads out.

She doesn’t take her car. She calls for a cab instead, lets Emily know she’s going out to meet a friend—just in case—and heads out. It’s half past nine when she arrives, scanning the small restaurant for Em.

Emmett: Em wakes up in the late afternoon and feels like shit. So he does a line of coke. He still feels like shit, but now time moves faster. After two or three more, he might feel like shit, but he’s too busy watching three movies at once to notice.

He barely notices it’s not peak dining hours when she texts him. Not that it matters—it’s right next to his building, and he doesn’t keep normal hours anyway. She can see him waving at her enthusiastically to a table in the back corner when she enters. His pupils are the size of a cartoon character’s.

“Ceeeelia,” he sings as she comes over. “You’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily—Madeline, can we get two hurricanes over here?”

If she was worried he thought this was a date, the sight of him in an old sweatshirt and jeans probably sets her at ease, even if absolutely nothing else about him does. He doesn’t look very much like a girl at all, now.

GM: “You got it,” the waitress calls back, jotting down the order.

Celia: That was easy. Hard not to spot the man waving at her and singing her name from across the way, even if she doesn’t quite recognize him with all of his clothes on and no makeup. He seems… off. She hesitates before she sits, though whether it’s the pain she’s still in or the fact that his pupils are blown is anyone’s guess.

She sits slowly, gingerly, perched on the edge of the chair with as little of her ass touching it as she can manage. She’s been balancing all day. Her thighs will be steel after this, she’s sure of it. Now, though, they’re hidden behind another loose dress with another sunny print.

“Em. Been a while.” Outside of the treatment room, the dynamic has shifted. This isn’t her world anymore and she knows it.

GM: Café Soulé is a modestly-priced restaurant literally next door to Em’s apartment building. It’s still a bit more expensive than making his own breakfast, but the convenience can’t be beat. The surroundings reflect the price tag. There’s round, slightly scuffed wooden tables and functional chairs, spruced up with flower vases and Belle Époque-era paintings of ballet dancers and suited gentlemen meeting at, fittingly enough, a café. French flags and cast iron lamp lights give the place an Old World ambiance. At the far side of the room, there’s a modestly well-stocked bar and chalk blackboard that spells out the day’s specials, as well as drinks for a happy hour that’s still a ways off.

Emmett: Em shrugs and makes a dismissive gesture at her statement, as if to wave away the weeks since their last meeting. Turns out, not a lot of call for makeup when you exclusively fuck women.

“Maybe it has been—too long, too long. Please, let me pay for everything—how are you, Cici?” He laughs a little bit when he says that, though she couldn’t say why. He snaps his fingers before she can answer. “Not good! You told me already. How are things not good, and how can we kiss it better?”

Celia: “Are you offering?” The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. Then the implication sets in, and it’s not her face she’s picturing him kissing better. Her cheeks burn.

He’s your client, she reminds herself. As if that would stop him. She’s pretty sure he only asked her to wax him that day to make her uncomfortable. Or test his charms. And hadn’t he—stop it.

“Are you drunk?”

Emmett: He laughs at her flustered reply. “No, not yet, though that should be changing fairly soon. I’ve put my best people on it. And I am really offering to help you, if I can, and if it doesn’t mean going to a museum. I have been thinking,” he tells her, “how much I hate museums all day. My family loves them. Favorite thing to do on a weekend. I haven’t been to one since I was sixteen. Never. Again. Like the Holocaust. Or 9/11. Both of which I learned way too much about, guess where, in museums.”

“Sorry, I’m talking a lot. I’m not drunk, yet, but I am very high.” He eyes her with those too-big eyes. “Is that a problem for you? I can leave, and give you some cash for dinner.” He doesn’t sound offended. More guilty.

Celia: Why on Earth, Celia wonders, is he talking about museums?

And then he tells her, and it all kind of clicks into place. The waving. The pupils. The chatter. She is both more and less apprehensive about this at the revelation that he showed up high.

“It’s fine,” she tells him. She might even mean that. “I’ve never been,” she confesses, because it’s easier to talk about than what she came here for. Her eyes slip toward the table, the menu, and she picks at the edges with one freshly manicured nail. “Maybe I should try it.”

“Have you ever been upstairs here? They say it’s haunted.”

Emmett: His eyes widen. “They do? Oh, goody, then I definitely want to go upstairs after we’re done. I’m haunted, too. Maybe I’ll make friends—Madeline, you are an angel.”

Two tall glasses of red-orange amber are set between them. Em takes a long pull off his.

“Have you ever been drunk before?”

Her sister hadn’t. He remembers that night.

GM: “And you tip well, so I guess you’re one too,” the waitress smiles. She asks if they’re ready to order or still want some time to make up their minds.

Emmett: “Hmm, could you bring us some crab cakes for now? Unless she knows what she wants.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She hadn’t even looked.

“That’s good for now.” She slides the drink towards her, sipping from the provided straw. Makes a face, then nods and sips again. “Drunk? No. Uh. Sort of? Once, but not really? Sheltered life, et cetera.” She waves a hand. The other stays on her lap. “Why? Planning on doing it all tonight?”

GM: “Okay, crab cakes to start off,” Madeline jots down before taking her leave.

Emmett: “Doing what? Drinking?”

Celia: “You’re already high,” she points out. “Are you supposed to mix them?”

Emmett: “I’m not supposed to do either,” the 18-year old points out. “And also, no. But I am, and I will, because that’s what I do. Things I’m not supposed to.”

He regards her across the table. “And that’s why you came to get my advice, because I know what it’s like to do the thing they don’t want you to do. Isn’t it?”

Celia: “Because you have sex for money, which means you live outside of all of… this.” She gestures toward herself. The rules. Normal society. Polite company.

“So… yes. I’m betting on the fact that you can help, or know someone who can.”

Emmett: “I have sex for free, too, but the money is a nice perk.” He drinks more of his Hurricane. “Did I tell you about the time your sister tried to get me to fuck her? I didn’t, because I felt bad for her. And because she was doing it so your daddy could get angry at her, I think. Which was a bummer. And because I was still hung up over… other people. I’ll help you,” he decides, waving a finger at her, “if you play a drinking game with me. No other charge.”

Celia: She considers him, then the drink in front of her. This was a mistake.

“Cécilia?” she asks. “Didn’t you used to call her Cici, too?” She sips. “Fine. Deal. What’s the game?”

Emmett: He raises an eyebrow at the name. “I wondered if you knew her,” he says. “Isabel did. I did call her Cici, but only in my head. A woman like that is dangerous to give a nickname.”

“The game is simple. We ask each other questions, and the other person answers or they drink. No lying. It’s my day off. I’ll start.”

He swishes the ice in his hurricane around. “Did she ever talk about me?” There’s real sadness in those eyes, and regret.

Celia: “Yes. Frequently.” She pauses. “Even after.” They’d spent a few weekends curled on the couch together with pints of fat free, sugar free, flavor free ice cream.

“Why’d you lie to her?”

Emmett: “Different reasons, at different times. If I told you the full story, you wouldn’t believe me. But if you want the easy answer, because I was seventeen and she was somebody and I was nobody. If you want the longer answer…” He takes another pull.

“My turn. What do you want with your life?”

Celia: Celia drinks. It’s easier than trying to explain. It’s a long pull, following his example. The straw is discarded.

“What’s haunting you?”

Emmett: Oh, how many answers there are to that question. It’s tempting to simply drink. But you have to give some to get some.

“I’m in love with somebody who hates me, because I ruined her life. And she’s the only person who can ever understand how fucked I am, so I know that she’s the only person who can ever really love me, too. But she can’t, because nobody who knows me can love me.”

He slides his finger along the lip of his glass, making it squeal with pleasure, or maybe pain. “What did you come here to tell me?”

Celia: Well now, that’s the answer to his last question too. She drinks, but only to give herself the courage to get it out.

“Daddy is in jail. For now. I have a pretty firm suspicion that the charges aren’t going to stick.” That voice in her ear. Those arms around her. She shivers. “There’s only one thing that can keep a man like that down.”

Her eyes scan his face. This might be a mistake.

“Can you help?”

Emmett: Em stares at her. He doesn’t look horrified or uncertain. Just impressed.

“What are you asking me to do?” He wants her to say it.

Celia: She squirms. His eyes are piercing. She reaches for her glass, then stops.

“Kill him.”

Emmett: “He’s a state senator,” Em says mildly. “And he’s under guard, if he’s in jail. He in OPP?”

Celia: Celia blinks. Drinks. Looks around for those crab cakes, maybe a refill.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what they did with him.”

GM: She picks a timely moment.

“There you guys are,” says the waitress as she sets them down. They’re two 3 oz cakes served on top of a bed of mixed greens and finished with a zesty-looking pale orange remoulade sauce. Some lemons provide a final garnish.

“Know what you want for any entrées yet, or still making up your minds?”

Celia: “Monte Cristo, thank you so much.” Celia flashes her a smile, as if she’s not in the middle of talking about killing her father. “And another… hurricane. Two?” She looks to Em.

GM: “You got it,” the waitress smiles back as she jots the order down.

Emmett: “Two,” Em agrees with an equally carefree smile, as if he was actually contemplating murdering Maxen. “And can I get the shrimp and Eggplant Pierre? Thaaanks.”

After Madeline is gone, his smile softens to something more serious. “So, first things first, you should know that’s a terrible idea. Speaking as somebody on the wrong side of the law in a lot of ways. But I’m glad you came to me about it, because even though I’m coked out of my mind right now, I can still explain exactly why you won’t get what you want even if you could find somebody who could pull that off.”

He takes a bite of crab cake and closes his eyes. “Oh, fuck, that’s really good. I would actually kill for this. I should come here more often. And I come here a lot. What were we talking about? Right, why I’m not going to murder your dad. The main one is, he’s big people. And when big people die, this city goes crazy. I mean, we’re talking FBI getting involved, politicians riding police until they make an arrest, all kinds of shit. This isn’t something you would hire a guy like me for. It’s something you’d hire, like, one of the A-Team. Or somebody else who doesn’t fucking exist. And for shit’s sake, eat your crab cake. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

Celia: Stupid.

“I wasn’t asking you to do it.” She has no interest in the crab cake. Just the man in front of her, who is now confirming exactly what everyone has thought about her for so long. She presses her face into her hand. Just the one. The other remains immobilized by the splint. Stupid.

“He’s going to get out. He’s going to get off. He’s going to get custody back, and I’m going to end up right back where I was, bent over his fucking knee with his hands on me.”

