26. OPEN DOORWAY, CLOSED BORDERS
He had been wandering aimlessly for a long time now, just going through hallways and corridors until going out of the hotel. He stopped at the entrance to watch the moon rising, and eventually continued down a random road, just to get away for a while.
However, as soon as he reached the corner, someone stepped out of it so out of the blue that he raised his hands automatically in a defensive way.
“Easy, demon boy. I come in peace.”
Demian lowered his hands after realizing it was Frank, though not letting his guard down. He never knew what to expect from him: one moment he was vowing to kill him given the chance, and on the other he was passing him the ball when nobody else did.
“Mitchell and I are planning to go for a drink not far from here,” Frank said casually, with his hands in his pockets. “So, I thought you might want to join us.”
“Did Mitchell ask you to invite me?” Demian asked.
“No, he doesn’t know. I just assumed you would need some time out like us, and I thought maybe we could leave our differences behind at least for one night,” Frank added despite Demian’s wariness. “…I’m trying to be nice, okay? Take it or leave it!”
Demian wondered for a moment if it was a trick, but eventually budged. Frank surprisingly patted him on the shoulder and led him several blocks away until getting to some sort of pub with neon lights and a security guard at the gate checking for IDs.
“They won’t let us in,” Demian pointed at a neon sign that said: ‘Over 21’.
“Luckily I’m always prepared,” Frank said, taking a couple of credentials from his pocket and handing one to Demian. His photo was the one from his school ID with fake info such as his age (21) and name.
“…Seriously? Donald Duke?” Demian asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I thought you would appreciate the sound duplicity, just like your own name,” Frank quipped with a wry smile that showed a hint of mockery. Demian snorted but let it go.
When the security guard saw both fake IDs, he glared at them like saying they couldn’t fool him, and yet he let them in, shaking his head in disapproval. The interior lighting was minimal, only a few colored lights and some floor lamps on the table which gave it an eery quality, the feeling of sleepwalking through a dream.
They sat in a corner and Frank immediately took the reins like an expert in such places and ordered drinks by names Demian didn’t know without even looking at the menu. Demian just let him take care of it while he looked around the darkened place with trails of lights turning on and off under shadows going from one side to another. He almost felt back in the Legion of Darkness, which only increased the nightmarish feeling.
“I admit that when you said ‘See ya in Yo mama’ I had an internal debate whether you were insulting me or not.”
Mitchell dropped directly on the stool that separated the two boys and only then he noticed Demian. He blinked for a couple of seconds and even rubbed his eyes; just when he seemed about to jump on his feet with surprise, he just sighed instead and rested his elbows on the table, as if already deciding to embrace the madness.
“Well, ‘two sworn enemies walk into a bar’ looks like the start of a joke I want to know the end of, so why not?”
The drinks Frank had ordered finally arrived, and as he drank from a huge glass like it was plain water, Mitchell sipped with a grimace and Demian tasted his drink with caution. It had a strong citrus flavor that burned his throat when he swallowed, but eventually ended up refreshing it and leaving an effervescent aftertaste that wasn’t unpleasant at all, so he took another swig and then set the glass down, waiting for his throat to get used to it.
“Seriously! I don’t know what to do anymore!” Mitchell said after forcing himself to finish his drink in one go and leaving the empty glass on the table with a loud thud, beckoning the waiter to bring him another. “I’ve done everything in my power to get to Belgina, but I’ve only made it worse. Now, I’m afraid to try something else and making her hate me— If she already doesn’t.”
“I’d say your problem is that you don’t know when to stop and wait for the right moment to act, but I’ve come to the conclusion that none of it matters, anyway. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you ultimately end up tumbling on the ground or crashing to a wall like a leaf in the air at the slightest change of wind,” Frank snapped with an unexpected resentful tone that seemed to suggest he was taking it way too personal.
“Amen to that!” Mitchell agreed, lifting his second glass, and drinking of it with a furious outburst that almost made him choke.
Meanwhile, Demian was just listening in silence, drinking at his own pace, and glancing at the two boys with some sort of reluctant affinity. Mitchell finished his second drink in a sitting, and after clearing his throat, he turned to him and patted his back.
“You heard it, buddy! We’re mere leaves dragged by the wind. Just give her some time.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Demian snapped right before taking another drink.
“He says he doesn’t know!” Mitchell cackled with a hiccuping laughter, elbowing Frank as if sharing the same joke, and raising his arm to order his third round. “Come on, Demian, buddy, we’re among friends. Nothing that we said here will come out through those doors. What we hear in Yo mama, stays in Yo mama.” A fit of laughter seized him as the words came out of his mouth and leaned on the table waiting for it to pass. “Yo mama! Whoever came up with the name is a genius! Cheers to that!” He raised his glass laughing, took a sip and when he put it back on the table, his head dropped over his arms, completely knocked out. Frank, on the other hand, ignored him and kept drinking, glancing at Demian.
“…He’s right, you know? No one’s going to say a word out of here. You can speak confidently,” Frank said, oddly interested in hearing whatever he had to say.
“I don’t know what you expect me to say,” Demian replied with a shrug and finishing his drink, to then follow their example and ask for another.
“Sometimes we just have to let off some steam, so we won’t drown in it,” Frank added, pretending disinterest. “Take it from me, I was virtually living so long under water that I almost developed gills.”
“I was under the impression that you were proud of it,” Demian said, while taking his second drink, and Frank smiled at the fact that he was trying to avoid the subject.
“…That’s what I thought until I met someone.”
Demian made a pause before another sip. He was obviously talking about Lucianne.
“And I think you can understand that, despite denying it to everyone.”
“…If this is about Lucianne, I thought it was already clear that we’re only childhood friends,” Demian snapped.
“I think you know what I mean,” Frank replied, squinting just at the mention of her name. “You’re just unable to admit it.”
Demian didn’t answer, he was taking his time to take the drink to his mouth.
“I thought we demons had no feelings, according to you,” Demian snapped, stirring his half-finished glass. Frank smiled crookedly at the fact that he wasn’t budging.
“Apparently you know when to conveniently use the demon card. I give you that.”
“Nothing to worry about,” Mitchell intervened again, starting to slur, trying to raise his head and keep his eyes open while managing to take his drink. “Personally, I always thought this whole Addalynn charade was nothing but a smoke screen. Like when you disappear. Poof!”
Demian seemed willing to refute him, but he kept staring at his glass instead, his hand closing around it with a clenched brow
“…What a waste of time,” Frank snorted with annoyance. “Don’t expect things to change when you can’t even admit your own feelings.”
“Or maybe that’s the key!” Mitchell interjected again, raising his reddened face. “I haven’t stopped showing my feelings and that’s brought me nothing but trouble. Perhaps I should change tactics!”
“Knowing you I doubt you’d last even a day in the practice,” Frank replied with a sneer, and within minutes they got into a discussion about their past mistakes and their own methods while Demian stayed out of the conversation, although listening with an increasing feel of dizziness while finishing up his drink. When he was in the middle of his fourth glass, he decided he’d had enough and pushed the glass away.
“…Sorry. I don’t feel very well, I’ll go back to the hotel.” He got up with a little wobble and everything spun around for a second, but he immediately regained balance and walked away despite Mitchell’s attempts to convince him otherwise. The combination of the shadows and colorful lights began to hurt his sight, disorienting him; it took him a while to find his way out.
The next minutes he seemed to lose track of time and his actions as he realized he had reached the hotel, but instead of going in, he stayed outside, staring hypnotically at what looked like fireworks in the sky.
“You shouldn’t do that. Someone might see you.”
Demian turned around, as if just coming to his senses, and saw Addalynn standing at the back door, watching him like a child doing something that would go wrong. He frowned, until finally realizing what she meant. There were no fireworks, rather his own powers on display. He immediately stopped and stumbled back, holding his pounding head.
“I didn’t mean to… I don’t know what I’m doing.” He tried to take a few steps forward, but the world began to spin around, so he leaned on a column and closed his eyes, waiting for the effect to pass. He suddenly felt an arm around his back and opened his eyes to find Addalynn holding him.
