by Courtney Cole
Noun; ablative singular of nox (night)
Adverb; by night
To get exclusive excerpts, previews, free books, and giveaways, sign up for Courtney Cole's Fans-Only newsletter right here
Copyright 2014 by Courtney Cole
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this novel are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental and is beyond the intent of the author or publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Now that Nocte is over…
About The Author
I once considered not writing this story. It was too dark, too twisted, too much, too, too, too.
Obviously, I changed my mind. But I re-wrote in four different ways first, trying to make it different, more easily palatable, softer.
It didn’t work.
So I went back to my original idea, the idea that I loved. The idea that I dreamed about and lived and breathed until it was done the way I wanted it, the way it has to be.
I know you’re capable of reading it. I know you’re capable of putting yourselves back together again when it’s all over. I have faith in you.
Is this story dark?
It is twisted?
Will it slap you in the face?
Will it have you flipping the pages, trying to figure it out, trying to get to the climax, trying to breathe?
God, I hope so.
I wrote this story the way it needed to be written. I couldn’t sugarcoat it. I couldn’t water it down. It is this way because the story demands it.
I’m not sorry.
Insomniacs know that there is something about the night.
A darkness, an energy, a mystery that shrouds things.
It hides things at the same time as it illuminates them.
It is this thing
that allows us to examine our thoughts
in a way that we can’t during the day,
It is this thing that brings truth and clarity.
This book is for Tristan.
My son who I’ve passed insomnia to.
Always trust your own mind.
You know it best.
“By night, I am free.
No one hears my monsters but me.
My freedom is fragile, though,
Because every morning,
Over and over,
The night is broken
by the sun.
It’s a good way to die.”
--An early entry from the journal of Finn Price
I can’t I can’t I can’t
I can’t see
Calla calla calla calla
Save me, save you.
Serva me, servabo te.
Save me and I will save you.
-- A later entry from the journal of Finn Price
There is nothing quite so terrifying as the descension of the human mind into insanity.
“Secrets. Everybody’s got ‘em.”
My name is Calla Price. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m one half of a whole.
My other half-- my twin brother, my Finn-- is crazy.
I love him. More than life¸ more than anything. And even though I’m terrified he’ll suck me down with him, no one can save him but me.
I’m doing all I can to stay afloat in a sea of insanity, but I’m drowning more and more each day. So I reach out for a lifeline.
He’s my savior and my anti-Christ. His arms are where I feel safe, where I’m afraid, where I belong, where I’m lost. He will heal me, break me, love me and hate me.
He has the power to destroy me.
Maybe that’s ok. Because I can’t seem to save Finn and love Dare without everyone getting hurt.
Why? Because of a secret.
A secret I’m so busy trying to figure out, that I never see it coming.
You won’t either.
Outside, a starless night sky yawns far and wide against a full moon that creates shadows. Inside, those shadows seem to morph into each other, creating twisted hands that drag their broken fingers along the darkened walls of the salon.
My mother insists on calling the formal living room a salon. Since she learned the term when she was in France years ago, it makes her feel sophisticated. And since we live in a funeral home on the top of an isolated mountain in Oregon, my dad lets her feel sophisticated in any way she chooses.
She’s not here tonight, though, sophisticated or otherwise. She’s on her way to her book club, to drink wine and gossip, oblivious to the fact that my entire world just imploded. And since my father and brother are both gone too, I’m alone for now.
Alone and with a broken heart.
Yet not exactly alone. I’m here in a dark funeral home with two dead bodies down in my father’s embalming room.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. When your father is a mortician, you learn to sleep under the same roof as dead people.
But tonight, with the storm causing the trees to bend and hiss against the house, and the electricity knocked out from the wind, it’s alarming and dark and a bit terrifying.
My foot thumps against the side of the chair, an obvious sign that I’m agitated. I’m annoyed by my agitation, but honestly I deserve to be annoyed.
Everything in my life was just turned inside out.
I turn my gaze out the windows, and stare at the cliffs. Jagged rock juts into the sky, which creates a haunting picture and only serves to remind me that I’m very isolated here at the top of our mountain. Also, it’s lighter outside than it is in here, which is ridiculous.