It’s not his problem. She realizes that now. She knew it before she ever opened her mouth, too, before she ever sent him that text. She laughs. It’s cold, empty, like the glass in front of her once she finishes slinging back the rest of the drink. Fucking stupid. Maybe she can beg him to forgive her. Maybe she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will have all been a terrible dream, brought on by the pain of her father beating her bloody.

But Em knows now.

She takes a bite of the crab cake.

“Phenomenal,” she says.

Emmett: He looks at her for a moment. Then he reaches out and touches her on the shoulder. She notices, probably not for the first time, how weak his grip is. How skinny his arms are. He can’t be stronger than her.

But his hand is there, and it is gentle. “No,” he says, and there’s nothing addled in his voice when he says it. “He won’t. I promise. I won’t let you go back to the way things were. But if you kill him, your problems will get much, much worse. Trust me.”

Celia can see it in his eyes, past the coke and booze and whatever mania tears through him.

He knows what he’s talking about.

“If you want to kill a man like Maxen, you don’t go after his body. You go after his reputation. His name.”

Celia: He promised. Em promised. It’s like a lifeline that she can cling to, and she follows it back out of the spiraling depths of whatever hell she’d started to sink into. She touches his hand, squeezing his fingers. She has to believe him. If she doesn’t there’s nothing left, and she might as well turn the stolen gun on herself. Maybe that’s what the thing intended.

“How?” she finally asks. “I don’t have a way back in. He’ll know what I did.” He’ll kill me.

Emmett: “Sure he will. But you know who might be interested in what he did? The media. You talk to any press about him being arrested?”

GM: A moment passes.

Emmett: “…guess that answers that.”

Celia: “No. I’ve been… busy. Judges. Restraining orders.” Celia slides her chair around the table, lowers her voice. “Miranda is doing her thing.”

Emmett: “What’s that mean, here?”

He’s kind of puzzled she’s being more secure about this than discussing her father’s murder.

Celia: That second round of drinks hasn’t come yet. She reaches for his instead. Drink enough and all your problems float away, right?

“Digging. Planning. She has…”

Trust, right? Take the plunge. Let him help. Can he help, this boozed-up, coked-up male whore? Stupid.

“Remember when you told me I couldn’t be a whore?”

Emmett: He blinks. “Um.”

Celia: “You did. While you were naked. Had your…y’know.” She glances down at his lap, then back up. Wiggles her eyebrows. It’s obnoxious. “Said it would be too hard for me, but that might have been a dick joke.”

Emmett: “It wasn’t and also, I feel like you’re missing the point of my confusion. When I say ‘um’, like that, I mean, what the fuck?”

The inability of others to understand his many degrees of witticism will probably have terrible consequences.

Like, at some point.

Celia: “You were wrong. That’s my point. You thought I couldn’t. But I did. Which means… I can do this.”

GM: “Sorry those took a while! Crazy evening here,” Madeline says as she arrives with more drinks. The hurricane is a local classic, with rum, lemon juice, orange juice, and fruit syrup, serve in the eponymous tall and curvy ‘hurricane glass.’

Celia: “Thank you.” Another winning smile for the server, never mind the fact that her eyes are a little unfocused. One hurricane on an empty stomach with a single bite of crab cake to soak it up? Yeah.

Emmett: Amidst the flurry of activity, he stares at her, but holds his tongue until Madeline again retreats to the kitchen. “How did you start whoring? And what were you saying about Miranda?”

Celia: “When I asked the wrong person the wrong question and he put me onto my knees.”

Emmett: He looks confused. “Was the question, ‘will you pay me to have sex with you?’ Otherwise I’m pretty sure that’s just rape.”

“I mean, not that rape is, like, better.”

Celia: “And yet he’s sitting pretty in his house, and here I am, because that’s the kind of game people like my dad play. They’re going to let him off.” She fixes him with a look. “So tell me why I shouldn’t just put him down rather than risk going back to that.”

Emmett: He leans towards her, his forehead almost touching hers and the alcohol in their breath mingling. “I already did. But you seem to have made up your mind already. Look. Even if you ignore all the reasons it’s a bad idea to whack a state senator, what’s your plan here? What do you have Miranda doing? Does she know what you’re planning?”

Celia: Whack Daddy. And wouldn’t that be nice. It’s a testament to the rum that she doesn’t recoil from him getting up close and personal.

“No. She… no. She has something. That I told her to leak if she doesn’t hear from me.” She puts a finger on his chest. “You don’t think I can do it.”

Emmett: He looks into her eyes, his own narrowing. “I think you don’t know what killing does to person. And I think you’re desperate enough to do it anyway.”

Just like I was.

He entwines his fingers with hers, folding her accusing hand in his. It’s warm.

“Look, Celia, I am telling you as somebody who has made every mistake in the book. This won’t solve your problem. It’ll make it ten times worse. You asked for my help, let me give it to you. There’s another way.”

Celia: “When I was fourteen,” she tells him, her voice no louder than a whisper, “I saw him attack my mom. He tried to kill her. And I was there. And I had a gun. And I hesitated. And… and my mom can’t… her leg…”

Stupid. Em is right. She doesn’t know what it would do. And she doesn’t think she can pull the trigger. Because this isn’t watching him attack someone she loves, this is going after him in cold blood.

“Tell me. Tell me… what other way.”

Emmett: “Blackmail,” he says, instantly. “Your backup plan, with Miranda? That should be your number one. You tell her to set up drops so that if anything happens to you, if you don’t stop it every week from now until he drops dead, everything gets sent to the media. What you gave her, is it enough to burn him?”

GM: The food arrives. The monte cristo is a decadent fried confection: beyond the usual ham, mayo, gooey melted cheese, and egg- and butter-lathered fried bread, it’s been topped with delicate white powdered sugar. French fries together with a dark dipping sauce provide the side.

The shrimp and eggplant Pierre is the signature dish at Café Soulé. The eggplant is sliced, covered in breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. The eggplant stack is surprisingly crispy and not soggy at all, even though it is covered in decadent, sinfully buttery heavy cream sauce flavored with shrimp. To top it all off, even more grilled shrimp are scattered over the stack of eggplant and to the plate’s edges.

Madeline gives them more smiling pleasantries like they aren’t talking about killing Celia’s father and takes her leave.

Celia: “I… maybe?”

She can’t finish her thought before they’re interrupted. She doesn’t move, though, and if the waitress thinks it’s weird that—you know what, Celia doesn’t care. She nods, smiles, says thanks, and looks right back to Em.

“It’s what he… what he did last night. I don’t know if it’s enough.” She hadn’t planned on telling him, but there it goes pouring out of her mouth.

Emmett: “Get some food in you, it’ll help,” he tells her. “And… do you want to tell me what it is?”

Celia: The thought of food turns her stomach. She doesn’t want to eat. Doesn’t want to be here anymore, telling him that she’s a fuckup, because then he’ll think she’s stupid too. Stupid and a whore.

He already does.

“He stripped me. At the dinner table. He hit me until I bled, and then he kept going, and he made them all watch. And when it was over he promised he’d do it again tomorrow, too.”

Emmett: He nods, simply. “That’s fucked up. I can understand why you wouldn’t want other people to see it, too, unless they absolutely had to.” He hesitates. “Whether it’s enough to end his career…it’ll absolutely hurt him, make him a liability. But you’re right, it’d be nice to have something else to hold over him.”

He takes a bite of butter-drenched shrimp. “Fuck. Try this. Come on, Cici, it’ll make you feel better.”

Some part of him wonders what he’s doing. What his angle is.

But most of him just thinks the food is really good and he should do some more coke soon.

Celia: She just looks at him. This is a mistake. This whole night, this whole day, this whole plan. One big mistake after another.

She shoves back in her chair, actually sitting for the first time since she arrived, and she’s glad for the entire glass of Hurricane she sucked down and how it numbs her nerve endings to the fire that shoots through her at the full contact with the seat. She reaches for her new glass instead of the food.

Maybe if she drinks enough the rest of her won’t hurt either.

“You’re right.” She doesn’t specify. Just drinks. “Thanks for listenin’. Who’s the girl?”

Emmett: Em frowns. “Come on, don’t be like that. It’s just a matter of getting something over your dad he can’t bear to see go public. Like…” He hesitates. “Did he beat your mom?”

He doesn’t seem eager to answer her other question. He drinks.

Celia: “Did you miss the part where I said I walked in on him tryin’ to kill her?” She picks at her fries, but none of them make it to her mouth.

Emmett: “I might have, this whole conversation is kind of batshit. So… being prosecuted for attempted murder, if you’re trying to do that, actually really fucks up a politician’s image. I mean, even if he eventually beat the charges, that’s like a gatling gun for his opponents. But if Maxen was given the option to avoid that…” He leaves it hanging.

Celia: “He gets out and he kills me. I’m just one more thing to add to your list of hauntings, Em.” But that would require caring, and she isn’t sure that he does.

She goes back to her drink. Stupid.

“Mom already reported it. Last night. Cat’s outta the bag.”

Emmett: Em stares her dead in the eyes and says, “Well, if that happens, then I suppose I’ll just have to go against my own advice and cross him myself. Not like my own life is all that hot, anyways. But look. You still have leverage over him. Don’t let him bully you. Don’t let him make you feel small. You aren’t.” He takes another bite of shrimp and eggplant. “Did you drive here?”

Celia: She doesn’t insult him by laughing at the idea of him going up against her father. She drinks instead, hiding her amused smile. And then she remembers the story he told her—mouthing off to him just because he could—and she thinks the crazy boy might actually do it. She eyes him over the rim of her glass.

“No. Cab. Good thing, too.” She sets the glass back down. She’s done enough stupid things lately, no need to add drinking will intoxicated to that list. While underage and intoxicated. She eyes him. “They don’t card you here?”

Emmett: “Not me,” he says simply. “Don’t worry about it.”

He doesn’t sound like he’s joking. He sounds…resigned to it. Like it wasn’t what he was planning to do with the rest of his life but it seems like as good a way to spend it as any.

Em looks at her. “Okay, let’s play the game again. What do you think of me, right now?”

Celia: “I think you think I’m stupid. I think you talk a lot. I think you’re frustrating and you don’t tell the truth and you hide behind booze. I think I’m glad you didn’t fuck my sister. I think I’m glad I called you even though it isn’t really what I wanted to hear. I think,” she says slowly, “that I want to trust you, even if I shouldn’t, and that… I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all.” She shakes her head, and blinks glazed eyes at him. “I think you’re dramatic, too. But you’re cute, so I guess it’s okay. Wait, why, what do you think of me?” She asks as if it is the most important thing in the world, as if she has forgotten the point of the game.