“Come on. No one must see you here.”
They both entered through the emergency exit, Demian leaning on her, feeling as weightless and unreal as in the pub, and soon he was lost in the darkness.
He opened his eyes and realized he was in a different room, and no, it wasn’t a deja vu; he remembered well last night. He had come to Noah’s house, seeking refuge, and now he could also remember what happened two nights ago… at least partly. However, that wasn’t the room Noah gave to him, and to add more mystery, he wasn’t even in the bed but standing in front of a closet, with his hand on the knob.
The sleeping pills… He hadn’t taken them. The last time without them, he had awakened on a lakeside, trying to push Marianne in it —And long before that, there was the balcony with his mother’s dead body lying down the garden. He shook his head to clear it out and took a quick look around. There was nothing but a bed and a dresser, otherwise the place was very minimalistic, just like the rest of the house. Still, he was relieved to see that there was no lifeless body lying around.
He pulled away from the closet and hurried out of the room, hoping to be back at the other one before being found prowling around in a strange house, but he stopped at the stairs at the smell of coffee. He didn’t know the time, but it was apparently early in the morning after seeing the sunlight coming through the windows, so it was pointless going back to bed anyway. He came downstairs, following the smell and peered inside the kitchen, trying not to seem intrusive. Noah was at the table, drinking from a mug and staring at the newspaper. Upon hearing the squeak of the door, he looked up and smiled.
“Come in. Are you hungry? There’s only eggs, I’m afraid, but in my defense I’m not too bad at it,” Noah said, lifting the coffee mug in a salute and taking a sip.
Demian hesitated, unsure of what to say.
“I don’t want to be a nuisance—”
“Don’t worry. Sit down. I was about to do it anyway,” he interrupted him, pointing to the opposite chair as he got up and opened the fridge to take the ingredients he would use. “I like having some coffee in the morning while reading the newspaper before breakfast. It makes me feel like home. The routine, I mean.”
Demian said nothing, thinking of Marianne’s reluctance to discuss her current family situation, and wanting to reciprocrate the fact that her father hadn’t delve into his own situation either, so he just took a seat and glanced around, feeling out of place.
Everything was clean and neatly organized, but one could tell he had left the place the way it was before he moved in. He just took whatever he needed at the moment and then put it back in the same spot. Some sort of belonging OCD.
“Here you go,” Noah said, placing four dishes before him. “I didn’t ask how you like eggs, so I made it four ways: scrambled, fried, poached and an omelette. You’re the guest, so, you get to choose first.”
Demian looked at the dishes and didn’t react for several seconds, until forcing himself to pick the omelette. If it was Noah’s first choice, he didn’t show, he just smiled kindly and took the fried eggs while pouring some orange juice in plastic cups and setting the cutlery on the table. He then sat in front of him while Demian toyed with his plate. It was hard to be hungry at the unlikely situation, sitting in front of Marianne’s father, who had taken him in so easily, no questions asked, and who’d been nothing but kind to him and his sister without asking anything in return. Sometimes it seemed unreal.
Just months earlier he had practically taken his life to provoke the Angel Warriors… but he didn’t want to think about it. Luckily, his body had accepted the gift that had belonged to his father, otherwise he could never forgive himself for that —But still, there were times when guilt overtook him. It was something he had to learn to live with.
Watching Noah now no one would ever guess he had died months ago; he didn’t even seem affected by it… But at times, he wondered if his father’s gift had some kind of influence in him, besides bringing him back to life; after all, he was always taking care of him and his sister, perhaps even more since the ‘gift transplant’. It was ridiculous, he knew, but sometimes he had the idea that a small part of his father still lived through him, and it showed through his attentions. Ironic without a doubt, since he was pretty much responsible for both of their deaths.
“…I’m not your father,” Noah said all of a sudden while soaking a piece of bread in egg yolk, taking Demian off guard. Did he somehow know what he was thinking? “And I can never replace him. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you, and not just as your legal guardian. Perhaps I didn’t know at first how to act when Marianne unexpectedly asked me to do it, but now I think I have a better grasp of it and you can rest assure that while I live, I will always take care of you. I want you to think of me as a friend. You can trust me for anything you need.”
Demian didn’t know what to say. It still seemed so unreal, having breakfast at the same table with the man he had murdered months before, who now possessed his father’s gift, so he couldn’t help seeing some of his traits in him, despite being at least twenty years younger. He didn’t know how to feel about it, but he really appreciated the interest.
“I’m really grateful. It means… a lot to me,” Demian finally said, trying at least to smile in response, since he wouldn’t talk about his reasons for leaving home. He knew he wouldn’t ask directly, but those words were the closest thing to an invitation to talk about it, and Noah just smiled back, understanding his silence.
“Well then, say no more. Food is getting cold, and we still have two dishes left,” Noah replied, raising his cup, like making a toast, and focusing on his plate with the casual talk over breakfast, which Demian followed as best as he could, but his mind was distracted, constantly remembering his father whenever they had breakfast together. Had he known he would lose all of it from one moment to another…
“Cousin Samsa is acting weird,” Loui said as Marianne opened her door half awake, rubbing her eyes and frowning at the interrupted sleep. It took her a few seconds to grasp the meaning of it and finally reacted, taking a hand to her forehead with annoyance.
“…What did he do now?” she said, mostly a rhetorical question, since she didn’t wait for an answer, just went down the back stairs and heard giggles from the kitchen. Her mother was standing next to the mixer, adding chocolate chips to the dough while fake Samael leaned to one side with a relaxed posture, as if in the middle of a casual conversation. He was all smiles, making the woman laugh while she kept cooking.
“Ah, you finally came down to breakfast!” she said, noticing her presence. “Samuel was telling me stories from the competition, something you weren’t even able to do.” She gave Marianne a reproachful glare after saying this. “But it doesn’t matter! Knowing you, I’m sure you would have omitted all the juicy details, like the dolphin motley that fell into the pool during the swimming competition, or the fellow who broke into fencing in drag. Sometimes you can be so dismissive with me only because I’m your mother!”
Marianne just gave an exasperated yet inquisitive look at Mitchell after the last reference, and he only shrug with a carefree smile, as if it were just a minor detail he forgot to mention before.
“What are you doing?” Marianne asked, ignoring her mother’s passive-aggressive comments and glaring at Mitchell to stay away from her.
“Samuel suggested I should make some chocolate chip waffles and that’s what I’m doing. I’ll gladly cook for those who can appreciate it,” her mother said again, emphasizing the latter.
“And I’m more than grateful for such attention. If not because I’m a lousy mess in the kitchen, I would gladly help, Aunt Enid,” he said, leaning over to kiss her cheek and the woman laughed and flushed, beckoning him to stop, while Marianne’s glare became even more intense, as if about to shoot laser beams through her eyes if she had such power.
“…What the hell are you doing?” Marianne muttered as they sat at the table and was finally able to talk without feeling about to spit fire.
“I’m playing my role to perfection as you can see,” Mitchell replied, lowering his voice too and keeping his smile on, in case Marianne’s mother turned around again.
“More like playing yourself in someonelse’s skin!”
“Potato and poTAto, no one has seen the difference, I call it a successfull impersonation,” Mitchell replied, gesturing with both hands like a tipping scale.
“You’re not cousin Samsa,” Loui said, also sitting at the table and looking suspiciously at him. “It’s true, right? It’s not him. He’s got this impish look that’s so unlike him.”
“Even a child can see through your dirty conscience,” Marianne snapped, and Mitchell acted offended, placing theatrically a hand over his chest, and then pointing at Loui like about to recite a poem.
“This child is broken! We need to fix him ASAP!” Mitchell said, like a televangelist preacher about to make one of his miraculous healings. He tickled the kid, who couldn’t help squirming with laughter in his seat while his mother glanced at them from the stove with a smile, pleased with the seemingly familiar picture behind her. But once she turned around to continue cooking, Marianne smacked Mitchell in the head to make him stop.
