Relentless, p.3
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       Relentless, p.3

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  The steel door swung open noiselessly on well-oiled hinges, and I slipped inside, easing it shut behind me. Silence greeted me. I started to smile, but it turned into a wince when the split in my lip stung. Eyes watering, I crossed the storeroom to the far wall and set the cat on the floor. I climbed one of the sturdy shelving units to the ceiling where I stuck my hand under one of the tiles and pulled out a small, black metal box. Inside the box were a few hundred dollars and a tiny vial of troll bile half the size of the one I’d given Malloy. The bile was my own personal stash that Remy insisted I keep on hand for emergencies. I usually healed very fast and hardly ever got sick – a benefit of having healing power – but it wouldn’t do for Nate to see me with a fat lip.

  I uncorked the bottle, tipped it to wet my finger and dabbed the pungent liquid to my swollen lip and bruised knuckles. There was an instant burning sensation, then blessed numbness as the sting faded away. I didn’t need a mirror to know that my lip was already mending and in no time it would be healed completely. The bile didn’t heal broken bones, but it made cuts and bruises disappear in minutes. I dabbed a bit on my knuckles and watched the redness fade from them, trying not to think of Scott who was probably having his nose reset right now. I corked the vial and put the box back in the ceiling, thinking that if anyone should have the bile right now it was him.

  “Come on, cat.” I picked him up again and headed for the stairs.

  Nate and I had a whole building to ourselves, which was actually pretty cool. Years ago the first floor used to house a bookstore, but it went out of business when the large chain stores came to town. After that, Nate decided that being a landlord was too much hassle. He didn’t really need the rent, so he decided not to lease the space again. We lived in the two-story apartment upstairs, and the bottom floor was mostly used for storage now and Nate’s home gym.

  I dragged my tired body up the stairs and slipped quietly into the apartment. Sounds from the den told me Nate was at work on his computer. I crept past the open door, hoping he was too involved in his work to notice my entrance.

  “You missed dinner again.”

  I backtracked and stood in the doorway wearing an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I lost track of time.”

  Nate looked at me over the top of his monitor, and I met his green eyes that were so like my own. With the same chestnut hair and golden skin we resembled each other so much that people often mistook us for father and daughter. Nate’s hair was already streaked with gray, making him look a little older than his thirty-nine years, but I thought the gray suited him. Or maybe I told myself that to feel better about being guilty of putting some of that gray there.

  His hair was mussed, and the shadows under his eyes told me he wasn’t getting enough sleep again. He had been working night and day on his latest book, barely coming out to eat and sleep; he always got like that when he was near the end of the first draft. Nate wrote military suspense novels, and he was on the fourth book in his series. His work was very good. He didn’t know it, but I read all his books.

  “What on earth have you been up to? You look like you’ve been in a fight.” There was no accusation in his voice, just disappointment. I opened my mouth in denial, but he said, “You have blood on your coat.”

  “Oh.” I frowned at the spots of dried blood on the front of my tan coat. “This is my favorite one, too. I’d better put it in cold water.”

  “Sara,” he said in warning tone. I stopped, and he sighed heavily. “What happened?”

  I made a face. “You say that like I’m out there brawling every other day.”

  “So you were in a fight.”

  Busted. “I had a perfectly good reason.” I held up the cat so he could see it over his monitor.

  Nate stared at the scrawny bundle of fur in my arms. “Is that thing alive?”

  “Of course it’s alive!” I stroked the cat’s head, and he purred loudly. “Do you think I’d be walking around with a dead cat?”

  “Do you want me to answer that?”

  I made a face. “Didn’t I tell you? I’m into voodoo now, and I thought I’d start with zombie cats.” I wondered what he’d think if he knew there were people out there who really could reanimate corpses.

  He stared at me like he was trying to decide if that was a joke. I used the opportunity to try to slip away.

  “Not so fast. You still didn’t tell me what happened. Sit.”

  I took the chair in front of the desk and laid the cat on my lap as Nate maneuvered his motorized chair around the desk. He parked it two feet from me and said, “Spill it.”

  I told him about seeing Scott and Ryan chasing the cat and how I followed them to the beach. With as little detail as possible, I related the altercation between me and Scott, making the fight sound more like a shoving match than a fight. I still felt so ashamed and afraid of what I’d done that I really didn’t want to relive it.

  “So where did the blood come from?”

  “Um… this poor little guy is all scratched up. It must have come from him.”

  He cast a suspicious look at the cat. “Speaking of your new friend – what do you plan to do with him?”

  “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “Clean him up and feed him for now.”