Maybe it’s that hurricane and a half she just slugged on an empty stomach.

Emmett: He sits and drinks as she tells him what she thinks of him. It’s nice to hear it out loud, sometimes.

He almost laughs at her roundabout, but she’s reeling. He doesn’t want to upset her. Instead he smiles warmly enough to hide the high in his eyes, and says, “Well, I don’t think you’re stupid. Not any stupider than me, anyway, which maybe isn’t saying so much. If you knew the mistakes I’ve made…”

He shakes his head. “I think you’re too good for your family. And I think Cécilia has good judgment in friends. Most of the time.” He drinks a little more. “And I think you were kind to me when you didn’t need to be. And I think it bothers me that you might get hurt, too. And you aren’t stupid. You’re right. I am dramatic. It helps.” He leans forward. “And I think I want to make sure you’re okay. So eat something? Please?”

Celia: “…d’you really think ‘m too good for my family, or are you just sayin’ it?”

That, in particular, lands for Celia. And there’s some part of her that is aware she is fishing, that she turned to a client to make her feel better, that her self worth is tied up in what other people think of her. But she wants to hear him say it anyway, or maybe she wants to hear him say “please” one more time the way he did, all earnest-sounding, because she doesn’t bite. Not yet.

Emmett: “Have you met your family?” he says, wryly. “I have. You’re the best of ’em.” He skewers a shrimp on his fork, twirls it in the sauce until it’s dripping in butter, and holds it out to her. He doesn’t say “here comes the airplane,” but he does say, again, “Please. For me.”

Celia: She’s pretty sure that if she wasn’t already sitting her knees would have given out.

“You’re trouble.”

Her lips part obediently for the shrimp. She takes it off the end of the fork, dripping butter and all, and hates that she loves it as much as she does.

“Trouble,” she says again. “You win.” She turns to her own plate.

Emmett: “Yeah,” he agrees, “I am.”

I wonder if you realize yet you are, too.

He’s content to eat in mostly silence after that, making small, harmless talk. He tries to make her laugh, when he can. He’s good at that.

When they’re done and waiting for the check (or desert, if she wants—he recommends the nutella crepe) he asks, “Did you want to go upstairs? See if it’s really haunted?”

He’s come down a bit, now. He can tell by his mood.

Celia: “Are we allowed?” Her head tilts to one side, eyes on him. She’s still reeling—she only ate half of the sandwich presented and a handful of fries, no dessert thank you very much she is a dancer—but managed to finish that second glass. Then her palm finds her chin, and she smiles in a bemused sort of way.

“I suppose that wouldn’t stop you.”

Emmett: “Probably not,” he grins. When Madeline comes by, he asks about if they can go upstairs, the provided pen lounging dizzily over the tip line. If she seems hesitant at first, he emphasizes how grateful he would be. He is, after all, a regular.

GM: “Wellll, it’s kinda not up to me, but…” She looks around, then adds in a lower voice, “Just don’t let my boss know, all right?”

Emmett: “Of course not, m’dear,” he says, as he leaves a too-generous tip. “Of course not.”

He leads Celia upstairs when he’s pretty sure nobody’s looking, used to sneaking into places drunk. He’s getting a kick out of playing chaperone.

Celia: “S’used to be an orphanage,” Celia says to him once he’s dragged her up the stairs. She wonders why everyone who is in pain doesn’t just drink to forget about it; she barely missed a step. “They say sometimes you can hear the kids’ ghosts runnin’ around.” She leans in. “D’you believe in ghosts, Em?”

Emmett: He’s quiet for a moment. “I can believe in anything.” He doesn’t drag her so much as help her glide up the stairs with her arm in his. “Lot of things in this world. When I was a boy, and visiting the other Delacroix folk in the bayou, they’d tell me ghost stories. Not that middle school guff. Real ghost stories. Maybe I’ll tell you one when things are better. What about you?”

Celia: “Ghosts? Maybe. I believe in monsters. The kind that crawl out from under the bed but don’t care if you’re under the blankets, they’ll get you anyway, and everyone else you care about, and once they’re out you can’t put them back. The kind that hide in the darkness, waiting for you to make the wrong move, and plant ideas in your head.” She doesn’t let go of his arm, even at the top of the stairs. She blames her heels, but she’s in flats.

GM: Upstairs is called the Paris Room. Celia hasn’t been here before, but it’s familiar enough:

It’s a ballroom with a high ceiling, street balcony, and adjacent garden terrace. A private bar, currently untended, lurks near the spiral staircase. There’s some furniture, chandeliers, and a Bell Epoque painting of Parisian dandies having a grand old time. For the moment, the two have the room to themselves.

It feels almost criminal not to dance.

Celia: Celia doesn’t hesitate; as soon as she sees the floor she knows what she wants to do. She already has his arm. It’s a simple maneuver to put his hand at her waist instead, and even if he isn’t a strong dancer she’s good enough for the both of them. She leads him—or rather, leads him leading her—across the floor. She hums as they move, keeping time.

GM: Em’s been up here his share of times. Private events get hosted semi-regularly. Parties. Even a few weddings. It’s easy to talk his way in and there’s free food, usually from the restaurant below.

He can’t remember seeing any ghosts. Maybe they felt like a third wheel.

People have ghosts enough of their own.

Emmett: “I—oh.” He’s smart enough to know when not to talk. He’s an all right dancer. Brother Martin’s offered lessons, anyways. It was sexier than shop class.

He lets her lead him into leading her, at first, but throws in a few flourishes so she gets to react a little, twirling her far and close without any regard they might normally have for other couples.

He wonders if the ghosts are watching.

They end facing the mural, her head against his chin, his hands clasping hers. “Dancing runs in the family, huh?”

He has to whisper into her ear. It feels wrong to talk too loudly, here.

GM: Robot dancer, whispers one ‘ghost.’

Celia: She’s breathless by the end of it, her eyes lit by joy, hair coming untucked with the simple act of twirling around the ballroom. Strands of it twirl with her, swaying with every laugh that passes by her lips. This is where Celia comes alive, here on the dance floor, with her dress flying up around her as they dip and spin and sashay.

His whisper sends a shiver down her spine. She opens her mouth to retort when the other whisper cuts in. The light fades from her eyes. She shivers once more, and when she presses herself against him it’s for different reasons than she’d intended.

“Did you…?”

Emmett: “What?” His fingers trace little circles on the insides of her palms.

Celia: “…nothing.” She can’t escape them, even here. Every time she dances it’s the same, the mocking voice, the memories of practicing until her toes are black and blue and bleeding. She wants to go again, but the magic of the moment is lost, and another spin around the floor will not bring it back. Her legs are wooden. The pain in her backside has returned.

“There’s a bar,” she says, pointing. Her eyebrows lift in question.

Emmett: “There is,” he agrees. “How are you feeling? I don’t want to push you too hard. I want you to have fun, not get sick.”

Celia: “Dizzy,” she admits. “My… back is bothering me.”

Back, backside, it’s all the same. Her arm, too, but he was gentle with her there, and dancing with a broken arm is easier than dancing with a hacksawed leg. Her stomach churns. Ghosts indeed.

Emmett: “Why don’t I get us something nice from behind the bar, and then walk up to my place? It’s right next door. Or I could call you a cab.” He twirls her around so she can face him, but holds her still.

Celia: He’s too close.

“Trouble,” she says again. But she isn’t ready to go home. Home is where the rest of the ghosts are. “I’d like to see your place.”

Emmett: “Mi casa, su casa.” He nabs the most expensive-looking liqueur from behind the bar, then lead her back down the stairs with a protective arm around her. He wishes Madeline a good night.

His place isn’t far at all. It’s literally next door. It’s a nice place, but it doesn’t feel like a home. The furniture is pricey but looks like it was picked out of a catalogue. There’s a TV with a bunch of devices plugged in, a kitchen that doesn’t look like it gets enough use, and a lot of posters that feel more like they’re taking up space than trying to represent taste.

Em pours out two generous measures of whatever it is he’s stolen—stolen things, he tells her, taste better. He turns on the TV, too, to his Webflix queue, which is easily the most personalized part of his entire living ensemble. She should pick a movie, he says, as he retrieves a baggie of coke and starts spilling out a line.

“I have weed, too, if you’re in the mood for something else,” he volunteers. “No pressure, though.”

Celia: Celia is not familiar with Webflix. She tells him so, but she scrolls through the list of movies anyway while he collects his things, sipping at the drink he’d poured for her. It does taste better.

“Spoken from experience?” She presses play on a movie before she can finish reading the description, and the scene opens with a girl holding a a microphone with an oversized red windscreen. She starts speaking Spanish, the subtitles come up on the screen, but Celia’s eyes drift toward what Em is doing with the lines.

“I’ve never…” she lets the words linger between them. She’d already told him. No pressure, but that’s a lie, isn’t it? “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” She gestures toward whatever it is he’s doing.

Emmett: “Absolutely,” He says to her first question. “Food, money, love—it’s all better when you’re not supposed to have it.”

He smiles approvingly at her other statement. “That’s wise of you. A lot of people don’t know their own limits. Does your back still hurt? Weed can help with that. A lot of people use it as medicine,” he says. “Cancer patients and people with aches.”

Celia: “Do they, or are you just tryin’ to get me high?” The rule are going out the window tonight. She is right: he’s trouble. She’s tempted, and another sip of that drink—“what is this, anyway?”—makes her say yes. She’d like to not be in pain for a little while.

Emmett: He glances at the label. “Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure,” he reads, drawling out an exaggerated French accent to do it justice. “I watered it down a little and dropped a sugar cube in. Good stuff.”

He punctuates his sentence with a snort. He feels like himself again. Except, not like himself. Which is the point. He blinks furiously for a minute, before answering her other question.

“And you know, it’s a little column a, little column b. You’re smart to be weary, but I’m not out to get you. Just to help you unwind.” He glances at the screen. “Huh, Spanish film. Could be fun. I don’t practice enough, anyways.”

He joins her on the couch a few minutes later with a joint and an ashtray. “It won’t take much, so I’ll probably have most of this, but you could get a good puff or two and it’ll be enough for a first high. You’ll cough a bit, that’s normal, so I got you some water.”

He sets the glass down next to her drink. “Just try and inhale deeply and keep the smoke in your lungs. Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at first.”

He’s very motherly about it. He lights the joint first, takes a long puff, shows her how the cherry burns inward steadily, and exhales a small cloud of smoke before offering it to her.

They’re very close. It’s not such a large sofa, but it is comfortable.