“Stop it! If you keep doing this, you’re gonna get noticed!”
“Looking like this I think that’s inevitable anyway,” he replied, apparently too comfortable with himself. “And while we’re at it, you think your mother would agree to go out with a handsome, funny guy with great style now that she’s single?”
Marianne responded with another punch to his shoulder with a sullen face.
“You’re definitely not cousin Samsa, who are you and why are you impersonating him?” Loui asked, once he managed to recover from the tickle attack.
“My sweet, innocent child. Don’t you know what curiosity did to the cat? Believe me, you don’t want to be that cat,” Mitchell snapped, patting his head condescendingly, and even though Loui shook his hand off and was about to reply, he failed to say anything as his mother approached with the first round of freshly made waffles.
“Here you go, guys, enjoy yourselves,” she said, presenting a huge plate with a tower of waffles with melting chocolate chips.
Mitchell’s hand immediately flew to take four from the top despite burning his fingers, followed by Marianne who took only one and as Loui tried to take the last one, his mother slapped him.
“Not you, young man. You’re still grounded. You’ll just have to settle with milk and cereal. Let’s see if you keep behaving the way you did this week.” She placed the last waffle on Marianne’s plate and returned to make the rest of the dough while Loui rubbed his sore hand.
“…Looks like someone was busy this week,” Marianne said, raising an eyebrow.
“I only did what I had to, and I don’t regret anything,” Loui said, shaking his hand. Then they heard knocking from the door.
“Could someone go see who it is? My hands are busy,” Enid said without moving from her side of the kitchen.
Marianne stood up, leaving her waffles untouched, and as she went out, Loui leaned to her side of the table and took the waffles out of her plate to hastily devour them before anyone could stop him.
Marianne walked through the kitchen and dining room with lazy steps, and still took her time to settle some of the porcelain figures on her way, despite the insistent knocking on the door. Once she was a few feet from it, she decided to open as soon as possible to end with the unexpected visit, even if it was Angie’s father, but to her surprise it was only Lilith, who seemed very anxious and in a rush.
“…Hello. Did something happen? You look nervous.”
“I’m not sure… I think I did something I should have asked you about first,” Lilith said, going into the house and looking around like making sure there was no one eavesdropping.
“What are you talking about?” Marianne asked, confused by her bizarre behaviour.
“I don’t know how to explain it without you thinking it’s crazy,” Lilith continued, pacing the room while glancing everywhere. “Is your family home? Because you might want to get rid of them for a few hours… at least while it happens.”
“What are you…? Lilith, I don’t understand a word you’re saying, and frankly you’re starting to make me nervous, walking back and forth like a paranoid.”
“Just tell me, are you willing to do anything to bring Samuel back or how much is ‘going too far’ for you?” Lilith asked, holding her shoulders with a manic gleam in her eyes.
“…You’re scaring me.”
“Who is it?” her mother shouted from the kitchen, making them start a little.
“It’s Lilith! She just came by to talk about something!” Marianne said, trying to sound relaxed, and turned her attention to Lilith who was once again glancing nervously everywhere. “…Listen, I don’t know if this is about that stupid dress again, but I think you need some rest.”
“I’m fine! It’s not about that! I’m saying that there might be a chance to bring Samuel back. Are you willing to try it, regardless of the means or the source?” Lilih repeated, increasing Marianne’s uneasiness and intrigue, but given her recent reaction when she got carried away by her emotions, she tried to remain unfazed and sceptical.
“…What do you suggest?”
“I’m not suggesting anything, I’m just the messenger. It’s hard to explain… Just make sure your family is out when I come back in a couple of hours. I’m not even sure it will work, but… we have to try everything, right?”
Marianne nodded despite her doubts, and before she could ask anything else, Lilith was already waving off and storming out of the house. She didn’t know what to think. However, she did what Lilith suggested and tried to convince her family to leave the house. It wasn’t an easy task, though. Her mother was determined to stay home and spend the day with the family, which didn’t sit well with whatever Lilith had planned. She tried to think of some other way to get them out of the house without being suspicious, until she got an idea, even though it was a conflict of interest for her, but she had no choice but to carry it out. It was not long afterwards that the door was knocked, but this time it was Angie’s father on the other side, taking Enid by surprise.
“Sorry for showing up so suddenly. I just thought it was a nice day to go out, maybe.”
Enid couldn’t answer, and turned around since they had an audience. Loui watched warily from the living room, pausing the videogame he had started with Mitchell, and Marianne was standing on the stairs.
“Uh… I don’t know what to say. I wasn’t going to leave the house today, I planned to spend the day with the family,” Enid said hesitant.
“No problem!” Mitchell suddenly said, leaping from the couch and approaching the door. “Go ahead, have some fun, nothing will happen if we stay home alone for a while. I think we are mature enough. Go, aunt Enid, you deserve it.”
Loui snorted in disagreement, but Marianne remained expressionless from the stairs, and Enid finally agreed.
“…Let me just get ready and we’ll go.”
The man smiled, pleased with her answer, while Loui let out an outraged huff, and even though Marianne didn’t say a thing, she returned to her room and pulled out her phone to quickly type a response: ‘Thanks for your help’ and sent it to Angie.
“I don’t understand how can you be so calm! The impostor just convinced mom to go out with this man after all we’ve done!” Loui protested, standing outside her door with folded arms in an angry pose.
“I’m not, but mom is an adult and can do whatever she wants with her life,” she said, typing another message until she let the phone at her desk and turned to him. “…This doesn’t mean we’re leaving her unsupervised, do you understand?”
Loui’s face unstrung for a moment and nodded with a conspiratorial look, racing to his room to get ready as soon as their mother would go out. Marianne closed the door with a loud sigh that almost came out as a growl. It had been easy, she had made sure both her mother and brother would be out of the house for the next hours, but she still wasn’t sure of how to get rid of someone who always found a way to cling like a parasite.
After fifteen minutes since her mother and her date had left, closely followed by her brother, she decided to go down the living room, a little impatient for Lilith to come and finally learn what was all that weird thing she was talking about.
“Very clever to get rid of your family like that,” Mitchell said, sitting comfortably on the couch without Samael’s appearance anymore and an expression that dated back to his Casanova ways… which wasn’t saying much, considering how little he had changed since then. “I must say I’m rather flattered with the extremes you take to be alone with me.”
Marianne grimaced after seeing him move his eyebrows up and down, then looked at the nearest couch, and after a motion of her hand, one of the cushions flew right to his face.
“You don’t look as upset about the whole thing with Belgina as we thought,” she snapped, dusting off her hands while Mitchell pushed away the cushion, gasping for air.
“I was joking, jeez! Can’t anyone have a little fun without getting crucified for it?”
“You should learn to choose the place and time for your jokes, and you should know by now that I’m NEVER in the mood for them,” she spat, leaning out the window and then backing away to start anxiously going around the living room.
“You’re waiting for someone, who?” Mitchell asked curiously.
“It’s not of your business, why don’t you just go pay a visit to your family and let them know that you’re okay at least?”
“I could. But I’m more curious to stay and see what you’re up to. Because it has to do with Lilith’s visit this morning, right?” Mitchell said, studying her reaction with growing interest. “Is it for what you call ‘girl stuff’? …Is Belgina coming too?”
Marianne was about to say no and shut him up to focus on her own thoughts, but noticed his change of expression and tone as he mentioned Belgina, so she changed tactics.
“…That’s right, she’s coming too, and if you have at least a little consideration for her after what you did, you’ll walk away before they get here so she won’t be bothered by your presence.”
Mitchell’s mood dwindled away, and his expression switched from shameless to shy guilt. He sank in the couch and hunched.
“…I’ll go out in a moment,” he said with a downcast face and Marianne couldn’t help feeling remorse for the way she’d treated him.
“…Just go with your family to let them know you’re still alive. I can’t stand for Kristania given our history, but your mother looked genuinely worried. Do it for her at least,” she added in a calmer tone, and Mitchell agreed with an attempt of smile followed by a moment of silence.