I don’t know why I’m scared of being alone, but I am. A therapist might say that it’s because Finn and I are twins, and I’ve never had to be alone in my whole life. I even shared womb space.
It’s why my parents just told us at dinner that they think Finn and I should go to separate schools. And I must say, I don’t agree. I strongly disagree, in fact. Finn needs me because he’s not like me. The mere thought of being apart gives me heart palpitations and I know I have to try talking to my mother about it.
No matter what else is going on with me, or what else I found out tonight, Finn will always take precedence.
I grab my phone and punch in mom’s number because she’s in her car alone, with no distractions. She’ll have nothing to focus on other than what I’m saying. Maybe that means she’ll finally hear me.
The phone rings once, then she picks up.
“Hi Calla. Is everything okay, hon?”
After the bombshell she dropped on us tonight, she’s surprisingly cheerful.
“It’s fine. The storm knocked out the power, but I’m ok. Hey, mom… Finn can’t be alone. He needs to come to with me. I mean it. You don’t understand how important it is.” Because I can’t tell you over the phone.
I eye his journal, lying on a nearby table. If mom and dad knew some of the stuff in there, the weird Latin phrases, the scratched out words, the craziness, then they truly wouldn’t be giving me so much pushback.
But they don’t know because they respect his privacy, and because of that, they’re resolute in their desire to force independence on us.
Mom sighs now because this is a tired argument, and she’s tired of having it.
“You know our feelings on this,” she says firmly. “I get that you want to protect Finn. And I love that you’re so protective, but Calla, he has to learn to live without that and so do you. You’ve got to have a life of your own, without constantly watching over your brother. Please trust us to know what’s best.”
“But mom,” I argue. “After everything that happened tonight with… Something happened tonight. And more than ever, I know I can’t leave Finn. I know him better than anyone.”
“What happened tonight?” mom asks, quickly and curiously. “Did something happen with…”
“It’s nothing I want to talk about over the phone,” I interrupt her tiredly. “I just… I want you to promise me that you’ll think about letting Finn and me stay together. Please. I’m part him, and he’s part me and that’s what being a twin is all about. He might be different than me in one way, but we’re the same in a million others. No one gets him like I do. He needs me.”
Mom sighs again. “That’s the whole point, honey,” she says gently. “The one difference between you. Think back to that day, the day that we first knew about it. Tell me again what happened.”
I’m the one sighing now because my heart is aching and I don’t want to talk about this now. Maybe calling her was a bad idea.
“You know what happened,” I say limply.
“Humor me,” she directs me. Firmly.
“We were playing Capture the Flag in Kindergarten.” I tell her reluctantly, like I’m reciting from a book. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the hot, dirty gym floor. “Finn had the flag. He was running.” His skinny arms and legs were flying, his hair was damp on his brow.
My chest hurts a little. “Then he started screaming. And running in the other direction. He wasn’t playing anymore. He was screaming about demons chasing him.”
“And what else?” My mom’s voice is sympathetic, but still very firm.
“And my name. He was screaming my name.”
I can still hear him shrieking my name, his voice boyish and shrill and desperate.
But before I could do anything that day, he climbed the hanging rope all the way to the ceiling to get away from the demons.
It’d taken four teachers to get him down.
He wouldn’t even come down for me.
He was hospitalized for two weeks after that and diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, which is a nasty cross between Schizophrenia and Bi-Polarism and very appropriately referred to as SAD. He’s been medicated ever since. He’s been chased by those effing demons ever since, too.
That’s why he needs me.
“Mom,” I murmur desperately, because I know where she’s headed with this. But she’s unrelenting.
“Calla, he called for you. Because he always calls for you. I know it’s a twin thing, but it’s not fair to either of you. You’ve got to be able to go to college and figure out who you are outside of being Finn’s sister. He’s got to do the same. I promise you, we’re not doing this as a punishment. We’re doing it because it’s best. Do you trust me?”
I’m silent, mostly because my throat feels hot and constricted and I can’t speak from the mere frustration.
“Calla? Do you trust me?”
My mom is so freaking insistent.
“Yes,” I tell her. “Yeah, I trust you. But mom, it’s not a problem for me. Because when Finn’s on his meds, he’s almost normal. He’s fine.”