It becomes apparent pretty quickly she’s chosen a horror flick. A disease spreads among the tenants of an apartment building that makes them rabid and cannibalistic. It’s an intense film, but maybe more bearable than her reality. Still, he offers to change it, if she wants.

Or he can just hold her hand.

Celia: Did she hear him right? Absinthe? She almost asks if it’s true that it causes hallucinations, but he said that he’d watered it down, and she doesn’t need to look anymore silly than she already does. Hadn’t he once called her a doe? She wonders if he looks at her the same way.

Her gaze is intense as she watches him light the joint, inhale, and blow the smoke out a moment later. When he offers it to her she sets it between her lips and pulls. The smoke hits her throat and burns before it ever gets down into her lungs, and even though she tries to hold it in like he said she starts coughing and sputtering, passing it back to him to free up her hand for the glass of water.

The coughing fit passes. She does better her second time, managing at least to hold it in for a few seconds before her throat starts to tickle and she lets the smoke loose in something that lands firmly between a cough and a laugh.

She tells him she doesn’t feel anything. But by the time the characters in the movie have reached the attic she’s enthralled, and even though she took him up on holding her hand—it’s horror, that’s her excuse and she’s sticking to it—she still jumps when the little boy appears, turning her face into the hollow between his shoulder and neck. She might have even squeaked a little.

And this… this is nice, so she lingers there, with her head on his shoulder, doing her best to ignore the way her stomach flips. She murmurs an apology for the choice in movie, just for something to say, but she’s not sorry. Not sorry at all.

Emmett: He can tell. “It’s okay,” he says anyway.

The movie passes, and when the credit ends he looks at her. “Was tonight fun?”

Celia: “Yes.” She hasn’t moved from her spot. He’s warm. The couch is comfortable. That’s what she tells herself. “Why, is it over?”

Emmett: “Only if you want it to be.” He wraps an arm around her shoulders. “I could call you a cab, or sleep on the couch if you want the bed. Or we can stay up, I suppose. I’m not doing anything tomorrow.”

Celia: “You made me watch a horror movie an’ then you want me to sleep alone in a strange place?” She turns her face toward his. “That’s cruel.”

Emmett: He smiles faintly. “And yet, you don’t want to leave.”

Celia: “The monsters attack girls on their own. It’s a matter of safety.” Her tone implies the unsaid obviously.

Emmett: “The same ones that hide under beds?”

Celia: “And that lurk in the dark, waiting to snatch you up into their arms.” That press a hand to your mouth so you can’t scream. “So you see, if I leave and get got, it’s kind of your fault.”

Emmett: “Get got, look at you,” he chuckles. “I guess that means we should stay here, then. Where it’s safe.”

Celia: “Together though. Otherwise all you’ll hear is a scream, or a thud, or a movie score, and you’ll come looking and find nothing. Then it’s all Detective Em to the rescue. Girl tied up. Battle of good versus evil, winner take all.” She glances at the bottle. “Better to stay here and finish that and maybe smoke a little more. You know,” she looks back to him, lowers her voice, “safe things.”

Emmett: Em looks at her and positively beams. It’s a nice expression on him. “You’re actually a lot of fun when you want to be, Ms. Flores.”

Celia: “All this sweet talkin’, Em, but I can think of better uses for your mouth.”

She leans in. She kisses him.

Emmett: He’s surprised. She can feel it in his shoulders, and in his tongue as it curls reflexively around hers. His mouth tastes like the dinner they shared and absinthe and weed.

It’s good. For a second.

He pulls away, his arm still around her but his eyes sinking to the floor.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t. You wouldn’t like me. In the morning.”

“I don’t want to haunt you.”

Celia: Every single bit of her freezes. Just for an instant. Long enough for him to get his excuses out, and then she’s backpedaling away from him as quickly as her body can take her. Every bit of her is flushed, face red, eyes looking anywhere but at him.


It’s not you, it’s me. Right.

She addresses a lamp when she finally speaks. “I should go.” Her voice is tight.

Emmett: “Celia, please, don’t…”

He stops. Nothing he can say can make it better.

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

Then he says, “I was going to tell you later, but if you’re leaving… there’s somebody you should talk to for help. About your dad.”

“Somebody who can help. And she might.”

“Go to Cécilia. Tell her. Everything. And ask… ask if…” His eyes cloud, and for a moment there’s no other word to describe how he looks.


“Ask if her Maman can help you.”

He looks down again. “Best… best not to mention I sent you.”

Celia: The lamp does not betray the nuances of Em’s face as he speaks. Its shade remains the same unchanging mask, and with each word Celia edges closer and closer toward the door. Her cheeks burn in humiliation. She almost misses his words, so caught up in the story she is telling herself that she isn’t good enough for a man who literally gets paid for it, but Cécilia’s name pulls her out before the downward spiral puts her feet down the stairs.

Her hand is on the knob of the door, freedom a foot away. She finally looks at him in time to see his eyes on the ground. There’s a moment here, a moment where she could just leave. Never talk to him again. Pretend she was too high to know what she was doing. But he dangles the answer in front of her.

Like bait.

She hates him for it. Hates him for waiting until now, when they’d had all night. Now, when she had thrown herself at him, and he told her no. And she hates herself just as much when she opens her mouth and asks,


Emmett: “Because her mother is more dangerous than your father. She’s more dangerous than anybody. And she has influence. Lots of it. She can protect you. She’ll want to, if she knows you’re her daughter’s friend. That your mother was her beloved teacher.”

He takes a breath. “Celia, everything I touch turns to shit. If you knew—”

Celia: “Don’t.” She cuts him off. “I don’t want to know. I don’t—I don’t care.”

It’s a lie, she can hear it in her own voice, of course she wants to know. Why isn’t she good enough? Why, no matter how hard she tries, will she never be good enough?

“Goodbye, Em.”

She flees.

The echo of a broken sob can be heard floating through the door before it closes behind her.

Emmett: He leans back on his couch, alone.

He finishes her drink.

I did the right thing, right? Yeah. I can tell by how it stings.

He does another line of coke, forgets who he is again, and watches another movie.

Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, PM

Celia: Stupid.



The words keep coming. Bombarding her, over and over again. How stupid she is to think that someone like him—smart and funny and experienced—would be interested in her. Her worthlessness. “Better than the rest of them,” he’d said, and isn’t that a load. She’d clung to that. Let it fill her up, let it make her think maybe she wasn’t just one more piece of shit from a fucked up family.

Whore. God, what a whore. She has a boyfriend. A boyfriend that she’s already cheated on. A boyfriend that she would have cheated on again, just to make herself feel better for the night. What will he do if he finds out? He can’t find out. Em has no reason to tell him. Doesn’t even know him. Doesn’t know he exists. What if he does? a nagging voice asks.

She plays the night over in her mind. Every word. Every touch. They’d danced together. Drank together. Smoked together. He’d held her hand during the movie. Fed her. Told her things. Whispered in her ear.

And, oh, that’s the cincher, isn’t it? When he’d held her up in the ballroom and she could pretend that she was some beautiful heiress and he had his arms around her, and he’d leaned in to whisper in her ear, and had done something to her palms with his fingers and she’d let the rest of the world drop away. Even now her stomach flutters.

Why take her back to his place? Why let her in? She replays every moment, everything she said, every slip up and falter and halting word. And that kiss! So clumsy. She should have eased into it. Started with his neck, she’d been right there. She can still taste him, still feel that single moment when it was good before he told her no. Before rejection sank in.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And now he thinks she’s a whore, and she can’t see him again, of course she can’t see him again, that’s just asking for more trouble, and his words hadn’t even sunk in until now—you won’t like me in the morning—but now that they have she remembers other things

that he had said similarly, other self-deprecating remarks, and there’s some absurd part of her that wants to go back and tell him… tell him she knows. She knows how he feels. Fold him into her arms and tell him she’s just as broken as he is and that she gets it, they’re just two sides of the same crazy coin. Apologize for being presumptuous, maybe. Tell him how she’s sabotaging her relationship with Stephen because she doesn’t think she’ll ever be good enough for the lawyer in training, because he’s a good person and she’s… she’s just shit.

Just shit.

Stupid. Worthless. Whore.

Her buzz is wearing off. Coming down. Spiraling, like she is, uncontrollably.

She stops walking. Her eyes scan the street ahead of her, around her, behind her. She should go back. Or go home. Without the weed in her system her body hurts again. Her arm throbs. Her backside is on fire. Her head pounds, too much alcohol and not enough water.

And she… doesn’t quite know where she is. Somewhere in the Quarter? It’s late. Dark. Unfamiliar at this hour. But bars are open, and Emily told her they don’t card here. She can find one, call a ride… and drink while she waits.

She starts walking again, looking for the first open place.

GM: An unassuming, single-story red building swims before her sight. An executioner’s axe hangs from the door.

There’s also another club nearby, with a lurid red neon sign winking out from the dark. Saints and Sinners.

She can ask herself which she is like the answer isn’t obvious.

Celia: Dungeon doesn’t sound like the type of place she is looking for this evening. It doesn’t even look like a bar. Maybe it’s one of those underground sex clubs Miranda mentioned earlier. Regardless, not her scene.

Celia turns away from it, the neon calling to her. This is more what she has in mind, though the question that the name leaves her with makes her feel grimy. She heads inside, looking for an empty seat at the bar. People alone sit at bars, right? Someone had told her that once.

GM: It’s red inside. Red neon lighting, red walls, red upholstery, all in the style of an old brothel. Celia can barely see ahead of her as industrial music pounds in her ears. The smell of sweat, smoke, and alcohol is omnipresent, but the place seems like a bar first and dance club second, with several well-used cruddy tables for dining, all in a typical shotgun-bar arrangement. Patrons are bathed in a sanguine sheen as their bodies writhe and undulate to the music.

There’s food and drinks to order. One of the latter is a ‘sinner.’

There’s also a ‘saint’ if she feels deserving of the name.

Celia: It’s loud. Dark. Crowded. The kind of place she can get lost in. The kind of place she wouldn’t mind going if she didn’t have her arm in a splint and have to keep it cradled against her body, wary of anyone bumping into her, jostling the already delicate skin and bone wrapped around her broken heart.

Sinner, she orders, handing over the cash and a tip, generous enough to make sure she’s attended to without flaunting that she has money. No, she doesn’t want to start a tab, thank you.

GM: The bartender serves it up. Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.

“People here usually try the sinner,” says a curly-haired man in a leather jacket next to Celia.

“Who comes to Bourbon Street feeling like a saint?”