“…I didn’t want things to end this way with Belgina. I really did everything in my power to fix things and regain her trust…”
“I know,” Marianne said sympathetically. “…That was the problem.”
Mitchell nodded, and after spending another moment staring at his hands, he stood up and stretched out, as if just waking up.
“…Well, I think I’ll just stop by my house then, and luckily my mom will only cry for a couple of hours and then berate me a couple more,” Mitchell finished after a long exhalation, but stopping before reaching the door. “…When you see Belgina could you tell her…? No, nothing —Never mind. If you need Samuel’s presence to avoid questions, just let me know.”
He was soon gone and Marianne was left completely alone. She was so impatient, and her head so full of ideas, that she just walked around in circles for several minutes, constantly peering out the window and watching the clock. Lilith sometimes had the bad habit of not noticing the time, so all she asked for was that she wouldn’t show up in the afternoon or at night when her family would surely be back. She was so absorbed by her options, that when she heard the knock on the door, she jolted, but almost immediately regained her composure, taking a deep breath before opening.
“Is the coast clear?” Lilith asked, cautiously peering inside while Marianne looked confused at the girl behind her, with a dark robe that went over her head like a veil partially hiding her face, though there was no need to ask who she was, given the choice of clothing.
“…What is she doing here?”
Both girls entered the house and Latvi took off the veil, revealing her tanned face and outlined eyes the colour of the sand.
“My best regards,” she said, leaning forward.
“Uh… likewise… Lilith?” Marianne said, her eyes seeking her friend for an explanation while the other girl proceeded to walk around, watching everything with analytical interest.
“Don’t worry, she seems to know what she’s doing, just let her do it,” Lilith whispered aside in a confidential way.
“Don’t worry? How much does she know about us? We’re not supposed to go around telling random people about us despite… how mystique they seem!” Marianne whispered back, trying to keep her voice low.
“Easy! All she knows is that Samuel disappeared and that’s it; she says she can try to communicate with him.”
“Communicate? That sounds like she’s planning to do a séance, and let me remind you that he’s NOT dead!” Marianne snapped, clenching at the thought.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do, or what she has in mind. Just give her a try, okay? We won’t waste anything. Aren’t you willing to try everything to bring him back?”
Marianne remained silent and glanced toward Latvi, who kept going over the place, contemplating even the smallest detail of the furniture and decoration, as if she hadn’t heard none of their words.
“…Well, okay, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt,” she reluctantly accepted. “…But be warned that at the slightest mention of Samuel’s ‘spirit’, I’m out.”
Lilith merely raised her hands, hinting that she left everything to her discretion. Marianne pushed the door to close it, but it suddenly stopped a few inches before fitting the frame and opened again to the girls’ confusion. Mankee showed up in the doorway, looking agitated as if he’d been running a marathon for several miles.
“What…? Why…? What are you…?” he tried to articulate a sentence, but the wheezing prevented him, and had to take a moment to lean on the door and take several deep breaths before trying to talk again.
“What are you doing here?” Lilith asked, barely out of her surprise.
“What am I doing here?” Mankee finally said with eyes so wide, their circumference could be measured. “…Latvi left the coffee shop very mysteriously, and I feared she would get into trouble, so I followed her, but when I saw her meeting with you despite all my warnings—”
“Did you follow me because you were worried about me?” Latvi said from where she was, taking a hand to her chest in a moving expression as if she’d heard a compliment, but Mankee looked at her as if she’d lost her mind.
“…Please, don’t continue with whatever you’re planning. You don’t know what you’re getting into,” Mankee implored, turning to Lilith.
“Relax, you’re always making a storm in a glass of water,” Latvi replied dismissively, standing in front of the stairs with her back to them. “I need to be in the room of the person you want me to contact. It helps being in a room full of its energy and essence.”
“Contact?” Marianne repeated, not quite pleased with the choice of words. Mankee gave them another pleading look; his head briefly but noticeably tilting to the sides in denial, but the girls were determined to continue, and Marianne straightened up to climb the stairs. “…Here, follow me.”
Latvi went after her followed by Lilith, who gave a resigned look at Mankee.
“I’m sorry. We must try all of our options,” she said with a shrug while Mankee let out a defeated sigh.
“Is everything okay?” Lilith asked after reaching the top of the stairs and stopping in front of the attic, where Marianne was watching Latvi going through the place, surveying it.
“I’ll tell you when it’s over.”
“…If you’re still not convinced, we can cancel it. We’re still on time before Mankee collapses downstairs.”
“No,” Marianne said, staring at Latvi. “If there’s really a remote chance that this works, I won’t be the one to stop it. I would never be able to forgive myself.”
“What if it doesn’t work after all?”
“We would have tried at least,” Marianne said with a slight shrug, although conflicted about it.
“Well, it’s done,” Latvi announced, stopping in front of the two girls after going through the attic. “I’m ready to start if you are.”
Marianne and Lilith exchanged a hesitant look, and with a slight nod, Lilith made her know it was in her hands, so Marianne took a deep breath to finally bring herself to nod, sign the exotic girl took with joy and immediately started the arrangements without bothering to ask first.
“I’ll need you to cover every single hole that allows the light in, and that includes the door, it must remain closed all the time,” she instructed while literally pulling candles out of her sleeves; these were inlaid with precious stones across the wax in geometric shapes that created symbols unknown to them, and she placed them on the floor, right in the middle of the attic. “You shall not speak until I say so, and you can’t break the circle. I’m not responsible for the consequences that may entail. We’ll be dealing with forces beyond human comprehension, and at least I expect you to let me do my job without interfering. And one last thing: you’ll have to convince Hisham to join us and take his place as a cardinal point or else this will be pointless.”
Latvi smiled at her last statement, knowing she had asked a nearly impossible task given Mankee’s strong rejection to what she was doing. The two girls exchanged gazes, aware that they were bound to fail and there was only one way to get it right.
Minutes later they were both pulling Mankee, trying to drag him upstairs while he clutched the handrail.
“Come on! Stop resisting! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, just be there!”
“No! Don’t you think I’ve heard that story a thousand times before? I grew up with her, I know what that means, and I won’t fall for it again! Maybe I can’t stop you from keep going with your plans, but you won’t drag me along!” Mankee said, gripping the railing.
“We don’t have time for this.”
Marianne stepped back, realizing they wouldn’t get away with it so easily, and after signalling Lilith to let him go, she focused her gaze on him, frowning as if making a big effort that exceeded her capabilities.
Mankee watched helplessly as his hands began to slip off the rail, and within seconds both of his arms were folded behind him, forcing him to bend forward.
“You better go up and take your place voluntarily or otherwise I have no problem to make you fly like Peter Pan,” Marianne said frowning and slightly shaking at the effort. “Let’s see what your fiancée thinks when you show up floating in the air. She may think you’re possessed by some evil spirit and try to exorcise you.”
“…She’s NOT my fiancée!” Mankee spat with a cry of pain. He wanted at least to keep the facade of having unbreakable will, but his shaky voice betrayed him and finally gave up. Minutes later they were sitting in a circle at the centre of the attic, with lit candles between them and the place darkening as Marianne closed the door and took her place at one side of the circle.
Latvi lit a match and held it aside as she looked at each one with a mystical air. Lilith’s curiosity, Marianne’s scepticism and Mankee’s dread were accentuated with the shadows created on their faces by the candlelight.
“…From the moment I light the incense, it shouldn’t be heard any voice other than mine, and no one must leave their seat under any circumstance,” Latvi said, holding the match that didn’t seem to burn out, even though the flame flickered. “You must not break the circle unless I say it’s safe… otherwise you would leave a door open to forces from another realm and believe me, you don’t want to deal with them.”
Marianne and Lilith exchanged a glance as if that sounded too familiar, but Latvi showed no sign of noticing and proceeded to get the match closer to a metal cup in the middle of the circle, until Mankee grabbed her wrist before she did it.
“Please,” he said with a trembling voice and a pale face at the light of the candles. “…You can still reconsider.”