Almost. There’s only been a few break-through episodes. And a few periods of depression. And a few delusions.
Other than that, he’s been fine.
“Except for the times that he’s not fine,” my mom answers.
“No buts, Calla,” she shuts me down, quickly and efficiently. “Honey, we’ve talked this into the ground. Now, I’ve gotta go. I forgot my reading glasses so I’m on my way back to get them. But the rain is bad so I need to focus on the road—“
She interrupts her own sentence with a scream.
A shrill, loud, high-pitched shriek. It almost punctures my ear-drums with its intensity and before I can make heads or tails of it, it breaks off mid-way through. And I realize that I heard something else in the background.
The sound of metal and glass being crunched and broken.
There’s no answer, only loaded pregnant silence.
My hands shake as I wait for what seems like an eternity, but is actually only a second.
“Mom?” I demand, scared now.
Chills run up and down my back, and goose-bumps form on my arms because I somehow know that she won’t be answering.
And I’m right.
Mom died as she was screaming, as the metal crunched and the glass broke. The EMTs say that when they found her at the bottom of the ravine, the phone was somehow still in her hand.
Astoria smells like dying.
At least, it does to me.
Embalming chemicals. Carnations. Roses. Stargazers. These things mix with the sea breeze and pine trees blowing through the open windows, forming an olfactory cocktail that smells like a funeral to me. That’s fitting, I suppose, since I live in a funeral home. And my mother recently died.
Everything reminds me of a funeral because I’m surrounded by death.
Or mortem, as Finn would say. He’s obsessed with learning Latin, and has been for the past two years. I don’t know why, considering it’s a dead language. But then again, I guess that makes total sense around here.
My brother, on the other hand, only makes sense part of the time. We’re supposed to be preparing for college, but all he’s interested in is scribbling in his journal, learning Latin and looking up morbid facts about death.
The mere thought of the battered leather book sends a shudder down my spine. It’s tangible proof of how crazy his thoughts can be, and because of that (and the fact that I promised him I wouldn’t), I don’t look into it.
It scares me too much.
With a sigh, I stare down at him from my bedroom windows, down at the lawns of the funeral home. From here, I can see Finn and my father working on the landscaping, bent over in the early morning Oregon sun as they pull weeds from the flowerbeds that surround the house.
Finn’s arms are skinny, his skin pale as he tugs at the roots, then drops the dusty weeds into a pile of wilted greens. I watch him for a minute, not with the eyes of his sister, but with the objective eyes of someone who might be seeing him for the first time.
My brother is slender and clean-cut, w
ith an array of sandy brown curls haphazardly arranged in a halo. His eyes are pale blue, his smile is wide and bright, and he’s beautiful in an artist kind of way.
You know, the kind of artist who forgets to eat because they’re so passionate about their work… and because they forget to eat, they’re slender and sinewy, all angles and bone. Finn’s handsome though, sweet and quirky.
And I’m not just saying that because we’re twins.
We don’t look anything alike. The only thing we share is skin the color of cream and the same shape of nose, straight, aquiline, with a slight tilt on the end. Otherwise, I have green eyes and dark red hair, just like our mother.
I ignore the lump that forms in my throat when I think about her and I desperately try to put her out of my mind. Immediately. Because whenever I think about her, all I can think about is the hand that I played in her car crash. If I hadn’t called her… if she hadn’t answered…. she’d still be here right now.
Alive and breathing.
But she’s not.
That weight threatens to crush my chest, and so instead of focusing on the guilt that blinds me, I focus on getting dressed. Because focusing on something, concentrating on monotony, sometimes distracts me from the grief.
I throw some clothes on, yank my hair into a ponytail, and clatter down the gleaming mahogany steps, which incidentally, are the same exact shade as my mother’s casket.
God, Calla. Why does every freaking thing have to come back to that?
I grit my teeth and force my stubborn mind to think of other things, but that’s hard in a funeral home. Especially as I may my way out of the private part of the house and into the public areas.
All I can do is keep my eyes pointed forward.
Because even though no one is here yet today, there are two Viewing Rooms straddling this hall. There’s a body in each one, laid out in their finest for all of their acquaintances to stare at.