Celia: “No one who lasts long.” Celia sips at the drink. It’s not as good as the Hurricane from earlier, though maybe that’s just the company. “Though maybe if you drink enough of them the name rubs off on you.”

GM: “You look like you’re here because you haven’t drank enough,” smirks the curly-haired man.

“Let’s give you a refill.”

He plucks the drink from Celia’s hand, plants his palm over the rim, and rapidly spins it around several times. He smacks the glass down over the bar’s surface, rim-first, then flips it back up. There’s a wet spot where the rim touched the bar, but the drink is full again.

Celia: Her protest about just receiving the drink are lost amongst the action. She watches him spin and flip and whatever else he just did to her glass, head canted to one side. She takes it back and lets it sit in front of her.

“Let me guess… street magician?”

GM: “Technically not, but I have some friends who are.”

Celia: “No? You just carry around bottles of things in your pockets to impress random girls at the bar?”

GM: “Did you see a bottle?” the man smirks. “It’s magic.”

Celia: “It was already full,” Celia points out, “you aerated it.”

GM: His smirk doesn’t fade. “Get it emptier, then. We’ll see if I can’t do it again.”

Celia: “The problem is,” Celia says with a sigh, waving at the bartender, “you put your palm over the open top, and I don’t know where your hands have been. And here I was, about to ask if you wanted to buy up into a Saint with me.”

GM: He’s pretty cute. Thick and curly dark hair, olive skin, dark brown eyes, light mustache and goatee.

“They’ve been all sorts of sinful places. But they’re germ-free, swear.”

Celia: “Did you know that 80% of men who use the restroom don’t wash their hands afterwards? You reach down there and give it a little shake and don’t wash up. So, really, if you fall in that 80%, then I’ve got your dick in my mouth, and if that’s what you were after…” She slides her eyes down his body, bites her lip. “Well. I need a bit more than a magically refilling drink.”

GM: “Let’s try just more drinks, then,” the man replies in an amused tone, before ordering two more sinners from the bartender. The other man mixes them up and slides them over.

Celia: Celia takes both of the drinks, sliding her old one to her new friend.

“Hate to see the magic go to waste. You put on such a show with it.”

GM: The man takes a long pull from the drink. “Better magic when it’s emptier, anyway.”

He takes another pull. Gets it down to about half.

He picks it up, does the same spins, the same rim smack to the bar, the same flip back up. There’s another wet spot, but the drink is full again.

Celia: Celia follows his lead.

This time, when he does the trick, she’s ready for it. She watches more carefully, eyes following his every move… and still has no idea how he did it when he sets it back down.

“Huh. So what’s the trick? And if you give me that line about magicians and secrets…” she leaves it hanging.

GM: “Every magician has to learn theirs from somewhere, don’t they?”

“You’re right that’s just a line. You just need to butter them up.”

Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind next time I meet someone impressive.” Her smile takes the sting from her words. She finishes her drink, looking at the second. There’s no possible way she can drink that and stay even moderately alert. “Y’think the bartender gets mad when you bring your own, or d’you tip him for the lost sale?”

GM: “That’d be the saint thing to do, but we’re not drinking saints, are we?”

Celia: “Ahh, we’ve come full circle. I think this means we’re at our close.”

GM: “Yes, the bartender’s eventually going to think I’m stealing from him, too.” The man gets up and offers Celia his arm.

Celia: He’s persistent. It’s kind of cute. She swings around on her chair, rising to her feet. She takes his arms between her hands.

“Such a gentleman. Treat all your ladies like this?”

GM: “Just the cute ones,” he answers. He looks amused by how Celia handles his arm, but seems to run with it, and slips his other arm around her waist as he leads her out.

“I’m a thief, by the way. I steal things.”

Celia: “Stolen things taste better,” Celia tells him. “Anything good?”

GM: “Yes. They do,” her agrees.

He opens the door to a shamelessly flashy red sports car with black dice hanging from the mirror.

“I stole this.”

Celia: “Is it still hot? Should I practice my excuses for when we inevitably get pulled over?” She slides in, though.

GM: “Girls usually think it is,” the man smirks as he gets in and twists the keys.

“But I’ll magic us away if we run into cops.”

Celia: “Mmm, you knew what I meant, but thanks for answering my other question on how often you use it as a pickup.”

GM: The man drives.

“So I’m a thief, what are you?”

Celia: “Dancer,” she tells him, because it’s halfway true, and it’s who she wants to be right now.

“Do you have a name, Mister Thief?”

GM: “Chase. Do you have one too, Miss Dancer?”

Celia: “Cici. But if you’re into calling me ‘miss,’ I guess I could make it work.”

Her eyes move to the window, then back to his face. “Are we going back to your secret lair of stolen goods?”

GM: “Yep. You’re the latest one,” he smirks.

Celia: “Do you count me as stolen? I think I got into the car of my own volition. Unless you magicked that, too.”

GM: “I stole you away from that other guy in the bar giving you eyes. Everyone’s a thief in their own way.”

Celia: Other guy? She hadn’t noticed another guy.

“Was he cuter than you? Maybe you should take me back.”

GM: “Too late, you’re stolen. I bet he’s already stealing some other girl right now.”

Celia: “His loss. There was only one prize there tonight.”

GM: “A good thief always knows the best thing to steal.”

They don’t drive for too long long. Chase takes her back to a swanky if somewhat gaudy apartment. The kind that’s filled with expensive things just to fill space: lots of leather furniture, an enormous flatscreen TV and sound system, some kitschy art, and wall-to-ceiling illustrations of palm trees on a sunny beach. There’s also a handsome man on the couch making out with a woman in a slinky club dress.

“Don’t mind us,” Chase says to the hungrily engaged couple. “You want anything else to drink, Cici?”

Celia: She isn’t so sure that she believes his claim of thief until he shows her the apartment. Her eyes take it in, every ostentatious piece of furniture and electronics. Even the rug looks expensive, if tacky, and Celia—used to more refined taste—spots it for what it is.

Desperation. The need to fit in. To be accepted.

It’s like a perfume clinging to his entire apartment. It follows her in, past the couple on the couch—also tacky—and into the kitchen where she watches him ready the drink she’d asked for. Bourbon. Neat. With a drop of distilled or spring water, if he has it. Cici seems like the kind of girl to drink bourbon.

GM: Chase purs two and slides them over the kitchen’s granite top island. They drink a bit, then he starts making out with her.

Celia: It’s not the same. It’s not the same when she isn’t into him, when he’s just a stranger in a bar. His goatee tickles her skin, and it’s not bad, but he doesn’t taste like absinthe and weed and dinner. Still, she lets him push her back against the counter, lets him lift her onto it with her knees on either side of his waist. Cici is bold. She has his shirt off before she even realizes she’s reached for it.

GM: The man’s pants come off soon, too, along with Cici’s clothing. The cold countertop isn’t comfortable, but Chase seems into it. There’s something transgressive about doing this with another couple so nearby.

The sex is mind-blowingly good. Chase teases and touches her in all the right places in all the right ways, and might actually give her mom a run for her money at flexibility. Cici feels like she’s on fire. Stephen’s touch seems almost clumsily amateurish by way of comparison.

Celia: Celia comes apart in his arms. Undone. She’d thought it was the alcohol that lowered her inhibitions enough to follow this stranger home, but she knows now it was just him. Her previously-held notions of him fly out the window when he touches her, and by the time they’re done she is a quivering mess of nerves and satisfaction. She isn’t quiet. Cici isn’t a quiet girl. Cici doesn’t mind that the other couple might hear her, that they might judge her. Cici doesn’t follow rules, so she doesn’t care. Even the counter, digging into her in all the wrong ways, is not enough to pull her from euphoric bliss when it’s over. On fire, indeed. Every single bit of her. Everywhere he touched.

She wants to say something when it’s done. ‘Wow’ or ‘Fuck’ or some other epitaph that will get her meaning across, but none seem fitting, and his ego is large enough. She just leans back on the counter instead, head resting against a cabinet, and thinks it to herself. Wow. Fucking wow.

GM: Chase might say something.

Then it all crashes down like a hammer blow. The almost consecutive 24 hours she’s been awake. The injuries. The stress. The fear. The guilt. All those drinks she had. All that sex she just had.

Celia’s out like a light.

Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, AM

GM: Celia wakes up. She’s in a waterbed, if the bouncy feel is any indication. She feels almost as exhausted as she did when she passed out. Actually, she feels even more exhausted. Her eyelids are like visors.

She hears voices in the distance.

“How could you do this in my place?” Male.

“It’s his fault.” Female.

“You always say that.” Male.

“I told him we were done. He couldn’t take no for an answer.” Female.

“So it isn’t your fault.” Male.

“He was a scumbag.” A pause. “Too bad, though. He was cute.” Female.

“Well I’m so fucking happy he was a scumbag.” Male.

“Aren’t you?” Female.

“Yes. Così fottutamente felice!” Male.

“You’ve got spaghetti in your mouth again.” Female.

“What? You can’t tell from this delighted face how fucking happy I am? For this to happen in my fucking place?” Male.

“You’re so much less sexy when you’re mad.” Female.

Celia: Waterbed. Do people still have waterbeds? Maybe she went back in time. Voices drift toward her from the other room. Chase. She recognizes his voice. Is this his bed? He put her to bed? That’s sweet.

Until it hits her that she’s sober. That she left Em’s house and picked up a guy at the bar—or rather, let him pick up her. With magic tricks. A thief. He’s a thief. Stolen car. She has a boyfriend.

He fucked her on the counter.

And it was good.

Is her face red? She’s sure that it’s red. She doesn’t sit up, not yet, but she cracks her eyes to look around the room.

GM: It’s similar to the rest of the house. There’s a zebra print rug along the floor, bright red drapes, a second flatscreen TV in front of the bed, and several retro lava lamps and ‘80s modern art paintings that look decidedly at odds with some neoclassical statues and paintings. Assorted expensive-looking clothes and dollar bills are thoughtlessly strewn over the floor, along with Celia’s clothes, a pack of playing cards, some golden dice, a pair of handcuffs, and a handgun.

It’s tacky and completely unashamed of what it is.

“Oh, looking sexy for you. That’s exactly what I fucking want to do right now.” Male.

Celia: Oh. There’s her dress. And panties. And a gun. Her gun?

GM: It looks like a different gun.

“We could clean this up in half the time it’s taken you to bitch about it.” Female.

Celia: She sits up. Her eyes slide toward the door. She goes about getting up as quietly as she can, aware that her arm and welt-covered ass are doing her very little favors in that department, and reaches for her clothing.

The handcuffs catch her eye. Cop? Or sex toy? Cici would know. But Cici isn’t real, and Celia doesn’t know.