Latvi said nothing, just waited for the response of the two girls and Marianne stared at Mankee to remind him what she could do.
“Let her continue.”
Mankee released the girl and sighed with resignation, closing his eyes and putting his hands to his ears. He would not see nor hear what would happen next.
“…Let me know when it’s all over.”
“Don’t worry about him, he’s always been overly dramatic,” Latvi said, smiling reassuringly and reaching out to finally light the incense. Her face instantly recomposed and sat up straight, hands on her lap with upturned fingers, thumb and index fingers together, eyes closed in full concentration mode, while the smoke began to rise from the cup and she started reciting a litany in an unknown language.
After a minute or so, Latvi took the garment she had on one side, her eyes still closed, and held it in front of her as if offering it to an invisible being.
“Father Yima, gatekeeper and judge of the final days, I present my respects and ask your invaluable help in finding a soul subjected to your laws on the realm borders. My lineage as payment and another year of service as a promise.”
Latvi took a pair of scissors out of nowhere and cut a piece of the garment, one of the first clothes that belonged to Samael, and threw it into the cup to Marianne’s dismay; then she brought her own left hand close to it and upon the two girls’ alarmed look, she made a small cut on her thumb with the scissors, letting a few drops of blood fall on the charred remains of fabric.
Burning sparks jumped as if she had thrown oil to feed the embers, and though this startled them, they both made a huge effort to stay in their places as Latvi had warned them. The smoke was rising and thickening, making them difficult to see through it despite being contained within the space delimited by the candles and them. It grew so much it formed a swirl of smoke in the middle of the room with the cup as the center. The girl remained as impassive as before, her eyes shut in full concentration, clothes and hair flapping with the force of the smoke tornado confined among them.
Mankee stayed huddled down in his place, his head buried in his knees, hands pressed against his ears, fighting his instincts to flee in horror, though the girls doubted he would endure for a long time and were ready to stop him as soon as he made the slightest movement. They waited about a minute for a reaction from Latvi, and the smoke tornado suddenly came to a halt, leaving only a winding column rising to the ceiling. Latvi opened her eyes, but instead of sand, they saw nothing but mist in them. Her eyes were surrounded by a white membrane, and the girls suspected that she was immersed in a deep trance; her consciousness was already out of this realm.
“The name,” she said with a distorted voice of unidentifiable gender. She didn’t look to anyone in particular, but they understood it was a sign for them to talk.
“Samuel. Samuel Darwin,” Lilith said and Latvi, or whatever speaking through her, kept silent for a moment.
“No Samuel Darwin.”
“Samael!” Marianne interjected, as if just remembering she had a voice. “We’re looking for Samael.” Another moment of silence. Marianne waited anxiously for the answer, with her fingers almost nailed to her pants.
“No Samael,” Latvi said again, blind eyed and expressionless. Marianne finally exhaled the air she had been holding so far, disappointed at the negative response, but in short notice, the girl’s mouth reopened. “…Not here at least.”
She looked up with surprised, wondering what she meant by ‘here’, but she was so desperate to know Samael’s whereabouts that she decided to ignore it.
“Can you keep looking? In other… realms maybe?” she ventured to ask, despite having no idea what kind of being she was talking to. Latvi remained in the same position and said nothing for several seconds, as if considering her request.
“What will you give in return, divunumen?” Latvi’s lips curled into a smirk, as if the mysterious being speaking through her knew something Marianne didn’t know and wasn’t willing to share. And that word…
“…In return? I don’t—”
She was speechless. She couldn’t just offer something without knowing the risks, and with Latvi out of circulation while she was a conduit, she had no way of knowing what was at stake. She glanced at Lilith, but she seemed almost as frozen with fear as Mankee. When their gazes met, Lilith tried to shake her head negatively, but her neck was so stiff she barely stirred, like a shiver. A cackle took them out of their exchange, making them both tremble.
“Save the thought,” Latvi said in that voice that didn’t seem to come from her. “A rebellion is coming, and when you think you’re on the right side, think again, don’t be so sure. Give your loyalty to us and you’ll get what you want.”
Marianne hesitated at the words. Rebellion? Loyalty? That was making her increasingly nervous and didn’t dare to answer something she wasn’t sure of. Her hands were cold and sweaty and didn’t like the direction things were going. She needed to show some conviction, that she wasn’t willing to negotiate that way.
“We can sense his presence in our borders,” Latvi interrupted. “Once he crosses, he will be ours and we won’t let him go. Great addition.”
“No! W-Wait, I—!” Marianne stammered, trying to think of something quick, but couldn’t focus with the weight of those words. What border? Where was he? She couldn’t think straight with all that ambiguous information released to her.
“Answer then. Choose.”
What if it was true? If he could be brought back? Samael’s life was in her hands then, what to do when she had no idea what those conditions would mean for her future? She couldn’t take that so lightly, but time was running out and she couldn’t stretch it anymore.
She was suddenly interrupted by a voice, reciting incantations in another language. It was Mankee. He had lifted his face and palms together up to his chest while repeating those words until he took his hands off with a swift moment. Latvi closed her eyes and the smoke tornado resumed its swirling. Marianne wanted to speak, but Mankee motioned both her and Lilith to keep quiet. The smoke grew back into a vortex, up to the ceiling, with intense gusts of wind. Amid the smoke, they saw images forming and heard distant and unintelligible voices that made their blood run cold. Mankee huddled again and covered his ears while Marianne watched the images intently. They were darkened silhouettes gathered, as if the smoke were a screen or a window connected to somewhere else. But despite the feeling of being watched, Marianne couldn’t look away, as puzzling as it was. It was almost hypnotic.
The door flew open, as if lashed out by the centrifugal force of the whirlwind, and a shadow entered through it, making a sound so spine-chilling that Lilith started screaming as much as Marianne tried to stop her, but she just jumped out of the circle before she could even blink. The swirl instantly exploded, creating a shock wave that knocked them down the ground, leaving only scattered traces of incense in the room.
“Wow! What the hell was that?! This has to be the most radical séance ever!”
Marianne was still sitting up in daze and turned toward the source of the voice.
“…What are you doing here? You were supposed to go home.”
Mitchell shook off his clothes and straightened up like nothing happened.
“I was about to, but then decided to hide and wait for the others to arrive just to be sure you weren’t trying to get rid of me. I must say I was somewhat disappointed to see that only Lilith and Mankee’s psycho girlfriend showed up and then, when he also unexpectedly joined you, I knew something was up, so I decided to stay and find out what —And scare you a little in the process. I got you, huh? Lilith’s reaction was priceless.”
“Moron! You ruined everything!” Marianne shouted, clenching her fists, but before she could move towards him, she heard Lilith’s groans.
“What happened? Were we attacked?” Lilith asked, trying to lift her head.
“None of that. It was just stupid Mitchell being his usual stupid self.”
“…No, no, no. The circle was broken,” Mankee murmured beside them, looking around with a maniacal expression.
“Blame Mitchell for that. Now help me clean a little and leave everything as it was,” Marianne said, starting to pick books scattered over the floor after the blast.
“The circle must never be broken. NEVER,” he continued, even though he seemed to be talking to himself, watching alarmed at everything as if something were about to jump and attack them at any time.
“What if it broke? We’re still alive and unharmed and that’s what matters, right?” Lilith replied, rubbing her head and feeling for bumps.
“You don’t get it. You didn’t get it since the start. You should have listened to me.”
“I think something’s happening to your girlfriend,” Mitchell interrupted after moving around the room, watching the damage and stopping next to Latvi.
Mankee crawled toward her and saw her body twitching as if she were having a seizure. Her eyes were open, but they were still covered by the white film that blinded her.
“Help me, hold her still!”
Marianne and Lilith hesitated before approaching the girl and holding her arms, one on each side, while Mitchell joined them too and held her legs. Mankee waved his hands like sign language to a stop, with his palms pointing to her face. They began to glow like a camera flash, and Latvi instantly closed her eyes and her body stopped shaking, giving them the chance to sit aside exhausted.
“What was all that about? The swirling, the voices, the… thing speaking through her,” Marianne asked, gesturing around.
“Oh, now you’re worried about the consequences of your poorly made decisions? Because you should have thought about it before going on with all this madness when I warned you.”
“Spare the preaching and answer the question,” Marianne snorted impatiently.
“That was the result of allowing Latvi to play with forces she should not play with,” Mankee said, checking her vital signs, and the girl quickly opened her eyes and looked around in bewilderment.
“What happened? Is it over?”
“And you’re the one to ask?” Mankee spat, but soon afterwards, he was pushed aside by Marianne, trying to get the girl’s attention.
“Can you remember anything you said? About what happened?”
Latvi slowly sat up, her limbs weighing and holding her head. She seemed unsure of the place she was in, but gradually recovered the light in her eyes the color of the sand.
“…I’m sorry. When I go into a trance, I lose track of everything. My body becomes a simple vessel,” she said, shaking her head to clear her thoughts. “…Although, I usually regain consciousness in the same position in which I started. Did anyone break the circle?”
Marianne glared reproachfully at Mitchell who chose to play dumb.
“What happens if the circle is broken?” Lilith asked, looking nervous, dawning on her the meaning and possible implications of the small session they had been part of. Latvi kept silent for a moment, which only served to accentuate the gravity of the matter.
“…In theory, the circle acts as a retaining wall, so if someone leaves or violates the agreements before the connection is finished, there’s a risk of something entering our world. Something unknown and potentially dangerous. However, it’s never happened before,” she finally said with a solemn and meditative voice. “…At least not under my command. I’ve always been methodical and precise with my technique.”
“I’ve warned you several times that one day something would be out of your control and it finally happened!” Mankee ranted, pointing at Mitchell, who remained sitting over his legs, acting all innocent, until the boy finally dropped to the floor, curling into a defeated position. “…Now we don’t know what kind of being or entity may have leaked through the broken barrier. We could be living our last hours of life on this planet. I shouldn’t let you manipulate me! Why am I so weak?!”
“Please, Hisham, you’re getting way too ahead,” Latvi said in complete calm, not allowing Mankee’s disturbance get to her. “Don’t assume the worst and panic as always. The connection was already ending anyway, most likely nothing managed to cross the threshold. Or did anyone of you see anything unusual?”
“…You mean besides the huge smoke tornado in the middle of the room with all the voices and creepy imagery?” Marianne replied, raising an eyebrow in disbelief at her relaxed attitude.
“Only voices, just images. It happens, they don’t hurt,” Latvi dismissed it with a gesture while standing up. “Well, I think we’re done for now. If you get to experience any… strange event after today, let me know and I’ll do my best to fix it, okay?”
“…What? Is that it?” Marianne asked with growing anger at her glibness. “You come in here, saying you can help us, and instead of that you leave us with a complete mess and a possible leak from another dimension? What kind of work ethic is that?”
Latvi turned to her as if deciding whether it was worth answering or not, until she just smiled like she would to a problematic customer.
“You’re lucky I do this because it’s my call, or else you wouldn’t be able to afford my services,” she politely replied, and without erasing her smile she bowed in a farewell gesture. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go. But feel free to keep in touch for any problem you believe to be related to what happened today. I’ll gladly try to solve it.”
She didn’t wait for any answer, just left the attic and went calmly downstairs. Mankee shook his head disapprovingly before following her, and Marianne looked at both Lilith and Mitchell for support, but the girl was just starting to feel paranoid while the boy poked the remaining ashes of the incense with barely a faint trickle of smoke left.
She finally decided to also go downstairs, almost jumping. Latvi and Mankee were already to one side of the door, as if waiting for her to open it. Marianne snorted, but still walked reluctantly toward the entrance.
“…This is not over, I still have questions that sooner or later will be answered,” Marianne warned as she opened the door. She was shocked to find her father standing there with his hand raised about to knock.
“Oh, great. I was starting to fear no one was home,” Noah said, dropping his hand. Marianne was speechless. She glanced at her two self-guests and also heard footsteps going down the stairs from the remaining two.
“…What are you doing here?”
“I heard you would all be home, so I thought to come by and spend some time with my family,” he said, getting inside and noticing the four kids already in the house. “…Well, if I had known you would have a party, perhaps I would have brought pizza.”
“It’s not… It’s just… They just brought me something,” she said, unsure of how to justify herself, introducing the two people he didn’t know yet. “Uh… They’re Mankee and Latvi.”
They both made a bow out of respect, but before they could complete the gesture, Noah went ahead of them and greeted Mankee with a handshake and then did the same with Latvi, to the boy’s horror at failing to prevent it in time.
“It’s always a pleasure to meet my daughter’s friends.”
Latvi kept her eyes on Noah’s hand, like mesmerized. When he finally released her, she looked up with a strange expression on her face. She glanced at Marianne with that same unfathomable face, and then turned back to show a smile in response to the greeting.
“The pleasure is ours. If you’ll excuse us, we were on our way out,” she finished with a last bow before going through the door with Mankee close behind, with a mixture of confusion and nervousness, giving one last glance at the others as they walked away.
“…Well, I think we should go too,” Mitchell said, aware that he had no excuse to stay without Samael’s appearance. “Hopefully the thing we brought you is of any use and if not, you know where to find us.”
He pushed Lilith with one hand toward the door and hastily waved goodbye with the other. Lilith seemed even more disturbed by everything, and only managed a weak wave before Noah closed the door.
“I’ve always found your friends oddly peculiar,” Noah remarked with a smile as he looked at the living room and then toured the kitchen.
However, Marianne stood in the middle of the room with the fresh memory of what happened in the attic, going over and over the words spoken through Latvi and the images she had seen in the smoke. Dark silhouettes gathering, like sensing she was watching them and also gazing in return. What were they? Where did they come from? Why would they retain Samael?
“Where’s everyone?” Noah came down the stairs after apparently having walked through the entire house in the time she was reviewing everything in her head.
“They uh… went out. It wasn’t actually planned,” Marianne said, still distracted. Noah sighed and looked around, his plans already frustrated.
“Well, I guess family day’s been cancelled… Have you eaten? Perhaps we can still seize the day; I can order pizza or something. Unless you have something else to do, of course,” Noah said, going back to the kitchen, and although Marianne wasn’t in the mood to eat or anything else, she followed him, feeling obliged to fill in for her absent family… the one she had driven away from home for her own purposes.
“It’s too much pizza,” she said a little later in the kitchen when her father came in with three boxes of pizza.
“The others might want some when they come back. It doesn’t hurt to prevent,” her father replied cheerfully, leaving the boxes on the table and opening the one in the top to grab a slice. Marianne did the same, sitting at the table and giving an unenthusiastic bite with a lost stare while trying to think of what to do next in her quest to bring Samael back. “Is something bothering you?”
“No, it’s just… it’s school stuff.”
Her father studied her face, standing with one hand on the table and the other holding his half-eaten slice of pizza.
“Does any of your friends have a problem?” he asked and Marianne hesitated, unsure of how to respond to it. It sounded as if he knew something he didn’t dare to say directly, but he couldn’t know about Samael; they had been very careful about it —at least as much as Mitchell’s involuntary narcissism allow it. But of course, she wasn’t precisely hiding her concern too much, so he would inevitably guess something was wrong. She was getting heedless and couldn’t afford it. She was about to say something to get out of the way, but then he said something that she didn’t expect. “Is it because of your friend Demian?”
Marianne blinked, confused by the question. She didn’t understand why he suddenly brought up the subject, but now felt compelled to ask, even though a part of her didn’t want to hear about him right then.
“No… Why? Where did you—?”
A knock on the door made her shut with a slight jolt. Had the others returned? Had they forgotten something? Noah was already putting his slice of pizza back in the box and straightening up, but she got to her feet. If Latvi was back, she needed a word with her.