She pads toward the door, sans clothing… and stops at the mention of cleaning.

Cleaning. Scumbag. Do this in my place.

Oh my god is there a body out there?

She edges back toward the bed. There’s a dead body out there. Someone killed someone. That has to be it. Has to be. And any moment he’s going to remember the girl in his bed. And she saw all of their faces, all of them, and he’s going to… to… oh my god oh my god oh my god.

She doesn’t want to die. She presses a hand over her own mouth to keep her breathing quiet. She reaches for her clothing. Maybe the window? Fire escape? But then he’ll come after her. And catch her. And throw her over his shoulder and—stop it.

Go back to bed. Right? Pretend to sleep? So he can come in and murder her while she’s helpless.

Her brain spins. She searches for her phone.

GM: She finds it with her purse, which looks like it’s been rummaged through. Chase didn’t even bother to put her ID back in her wallet after taking it out.

“We wouldn’t have to clean this up if you hadn’t lost your shit! I hate doing this!” Male.

“My god, you can steal the glasses off somebody’s nose, bu-” Female.

“You clean this up! It’s not my fucking problem!” Male.

Celia: Oh my god he knows who I am.

She doesn’t bother searching it. He can keep the cash, she can cancel her cards. She reaches for her clothing, pulling the dress over her head, and slides the panties up her legs. She eyes the gun. After a second of hesitation she reaches for that, too.

Window or door? Not that it’s any good. He knows who she is. He’s going to come after her. But she didn’t do anything. Or see anything. Or hear anything. Right? She can play stupid. She’s so very, very good at playing stupid. She silences her phone, just in case, and moves to the window to check for a way down.

GM: Celia sees a rickety-looking fire escape.

Because you are stupid, whispers her dad’s voice.

“It’s in your living room. By my count, that does make it your fucking problem.” Female.

“Because of you!” Male.

Celia: Fire escape. Better than a handful of scarves, right? She opens the window.

GM: It’s awkward to manage with one hand, but no more than getting dressed was. The window slides open.

“Did you hear that?” asks the female voice.

Celia: Fuck. Celia doesn’t linger. She squeezes through the window until she is outside on the fire escape. Please don’t break please don’t break please don’t break. She tucks the gun into her purse, clutching it with her good hand just in case, and starts down the stairs as quietly as she can manage.

GM: “Oh, great. Another loose end.” Male.

“So whose fucking problem is this?” Female.

“Mine.” Male.

The rickety metal stairs creek under Celia’s feet.

“Your toy from earlier?” Female.

“Probably.” Male. “Race you.”

“How big a head start should we give her?” Female.

“Ten seconds. I don’t want her to get too far.” Male.

“She had a broken arm.” Female.

“A broken arm isn’t a broken leg.” Male.

“Your intellect knows no bounds. She still had to get the window open, genius.” Female.

“Come on, this is getting fun again.” Male.

“Fine, ten seconds from now.” Female.

“You’re so hot when you get that look.” Male.

Celia: She’s dead. She knows it. One mistake and she’s dead.

She slows her breathing as best she can, makes a mental tally of her options: give up and die. Jump over the fire escape and break her legs and die. Open this window and alert them to the fact that she’s here and die. Call out to them and die.

She slides her hand into her purse and her fingers close around the bottle of foundation she keeps there for on-the-go touchups. It’s full. Heavy. It’ll make a loud noise when she throws it, and the glass will explode. Maybe they’ll go right past her. How? There’s only one way down, stupid.

Maybe if it was just one of them. Maybe if it was just him.

“Chase,” she calls up.

She closes her eyes. Waits half a second.

“That’s your name, yeah? What if you show me how you got that name. Just you. Teams isn’t fair, you know.”

GM: “We aren’t racing you, we’re racing each other,” Chase calls down. “I’m sorry, but you don’t have a chance.”

Celia: “So, so more time? No shoes, sounds like a minute-worthy head start.”

GM: “Oh, moxie,” purrs the woman. “That’s fun.”

Celia: “I don’t stand a chance anyway, right?”

Oh my god I’m going to die.

GM: “I’ll chase her. I’m in heels, that should make it sporting.” The woman.

Celia: “His toy, though.”

GM: “Too bad, you’re mine now.” The woman.

“Heels doesn’t make it sporting.” Chase.

“She thinks so.” The woman.

“She didn’t say that.” Chase.

Celia: “I agree with Chase.” She raises her voice to cover the sound of her steps.

GM: “She’s getting away.” Chase.

There’s a crashing noise from above.

“You’re starting shit over this?” Chase.

“I said she’s mine.” The woman.

“What the fuck is she to you?” Chase.

“I’m not repeating myself. We can’t even have fun without you bitching about it.” The woman.

“Fine, go catch her if it makes you happy.” Chase.

Celia: “No balls,” she calls up. And bolts.

GM: Her foot catches on a stair. She trips and sprawls into waiting arms.

Her ‘rescuer’ is tall even without heels, dark-skinned, and long-haired, with a slender but curvaceous build. The woman’s eyes glitter with amusement as she holds Celia close, then leans in to sniff the college girl’s hair like she’s inhaling a bouquet.

“Mmm, don’t you smell… exciting. What’s your perfume, little girl?”

She runs a long-nailed hand along Celia’s cheek.

“Scream, by the way, and you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

Celia: She hadn’t even heard her. Hadn’t seen her. But there she is, a shadow in front of her, some sort of twisted knight in shining armor that kept her from toppling down the stairs.

She isn’t sure that she prefers this to a broken neck.

“Sycomore,” she finds herself saying. “It just came out.” She’s a little breathless. She believes the threat, so she doesn’t scream. “I—I have a bottle in my purse. For you. For winning your race.”

GM: “I didn’t win. He didn’t run,” says the woman.

“She means against her,” calls Chase.

“That doesn’t count,” sniffs the woman. She hefts Celia up in her arms like she’s a six-year-old, one arm around her back and the other under her legs, then carries her up the rickety fire escape.

She doesn’t seem at all bothered to be doing so in sky-high club heels.

Celia: “Best two out of three?” Celia offers. “Flat ground, maybe, I could find some shoes. We could wait until my arm isn’t broken.” Her heart thuds in her chest.

GM: The woman gives no response to the offer. Chase is waiting to gallantly take Celia’s hand in his and help her through the window even as the woman pushes Celia through by her back. Chase takes the woman’s hand too. She doesn’t clamber through the window so much as slide through it, all long legs and languid grace that doesn’t seem to find any of the process awkward. She hefts Celia back up in her arms and pats her head.

“You’ve been a bad girl, snooping like you did.”

Chase closes the window. “How much did you hear?”

“She heard enough to make a break for it,” the woman says as they walk back into the living room.

The coppery odor is strong from a distance and overwhelming up close. The man from last night is slumped over one of the expensive rugs, face-down. The rug is very wet and very red. The man does not move.

The woman sits down on the sofa and sets Celia on her lap. She nuzzles the back of Celia’s head and licks her cheek.

“Oh, you are scared. I can taste it on you.”

“She’s a cute little toy,” the woman remarks to Chase. “You’ve always had good taste in toys.”

“I’ve always had good taste in everything,” the man smirks as he plops down on a nearby chair, kicking up his feet over the glass table.

Celia: Oh. Oh God. She was right. There’s a body. There’s a body and they caught her and they brought her back to the scene, and this woman is carrying her like she weighs nothing, and she’s going to end up just like him and all she wanted was to forget her problems for a tiny minute at a bar with a stranger and now she’s in the middle of a murder scene and there is blood everywhere and somewhere off in the distance she can hear her mother screaming and—

She thinks she might be sick. Her stomach flips. Ties itself in knots. And not for a good reason, like his hands on her or the counter or Em’s whisper in her ear.

“I heard—” she falters. “I just heard arguing.” There’s no point in lying, is there? “And ‘clean it up.’ And—and I thought, well, that’s my cue, I hate cleaning. Ha. Ha…”

Her laugh is thin. It cuts off abruptly. She can’t help the tremors in her hands.

“Just a… just a big misunderstanding. Ha. Whoops. But, hey, make sure you… you blot, don’t scrub, you know?”

GM: Chase laughs.

The woman laughs too.

“You’re so scared,” croons the woman. “A cute little toy like you shouldn’t be scared. You’re with friends. You should relax. You should be happy.”

She lifts up Celia’s dress and starts massaging her clit. The woman’s other hand pinches Celia’s nipples and kneads her breasts.

“Make happy noises, little toy.”

Celia: She can’t make happy noises. She’s exposed, Chase can see her, and this woman whose name she doesn’t even know is touching her, and they’re going to rape her and murder her and it’s the only thing she can think about.

She squeezes her eyes closed. She won’t cry. She won’t die crying. And she won’t be their toy, either, she won’t just let them fuck her and strangle her and roll her up in the wet, red rug with that guy.

She bites her lip. Shakes her head.

GM: “Oh? Does that not feel good?” croons the woman.

“We just want you to relax. Wouldn’t it be nice to relax?”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to be scared about anything? If you could just… be… happy?”

The woman’s touch is like lightning as her fingers continue to dextrously massage and pleasure Celia’s most intimate spots. She can feel the wetness between her legs, her nipples growing firm, and color rising to her cheeks.

“Just relax, little toy,” purrs the woman. “We don’t want to hurt you. We’d never want to hurt a cute and spunky little thing like you.”

“You’re so thoughtful, to give me some of your perfume like that. You smell so nice. You’ve got such a cute, doll-like little face.” She pinches Celia’s cheek, then re-pinches her nipples as she bounces Celia up and down on her knee like she’s a toddler.

“We just want you to be happy. Make happy noises. Show us you’re a happy little toy.”

Celia: The woman knows what she’s doing. Celia lets her head drop back onto her shoulder, lips parted, thighs spreading. She makes the noises that the woman wants. She can’t help it. It’s a little sigh at first, then a very quiet gasp—just a sharp intake of breath—and something that’s somewhere between whimper and moan. Her cheeks burn. She keeps her eyes closed, as if that makes this all okay.

GM: “There we go,” the woman purrs in an almost proud voice. “I knew you could do it.”

She bounces Celia up and down in that toddler-like fashion, faster, then slides a finger up her vagina. The woman’s nails are very long. Celia might normally wince at that prospect, but she doesn’t feel anything cut her.

“There’s a happy little toy,” the woman smiles. Celia can hear it in her voice. “Can you nod for us? How happy you are?”

“Nod as fast as you can, to show us how happy you are.”