“Don’t worry. You eat, I’ve got this,” her father replied with his reassuring smile, but before he could even take a step, his cell phone rang in synchrony with the door. Just a glance at the screen and his face underwent a slight change. Marianne had no doubt; it was the face he got whenever he received one of those mysterious letters. The woman with the lavender scent. Her jaw tightened and automatically clenched her teeth. But she had to keep a cool head, she couldn’t afford be blinded by anger at the time.
“Why don’t you answer that while I open?” she suggested with a hiss. She knew it was impossible to keep her anger from showing in her voice, so before he could say anything, she hurried out of the kitchen and went to the front door, trying to control her rage. She took a moment to exhale with her hand on the knob before opening the door. Her face became confused at the person in front of her. “…What are you doing here?”
“We haven’t had the chance to talk in recent days,” Dreyson said with his hands in his pockets. “I wanted to properly congratulate you for your team victory.”
“Mmmh, thanks… though you just had to wait until tomorrow. In case you forgot it, we’re in the same class.”
“Yeah, well, I guess it was actually an excuse to come here and tell you something before you hear the rumours.”
Marianne frowned, trying to imagine what could it be, and suddenly remembered the pictures she had seen in Lucianne’s house. Folders full of documents that her uncle was studying along his squad. Among those pictures there was one of Dreyson’s father. A mug shot from the police record as part of the evidence of a murder case.
Perhaps during their week out of town, the investigation had begun, and the picture had been circulating in the media.
“Is it about your father?”
Dreyson squinted suspiciously.
“…Why do you bring him up? What does he have to do?”
Wrong. Maybe she shouldn’t have said so before he decided to talk about it —But since she had already brought it up…
“…I saw a picture of him,” she explained, trying to settle the matter once and for all. “It was in a police record… from a murder case.”
Dreyson said nothing, but his eyes were fixed on her, his expression overshadowed by a gloomy touch. It took almost a minute for him to finally talk again.
“…You better not mention him again. You know nothing about it,” he snapped curtly, as if making a great effort not to talk back and quickly changing the subject. “…I came here for another reason. There are some rumours that started yesterday, and I thought you should know beforehand… Especially considering the object of your affection.”
“…What do you mean?”
“About Donovan spending the night in—”
“Where did you hear it?” Marianne interrupted him before he even finished; she didn’t need to hear the rest. She feared something like that would happen, but how? How did people find out?
“…You knew,” he said with a crooked smile, but Marianne just held his gaze, waiting for an answer.
“Who started it?” Marianne insisted.
“I have no idea,” he said with a shrug. “Someone saw him coming out of her room and spread the word.”
Marianne could think of only one person able to do that, and it happened to have a room right in front of Addalynn’s. She was missing all that morning after all, and didn’t show signs of life until it was time to leave. And she didn’t look happy at all.
“So, you already knew,” Dreyson repeated. “I’ll admit I was expecting another kind of reaction, although I won’t deny it’s more interesting this way.”
“Well, mission accomplished, I guess you’ll want to leave now,” she finished, intending to close the door, but Dreyson stopped it with his hand.
“Wait. You wanted to talk about my father? Let’s talk about it then,” he suddenly said, getting surprisingly serious. What if he told her something in confidence that ended making her an accomplice? She didn’t want to add any more emotional baggage than she was already dragging lately. “…Are you alone?”
Something in his manner of speaking gave her the chills. He kept his hand against the door, not only blocking it, but also pushing slightly inside, as if to break through while she tried to stand firm but unable to look away, something forcing her to stare at his dark eyes.
“Who is it?” a voice came from the kitchen, breaking the trance of the moment. Dreyson removed his hand from the door and stepped back, as if suddenly a huge guardian dog had come out, showing its fangs menacingly.
“…I forgot to mention my dad’s home,” Marianne said, recovering her poise and raising an eyebrow in challenge. “…Do you still want to come in?”
Dreyson backed down until he reached the edge of the steps and turned around, as if suddenly deciding he had other things to do.
“…I’ll see you in class, I guess,” he finally said, taking his hands to his pockets and walking away.
“Sure,” she said leerily. When her father came to the door, he was already out of sight.
“Was that one of your friends?” Noah asked, peering curiously. “You should have invited him to eat with us. There’s plenty of pizza.”
“He was in a rush,” she said, trying to avoid further explanation.
At that moment a car stopped at the front and Enid went out, visibly upset, but instead of going directly towards the house, she turned to the back door and opened, pulling Loui out by the arm. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the sidewalk, with a frown and a pout as she chided him and dragged him to the front steps, stopping midway when she noticed Noah at the door with Marianne.
“What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to surprise you. I wasn’t expecting you would go out.”
“Uhm… perhaps I should better leave.” Leaning out the roof of the car, Angie’s father looked quite uncomfortable with the situation. Enid’s bewildered face turned to him, as if forgetting for a moment he was still there, and noticing the predicament he apparently had put her in, Noah decided to spare her the inconvenience.
“There’s no need, I was on my way out,” he replied with his conciliatory smile, stepping away from the door and getting on his way. “I received a call from work and I must return to solve some issues. There’s pizza in the kitchen if you want.”
Loui raised his gaze at him, feeling betrayed, while he just tussled his hair as he passed by his side towards his car, parked on the side street. Yet he made a detour to shake hands with Angie’s father, to which the latter responded with the same diplomacy, though noticeably uncomfortable. When he reached the corner, Noah raised his arm and waved goodbye.
“…All right. Let’s go inside,” Enid snapped harshly, as if the brief encounter was the cherry on top of her awful day.
“I think… I’m gonna go,” Angie’s father insisted, feeling it was inappropriate to stay under the circumstances. “Clearly I changed many plans with my unexpected appearance… so we could leave it for another day.”
Enid looked at him the way she did every time she felt challenged to take the opposite stand to prove a point —characteristic Marianne had unwillingly inherited—, but instead of refuting and forcing him to stay, her face seemed to lose conviction and finally nodded languidly, her inner flame already extinguished.
“…Yeah. We better leave it for another day.” The man approached her, intending to kiss her on the cheek, but in the presence of Marianne and the judgmental look of Loui, he opted for a friendly shake of hands. When he was gone, Enid resumed her walk, pulling her son amid with a scold. “And you, young man, you’ll be grounded all week with no TV or videogames until you stop that awful habit of spying on grown-ups!”
Marianne simply stepped aside as they came in, while Loui glared at her, waiting for her intervention or support, but she didn’t move a finger. He was discovered due to his carelessness; she couldn’t do anything about it. So, she returned to her room and lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, picturing the attic above her, a complete chaos after the failed attempt to ‘communicate’ with Samael.
…Though, had it really been a total failure? Perhaps they hadn’t established direct contact with Samael, but… whatever speaking through Latvi said it had tracked him down, that meant he was still alive, somewhere…
She finally sighed, turning around discouraged, and her eyes fell right in the file laying under different objects acting as paperweight, partly intending to camouflage its importance to the eyes of others. An idea crossed her mind and quickly got up, grabbing the dossier like a magician doing the tablecloth trick, but not as effectively since several objects ended up overturned on the dresser. It didn’t matter to her, as she was already up and opening a drawer to take an envelope. Then she sat on the bed, folder and envelope in hand, and began to browse the file contents until stopping on the page with the info she was looking for. She took the letter with a swift movement and placed it in the middle of the file, so she could look at both of them. She glanced from one to the other, focusing not on the letter itself but the signature, a solitary H. And then she looked at the file, the name Embeth Harmony Grenoir highlighted.
Embeth Harmony. With an ‘H’. It was her. It had to be. And she knew that if she wanted answers, she could only get them in the house where the woman used to live… and apparently her father too when he was about her age. The house he now lived in.
She stared at the papers, absorbed by her thoughts, making a decision. After all, her father wasn’t home if the call from work was true, or even if it was the woman. Perhaps it was a chance she had to take… and stop tormenting herself about Samael for a moment.
In the end, it was all decided. She went to the house, bringing a spare key her father had provided her. It looked neglected after all those years of abandonment and would still seem uninhabited had she not known her father was living in there recently… plus his car wasn’t parked outside, proof that he wasn’t there. Still, she wanted to make sure first, so she knocked on the door loud enough to be heard even up to the other street and waited for a few seconds but got no answer. She glanced around and noticed some eyes gazing at her from the neighbour houses, hidden behind curtains.
According to what she read in the record, following the owner’s death and the house abandonment for many years, there were people who swore to hear voices coming from inside, shadows projected on the walls and windows. And if anyone had noticed that the man that had recently moved into the house was the same boy that had lived there for a while, she had no doubt that the rumours would reactivate… but she didn’t care for now. She took the key from her pocket and proceeded to open the door. She had to be fast if she wanted to be out of there before her father returned.
Inside, it was almost as empty as the first time she was there, but it was clean now, though she could still perceive the stale smell under the cleaning chemical. It was almost the same structure as her house, so she assumed that any document should be stored in the attic… if it had one. She started to climb the stairs in a haste, though the screeching of the boards forced her to slow down her steps and be more cautious; it would be pathetic to get there just to end up under the rubble of the collapsed stairs.
She walked to the end of the corridor once upstairs, picturing the exact position of everything at home —her mother’s room, Loui’s, the guest room, the attic stairs and finally her own room—, but when she got to the end, she realized there was no stairs, just the wall dividing a room from another. She stood a few seconds in the hallway, not knowing what to do next; should she try her luck inside the rooms? Searching in closets and drawers? Give up and go home? She started to feel frustrated about everything going wrong that day, and that was just the cherry on the pie. She pulled her head back in a gesture of weariness and then noticed a sort of chain hanging from the ceiling. She looked around for something that might help her up, but after finding nothing remotely helpful, she just gave several steps back until almost getting to the other end of the corridor. She put one foot behind the other, like she had seen all runners do, and sprinted with all her might, her eyes fixed on the metal ring she wanted to reach, gathering impulse as she got under the swinging chain and stretching her arm all she could as she jumped, finally hooking her finger in the chain ring and pulling down to get the trap door open, unfolding a staircase that hit the floor with a hollow sound.
Demian was inside the colliding room, sitting on the bed with his headphones on and reading a book. His cell phone was off to avoid any call, he just wanted a day off, away from everything, but the noise outside caused a vibration on the floor and he quickly pulled off one of the earphones and raised his gaze in alarm. He waited for a few seconds and heard some crackling and thuds outside the room. Noah had said he would be back probably at night, but perhaps he had changed plans… but he didn’t understand what he could be possibly doing out there to produce such a noise.
He set the book and headphones aside and approached the door cautiously. If it was an intruder, he didn’t want to alert him of his presence. He turned to knob quietly and opened with extreme caution, peering into the hallway. Opposite the door there was a rickety stair, descending from a hatch in the roof, and someone had climbed so he could only see a pair of legs and the rest of the body engulfed by darkness up there.
Marianne was just looking around the attic when she heard the voice. She startled, making the ladder shake, and when she tried to reassert her feet on the steps, they eventually gave way under her weight, splitting in half and collapsing on the floor, leaving her dangling from the hatch, so her legs looked like sprouting from the roof, kicking as if trying to swim in the air. It took Demian a few seconds to get out of his bewilderment at the absurdity of the situation and go to the spot below her.
“…I got you. You just have to let go when I tell you,” he indicated, lifting up his arms and hesitating for just a second before holding her waist. “Now.”
Marianne let go and he seemed to hold her effortlessly, helping her down as if she weighed nothing. As soon as she set foot on the floor, she pulled away and turned puzzled to him.
“…What are you doing here?”
“I… I’ve been here since yesterday,” Demian answered, suddenly aware that he had no logic explanation for his presence. Marianne looked skeptically at him.
“…Problems with Vicky?” was all she could say.
“No, I… just needed some time off.” That was technically true, but couldn’t keep his gaze from strolling around, denoting there was something else he wasn’t telling. “Your father was kind enough to welcome me here… I couldn’t think where else to go.”
Marianne still seemed bemused, and her father’s sudden question made sense now, but she still didn’t understand what he was running from. Was it because of the whole issue with the rumors?
“I would ask what you’re doing here too, but I think it’s a stupid question given how this is your father’s house after all,” he said, trying to lighten the moment with an attempt of smile, but Marianne was quite dazed, so he decided to focus on the open hatch. “Were you looking for something up there? Need some help?”
“No, no,” she rushed to reject his offer, protective of her familiar issues as always. “It doesn’t matter anyway, I was just… looking for a bracelet I lost in the move.”
“A bracelet,” Demian repeated blankly. He couldn’t say he knew her for a lifetime, but at least for several months now and he had never seen her wearing any bracelet, necklace, earrings or rings for that matter. She was clearly lying, but he couldn’t call her out for that; if she didn’t want to talk about it, he couldn’t force her.
“Yeah, my father gave it to me for… my birthday,” she reiterated, letting her automatic programming for lies to take control of her while heading for the stairs, as if looking for the nearest escape route. “…But I can come back some other day, never mind. I’ll leave you, so you can… keep enjoying your time off.”
“You don’t have to go,” Demian said out of an impulse though he immediately seemed to regret it. “…I mean, it’s your father’s house after all and you have the right to be here. I should be the one to leave in any case.”
“Nonsense, you’re a guest and I came without notice; my father doesn’t even know I’m here,” Marianne replied, toying with her sweater’s laces.
“At least let me take you home,” Demian suggested.
“You don’t have to, seriously,” she insisted, still moving towards the stairs. “I’d just… appreciate it if you keep my visit a secret, okay? My father doesn’t have to know… Bye.”
Before he could say anything, she already hurried down the stairs, and even though Demian had the intention to follow her, he finally held back. He turned to look at the open hatch and the broken ladder with a mixture of curiosity and wariness. He decided to collect the rubble and close it again when he heard hurried footsteps going up the stairs again and saw Marianne peering, as if she had forgotten something.
“What I said that day… it was completely unfair. I know you were just trying to ward me off from danger… I’m sorry.”
Demian didn’t know what to say at the moment, he knew it was hard for her to apologize, and whenever she did, it was because she couldn’t bear the remorse, so it seemed the best thing to reciprocrate in some way.
“If it’s of any worth, I’m sure he’ll come back.”
“So am I,” she said with a slight smile to then jump down the stairs once again.
Demian didn’t try to follow her this time. She clearly wanted to be left alone, and while her angel was gone, she wouldn’t have anything else in mind.
He turned his face to the hatch that led to the attic and saw the chain swinging, like an invitation to pull it down and discover what Marianne was trying to find up there… but he didn’t. He went back to his room and put on the headphones, trying to resume his reading, but it was useless, his concentration was gone. So, he just pushed the book away and rested his head against the headboard, leaving the headphones on. He sighed and closed his eyes, hoping to get lost in the music.
Out there, on the adjoining house’s roof, a gray hooded figure that matched the colour of the sky, watched him through the window with its hands in the front pockets and tilting its head with interest. After a moment, it walked to the edge of the roof and dropped with a perfectly balanced body, but never got to touch the floor, just vanished into thin air.
«Open your eyes»
The voice sounded distant and weak, but instead of hearing it throuh his ears, it seemed to come from his own mind. He felt weightless and incorporeal, back to an immaterial state when he didn’t know what any sensory stimulation felt, and yet he found himself struggling to open his eyes as the voice commanded. A bright spot danced through the crack of the horizon, only that there was no such horizon, it was just his eyelids slowly opening. The bright spot was taking shape, but not quite so; he didn’t dare to open his eyes completely at the risk of losing his recently regained sight.
«You can’t stay here any longer» The distant voice was heard again. The figure before him seemed to approach, but he could only make out a blurry faceless form leaning on him.
“…Who are you?” He struggled to open his eyes, but his eyelids weighed too much. He felt a surprisingly warm hand stroking his cheek, and the voice went directly into his ear.
«I hope you can forgive me one day»
He didn’t understand anything, but was instantly absorbed by a sense of weakness that forced him to close his eyes again.
In the end, Samael flew back into unconsciousness.