Celia: There is no getting lost in the moment for Celia. She can’t forget where she is or who she’s with or what is lying five feet from her, or that those fingers inside of her belong to someone she doesn’t know.

If I make them happy by being happy, do I get out of this alive? It’s the only thought on her mind. Her body betrays her, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes as she forces herself to nod, to nod fast, because that’s what this woman wants.

It’s a sight. A crying, humiliated Celia bobbing her head up and down as if it will keep her safe, her legs spread to either side of this woman’s hand, her teeth digging into her lip to keep her from pleading with her to stop, please.

GM: The woman slips another finger up Celia’s vagina. She can feel the climax involuntarily building as the woman steadily works back and forth, then gives a tsk.

“Oh, but you’re crying! I don’t think you’re relaxed after all, little toy. I’m so sorry. We just want you to be happy.”

She pulls out her fingers, stops massaging Celia’s breasts, stops bouncing her up and down. She touches a finger to Celia’s lips. She can smell her juices on the woman’s nails.

“Can you tell us? What would make you happy?”

Celia: There’s some small, primal part of her brain that misses the fingers as soon as they’re gone. She makes a sound—something like discontent—before she realizes what she’s doing.

What does she want? What will make her happy? It’s on the tip of her tongue to beg for her life. To ask them not to hurt her. Not to kill her. To cover her bases. But the woman’s voice from earlier cuts in. Moxie, that’s fun. And she’s dead anyway. She knows it. They know it. They’re just toying with her. They’re going to use her and kill her, and asking them not to won’t make it stop.

Whore, says a voice in her head. It’s easier to ignore this time. Easier to ignore as she turns, as if to whisper to the woman, and instead presses her lips against her cheek, then the corner of her mouth, then her lips fully. She extends a hand behind her, an open invitation to Chase.

If she’s going to go out, she might as well go out swinging.

GM: There’s a lusty growl from Chase as he rises from his chair. The woman doesn’t return her kisses so much as devour them, her lips like finger as her tongue hungrily collides against Celia’s. She feels Chase’s hands rapidly kneading her breasts like he did last night, then the woman literally tearing off her dress with a loud rip. Chase suddenly yanks out the cushion from beneath the two. Celia hits the rug-covered floor with a thump, sending a jolt of pain through her splint arm. The blood smells even stronger up close. The woman twists in mid-air and lands on her palms and haunches like a cat, actually growling. She throws Chase to the floor next to Celia and pounces on them both, painfully cracking their heads together with her hands as her tongue darts in and out of one mouth to the next.

Chase kicks the woman’s legs out from under her, grabs her wrists, and pins her underneath him as he hungrily devours her face. Celia hears skin tearing and smells more blood.

The woman kisses Chase back, then kicks him in the balls. He gives a strangled scream as she throws him off, then tackles him to the ground under her, ripping his clothes as she does.

Celia: Her head throbs from where she’d been smacked against him.

Now seems like a good time to run. They’re distracted. Clawing at each other. Someone is bleeding. He bit her. Have they forgotten about her? Her dress is in tatters, though, and there is blood…. blood on her. Because the body is right next to her. She shifts away from it. Her head spins. She waits. Waits for the right moment to go. When he’s inside of her, maybe, and they’re consumed with each other.

GM: Chase punches the woman in the nose. Celia hears a gruesome crunch, then more blood spurting over his fists. She reels back as Chase grabs Celia and buries his face in her chest, his tongue licking the flesh between her breasts, until the woman yanks him back away and smashes his head against the floor. There’s more blood.

The pair snarl and growl like beasts, straddling each other, hungrily kissing , punching, tackling, kicking, biting. So much biting. Blood gets everywhere. Their clothes are soon reduced to tatters. It looks like they’re trying to kill each other—and like it turns them the hell on.

They never penetrate each other. They just hiss, kiss, and fight. They pull in Celia, a few times, but soon appear to forget about her. She simply can’t keep up. She’s never seen anything like this. It’s like watching rabid animals mate, not people.

But they have the minds of people, even if they have the instincts and savagery of animals. There’s no animal that would grab the corpse and force its fingers up Chase’s asshole like the woman does, or that would shove its flaccid manhood up her vagina like Chase does.

They kick over the furniture. They smash the table. They shred the rug. The chemistry between the two is pure electric as they bloodily fuck all of their bickering out, all without actually fucking.

Celia: It’s the crunch that does her in. The sickening crunch that reminds her of that night six years ago. Her mom’s face hitting the floor. She reels backwards, scrambling to get out of their way, to avoid the mess, to avoid the bloodshed, to avoid them. Before she can get too far she’s dragged back in, spit back out. She can’t keep up, just another momentary toy. And then they reach for the corpse. Horror overwhelms her. She’s on her feet in a second, running toward the door.

There’s a pile next to the couch. Dark clothing, her purse. She snatches it all up on her way out the door. She doesn’t care whose it is or what it is, she’ll sort it out when she gets outside. The sounds of their violent fucking follows her out. She keeps running, not pausing until she is some distance away before she pulls on the jacket, slides the pants up her legs. It’s all too big.

She doesn’t care.

She just runs for her fucking life.

Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, AM

Celia: She digs her phone out of her purse while she runs. Dials Em’s number. He’s the only one she trusts to be up at this time of night.

Emmett: Meanwhile, Em’s trying to sleep. He’s trying really hard to sleep. He’s trying super hard to sleep. He should sleep. There’s absolutely no reason to be awake, or alive, or even sentient. He’s facedown in the bed and everything.

But for some reason, it just isn’t taking.

Oh, well. Time for another line off his dresser.

Then his phone buzzes.

Okay, he can do that to.

Celia: Please pick up please pick up please pick up.

Emmett: He lets it ring a few times.

He doesn’t want to seem desperate.

Finishes his line.

Celia: She keeps running, casting a glance over her shoulder. There’s no answer. For too long. Is he asleep?

Emmett: Then he picks up. Like a moment before it would go to voicemail.


Celia: She almost cries in relief at his voice.

“Em, Em, I need you, please, help, there are these things—” none of it makes sense. Her words come out in a rush, tumbling over each other. Where is she?

GM: She looks like she’s in Faubourg Marigny. Actually not that distant from her mom’s apartment. It’s really late, though. There’s not even any partygoers out around the gay clubs anymore. Last call must have been some time ago at the bars. The city seems dead and asleep.

Emmett: “Wait, wait what. Where are you.” He can hear the fan in the next room slicing through the air, shh-shhh-shhing. He thinks he can hear the dust bunnies under his bed fucking. He’s turned the light off, but everything’s still too bright.

“Things?” he asks, lamely.

Celia: “Marigny,” she gets out, somewhere amidst the chaos of the rest of what she’s spewing. “They killed someone, they killed him, there was a body, they’re going to kill me, they know who I am—” she struggles to breathe. “Please, Em.”

Emmett: “I’m coming,” he says, instantly. “Find me an intersection, I’ll tell you where to go and I’ll meet you in a car.” He’s sprinting towards his door, grabbing keys to the car he bought as an impulse a month ago.

I don’t know if I’m fucked up enough for this.

Celia: Relief hits her. He’s coming. Even after tonight, he’s coming. She continues to run, clutching at her side with her broken arm. Her ass is on fire. She doesn’t care.

“Dauphine,” she gets out, “and Frenchman. There’s a—there’s a park.”

No one is out. She looks over her shoulder again. Just in case. Maybe she should find other people. A bar. A crowd. No, that’s what got her into this.

“Please hurry.”

Emmett: “Get to that park and cross it. You should see Rampart. I’ll meet you there. Five minutes. You’ll make it. Okay?”

His engine turns over.

He knows these streets. He remembers the last time he drove them in the middle of the night, the other time things went completely to shit.

There was a screaming girl then, too.

Tonight won’t be like that.

He drives almost as fast as he thinks.

Celia: Cross the park. Look for Rampart. She doesn’t know what Rampart is, if it’s a street or a bar or a museum—hadn’t he had a thing for museums?—and even though he’s on his way she doesn’t think it will be in time. She presses the phone to her ear as if that will make him drive faster. She has to pause to catch her breath. Her eyes scan the streets. She still has the gun. The stolen gun. A hysterical giggle bubbles up and she presses her lips together to keep it trapped.

Emmett: He drives the empty streets, his phone on speaker in his lap. Beneath the starless sky, the city could belong to ghosts.

He talks to her as he drives. Asks her to describe where she is, asks about landmarks, tries to keep her calm.

It isn’t so long before his car rounds the corner, headlights bright and searching.

But it feels like a lifetime. Maybe hers.

Celia: She paces, jumping at every shadow, every noise. His chatter helps, but does little to calm the pounding of her heart. Any moment she expects to see the set of killers come around the corner to finish her off, and what’s her excuse this time? A pair of headlights swing past her and she’s a frozen silhouette until she sees Em behind the wheel. She doesn’t so much climb in as she does fall, tripping over her own feet in her haste to get in the car. She tells begs, really him to drive.

She doesn’t remember the drive back to his place, or getting into his house. She doesn’t say anything until they’re securely locked inside and he can see, for the first time, her wide, rolling eyes, unkempt hair, swollen lips. Her face is striped with tear tracks that cut through her foundation, black streaks of mascara, and something red. An ill fitting man’s suit jacket is hanging off of her shoulders, and even though she holds it closed with one hand and a press of her arms it still gapes open at her stomach. There’s nothing underneath. The pants threaten to slide down her legs with every step, and her bare feet poke out from the bottom. She smells like sex and blood and fear.

“Th-they killed —” She can’t even get the words out.

Emmett: He drives, and he drives fast.

When they’re inside he walks her to the couch, the same one they sprawled over just hours ago.

He looks her over once, his pupils too big again. There’s some muted shock and concern in his eyes, but what might strike Celia the most is the resigned familiarity of his expression.

This has happened before.

You’re bad seed, says Ron’s voice.

He starts a kettle boiling for tea. He almost never drinks it himself, but its good to have.

He sits down with her on the couch, listens to her trying to explain.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m really sorry.”

For hurting you. For making you walk into a real horror movie.

Detective Em, to the rescue.

“I have—there’s a shower.”

“And clothes.”

“Some panties and a dress and stuff, for—you know.”

She can wear his whoring clothes, he doesn’t say.

He makes sure she sees him lock the door, and draw a heavy deadbolt across it.

Celia: She doesn’t know how to explain. She lets him lead her around, over to the couch, clutches the mug of tea between her hands. Draws her knees up to her chest. Her shoulders hunch inward, folding under the blows of the evening.

“They killed him,” she finally gets out. “And they they wanted to there was blood everywhere, so much blood, and they were yelling, and I went out the window, and she pulled me back in, and they tried to she touched me.” Her body shudders. There’s more that’s unsaid. She can’t get the words right.

“It’s his suit,” she looks down at it, eyes wide, “he’s dead and I took it and he was on the couch and there was so much blood.”

Emmett: “Okay,” he says. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.”

Murder. Rape. Bodies. All of it so, so familiar.

“Where… where did things go wrong?” he asks. “We don’t have to talk about it, if it hurts to. Or you can. I… I’m so sorry I made you leave.”

Maybe she can blame him. That might make her feel better.

Celia: Safe. She’s not safe. They know who she is. They saw her ID.

She tells him that. Tells him that she can’t go home, that they went through her purse, that they saw her license, her address, her real name. She can’t go to her mom’s. Her dad’s. The dorm. Loose end, they’d called her.

She doesn’t want to tell him about the bar. About sleeping with him. But she does, slowly, her words fragmented at best. Bar. Drinks. Magic tricks. Stolen car. Sex. God, the sex. She downplays the sex, but it’s there on her face: how good it was. Falling asleep, then waking up in his bed. The argument, gun, handcuffs. Her flight down the stairs.

“I j-just wanted to be Cici.” Try on something new. Like a mask. And it had gone well… until it hadn’t.

“He bit her. Like… animals. Clawing. Biting.” Blood. So much blood.

“They fucked the dead guy.”

Emmett: He pours himself a drink as she talks. And one for her, too, when she’s done with the tea.

A part of him, absurdly, irrationally, finds himself growing jealous as she talks about the sex. But the jealousy is nothing next to the guilt. Nothing.

“I know,” he says when she talks about wanting to be somebody else. “I know. God, do I know. I’m so sorry, Cici.”

Em doesn’t have anything to say about the biting. The descriptions. The necrophilia. What is there to say?

But he recognizes that, too.

Poison eyes stare at him from the bottom of his glass.

“There are… things,” he tells her. “In this city. That don’t make sense. That are evil. I mean, I’m a little evil, maybe, but they’re… they’re monsters. It isn’t in your head. I’m sorry, C.”

GM: Poison eyes.

And a woman’s high, fluttering laughter.

Celia: Monsters. She knows monsters. The thing in the darkness with her dad’s voice. The simulacrum that isn’t a real man, just an approximation of one. The arms around her from behind.

She closes her eyes. She doesn’t want it to be real. It can’t be real. What he’s talking about it can’t exist. Monsters. Ghosts. No.

She downs her drink. Doesn’t taste it, doesn’t ask what it is, doesn’t care. It’s gone. It helps, but only a little, because she can still feel the hands on her, their laughter. Make happy noises. Rape. That’s what that was. The word is ugly and she’s ugly now, too. She wipes at her face.

“Shower?” She needs to get out of this clothing. To get rid of the blood. To let the water scald her until she’s clean again.

She’ll never be clean again.

She follows his direction to the bathroom, strips from the dead man’s clothing, turns the water on until steam fills the small room. She’s afraid to be alone, afraid that they followed her here, that they’ll yank back the curtain and find her naked or she’ll come out to see Em dead on the couch. Fucking his corpse. And she’ll know that she did that, too, that she lead them right to him.

She comes out with just a towel. The blood is gone. Her face is bare. She can still smell it, though, the coppery tang. Wet hair drips down her back. She rejoins him on the couch, picks up her refilled drink, knocks it back, and reaches for the bottle.

“Tell me,” she says, “about the monsters.”

Emmett: “Go easy, okay?” Em tells her. He’s sitting where he was before, but he looks like he’s been thinking. He also does not look like he’s been following his own advice. “And… I don’t know a lot. I just know that I’ve met one, or maybe two, before. And that they can… do things.”

He’s quiet for a moment. “The reason I wanted to send you to Cécilia’s mother… she’s not human. She told me so, herself once. And she did things… I think she’s the reason Miranda’s in a wheelchair, because I asked her to look at a diary I had stolen from Cécilia. She’s not human, but she… she looks out for her family. She was willing to help me, when it looked like I was a good boyfriend for her daughter, even though she knew who I was.” He swallows. “And… one night, a little after…”

But he hasn’t ever talked about that night. And he isn’t sure he wants to now.

“I did bad things,” he whispers. “And a monster came, and she helped me undo them. But I had to kill somebody to do it. They’re sick. Turned on by, by pain. Death. Blood. All of it. I don’t know what they are. But I think they’re powerful. The second one, she had connections with cops. Mobsters.”

Celia: It can’t be real. It can’t be. She listens, and as she listens her curiosity turns to wonder, then to dread. Turned on by pain, death, blood.

Her eyes close. She knew. She knew, shew knew, she knew. She breathes in deeply, sharply, because that’s all she can do, because somewhere someone is screaming and her ears are ringing and she knew.

Monsters are real, Celia, and they know where you live.

“When I was a kid,” she tells him, “my sister said there was a monster under her bed.” But he wasn’t under her bed. He was downstairs, with Daddy. “He came back the night—the attack.” She presses her palms into her eyes. “There was blood. And screaming. And he he put me in bed, and told me…”

Told her it was all okay. But it wasn’t okay.

“What am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?” Her voice is small. She’s just a kid again, looking up at the thing in the darkness with her father’s voice. The thing that has been in her dreams for years. The thing that pressed a gun into her hands and told her it was the only way out.

“Clothes,” she repeats absently, nodding. Shirt, yes, she’d like a shirt, pants.

Emmett: He looks at her, all washed clean but somehow still dirty from everything. The towel wrapped around her. Her eyes, too dangerous to look into in case they see too much of him.

“I have clothes,” he says again. “I can get them for you.”

Celia: His words take a moment to sink in. She lowers her hands, looking to him with wide eyes. He killed someone? He killed someone. He’s a… he’s a murderer. Or a monster? Is that how he knows so much?

She swallows hard. The lump in her throat barely moves. Her mouth is dry.

“Y-you… you killed…?”

Emmett: “Yeah,” he says as he comes back from his room with folded bundles in his arms. “I did. My cousin. Because he did something I couldn’t live with. It was… it was a bad night.”

He sounds resigned to her horror, resigned to her disgust, as he sets the offerings down.

There’s a dress, which she recognizes from the picture she showed him at their first meeting, all that time ago when things were so much simpler. The one his client liked to fuck him in. It’s been well cared for, and doesn’t look like it’s been worn for a few weeks. There’s a set of panties and a bra, too, though he realizes lamely as he sets them down he has no idea if they’ll fit her. If she doesn’t want those, he also brings his own clothes. An old, clean-smelling Brother Martin’s sweatshirt. Boxers. Sweatpants. Maybe unstylish, but comfortable. Safe-feeling.

He waits a moment after putting it all down, then realizes he probably should have sent her to his room with the clothes there already.

“I’ll, um, go in my room. Just knock, when you’re ready.”

Celia: He killed his cousin. The words are like a hammer blow to her already fragile psyche. He killed his cousin. Dead. A man is dead because of Em. And when things got tough, he was the one she ran to. Twice. Is he laughing at her? Stupid, stupid Celia running right into the arms of a murderer.

She waits for him to walk away before she pulls the clothing on. Nothing she would normally wear, and they swallow up her small frame, but the clothes don’t belong to a dead man. Just a killer. She thinks that might be better, maybe.

It’s Em, she tells herself. She plays his words over in her mind, things he’s said, the way he clearly hates himself. Guilt. Remorse. Shame. He had to do it, to fix whatever else he’d done.

She hangs the towel back in the bathroom on her way to his door, knocks twice, lets herself in.

“He had handcuffs. In his room. The… the thing.” Cops, he’d said. “I took his gun.”

Cops and mobsters.

“My boyfriend—” she tries not to flinch. Stephen. “—his family has a thing with the Mafia. He’s being stalked. A girl. D’you think..?”

Emmett: “I don’t know,” he says simply. “Just… don’t know.”

“I know you’re scared to go home right now. You can stay here as long as you need to. Or with your boyfriend, if you can. I would… I would really, really consider calling Cécilia. Telling her what happened to you. Trust her. If you were close to her, and she’s the person I knew her to be…she’ll want to help you. You can just tell her about the abuse, if you like, or the monsters. I don’t know how much she knows about what her mother is. I just… there’s a lot I don’t know. I wish I could help you more.”

He sits on his bed, a single tear drying halfway down his face. “Everything I touch turns to shit. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Celia: “That was my next question,” she admits, “about Cécilia.” How will she bring it up? Hey so I heard your mother is a monster.

She watches him for a moment, her jaw tight. He’s not a monster. She knows it, deep in her gut. He’s just like her. Hurting. She crosses the room to sit beside him. For half a second she remembers the way he’d turned her down earlier, and she hesitates, but in the end she reaches out. She tugs him toward her.

“This,” she says to him, “is not your fault.”

Emmett: “I scared you away,” he whispers, as he collapses under the accumulated weight of his intoxication and stress, lets himself be tugged limply into her embrace. “I made you go. I’m sorry.”

He ends up hugging her, almost clinging to her. “I didn’t want to hurt you. But I hurt everyone.”

Celia: “You also came to get me,” she points out quietly. She runs her fingers through his hair, pressing his face against her chest. There’s nothing sexual about it. “You came to get me when I called. They would have found me. I’d be dead. You saved me.”

Emmett: His breathing steadies slowly over a minute or two of her consoling him, and he blinks away the tears he doesn’t have a right to in the first place.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay, yeah, I, I’m too fucked up for for this. Let’s… let’s wait for the day. Safer then. And then you can go home, and figure things out. I don’t have much I can do for you. But I’m here. And anything I have, is yours.”

Celia: Celia kisses his cheek. It’s platonic. There’s no flutter in her stomach anymore, not after this evening. She admits, quietly, that she doesn’t want to sleep alone, and asks if he’d mind if she slept in here with him, promising that she isn’t going to try anything, that she just… thinks they could both use the company.

Emmett: He agrees, He doesn’t want to be alone either.

There’s no sex to it, their huddled warmth under the blankets, their arms and legs and PJs mingling. Just two frightened children hoping the monsters won’t find them tonight.

But for all that, it isn’t bad.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Ten, Caroline I, Celia VIII, Emmett III
Next, by Narrative: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V

Previous, by Celia: Story Ten, Caroline I, Celia VIII, Emmett III
Next, by Celia: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V

Previous, by Emmett: Story Ten, Caroline I, Celia VIII, Emmett III
Next, by Emmett: Story Ten, Celia X, Emil I, Emmett V