  Nate was silent for a long moment. I waited for the double scolding – one for fighting and the other for bring home yet another stray. My uncle wasn’t an animal hater. He just liked order in his home, and animals weren’t exactly the tidiest roommates.

  As if on cue, Daisy, our three-legged Beagle, limped into the room. I don’t know how she lost her leg. I used to see her around the waterfront, and it amazed me how well she moved on three legs. One day, six months ago, she didn’t move fast enough and got hit by a car. Healing her took a lot out of me, but I saved her. Nate was not happy when I came home with a dog, but who could put a three-legged dog out on the street? Now Daisy was his almost constant companion, and though Nate would never admit it, I knew he liked her company.

  Daisy came over to me and sniffed, and the cat let out a warning hiss. Chastised, the dog sat back on her haunches to watch the newcomer from a safe distance.

  “Sara, you’re seventeen, too old to be fighting with boys down at the wharf no matter what the reason.” I tried to speak up, but he held up a hand. “You spend too much time alone when you should be going out with your friends, having fun. And you should be dating boys – not fighting with them.”

  I squirmed on my chair. I was pretty sure no other teenage girl had a parent telling them to go out to parties and date. “I have friends,” I argued weakly. Okay, maybe I had never dated and I wasn’t a social butterfly, but I did have friends. As for girls, well they didn’t seem to warm up to me much. I didn’t know why. It wasn’t that they hated me; they just didn’t seem comfortable around me.

  Nate scoffed. “Friends like Greg, you mean? There’s a model of good behavior. I suppose that’s where you learned to fight.”

  “Greg is not a bad guy – and no, he didn’t teach me to fight. Just because he’s a biker doesn’t make him a criminal.” There was that one thing, but I didn’t think juvenile records counted once you reached eighteen. And I wasn’t about to bring that up to Nate.

  “He might not be a criminal, but he’s no angel either.”

  I had to suppress a smile because Nate was right about that. Greg was definitely no angel. A year older than me, Greg was already the school badass when I started high school and met him for the first time. He grew up working in his uncle’s bike shop, and he was tougher and brawnier than half the senior boys and not afraid to show it. There was something about the roguish tilt of his head and the gleam in his green eyes when he smiled – or scowled at you – that either drew you in or scared the heck out of you. I wasn’t sure if it was the way he did his own thing without a care for anyone’s opinion or the fact that he could have bullied anyone in school and chose not to, but I liked him immediately. He didn’t really associate wit
h the other students, so I wasn’t sure why he’d decided to befriend me. One day he just started sitting with me at lunch, and when he got his first bike he gave me rides and took me to Jed’s with him and his friends. I’d even had a crush on him for a short while until his friend Mike told me I reminded them of Greg’s younger cousin, which put a damper on any romantic notions I had for him.

  I missed Greg. He and Mike had moved to Philadelphia right after graduation to work for Mike’s uncle who owned an automotive parts plant. It wasn’t the best job in the world, but as long as it paid the rent and kept his bike running, Greg was happy. We kept in touch through email, but it had been over a week since I’d last heard from him.

  “Greg moved to Philly, remember? I haven’t seen him since June.”

  “Well, I won’t pretend to be sad about that.” He tapped the arm of his chair. “What about Roland? I remember when you two used to be inseparable. And Peter, too.”

  “We still hang out. We just like to do some different things now; that’s all.” It wasn’t that Roland didn’t try to include me, and I did go to an occasional party with him. I just wasn’t into partying as much as my best friend. Roland understood that even if no one else did.

  “It seems like you’ve become more closed off the last few years. It’s not healthy to shut everyone out.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s my fault. I left you alone too much when you were younger. I know I’m not your father… I just wish I knew how to get through to you.” He gave me a pleading look. “You spend so much time alone or off doing God knows what. I have no idea where you are or what you’re doing.”

  “Nate, I – ” I faltered, because we always seemed to end up here. I mean, what was I supposed to say? “Hey, Nate, guess what? I saved a life today. I have this amazing power that lets me heal things. But I can’t fix your spine because it doesn’t work on humans. By the way, can I invite my troll friend over for dinner?”

  He pressed a button on his chair, and it began to back around the desk again. “Go get some dinner. I left lasagna in the oven for you.”

  I carried the cat to the kitchen and found a can of tuna for him, making a mental note to pick up some food for him tomorrow. Daisy followed us, and I poured some food into her dish before I popped my own dinner in the microwave.

  Nate’s lasagna was one of my favorite foods, but I could have been eating cardboard and not noticed it with the myriad of emotions swirling through me. What had happened to me on the beach? In the span of a few hours I went from saving a life to hurting someone. Seeing what I was capable of freaked me out more than a little.

  To top it all off I had lied to Nate again. I sat quietly at our small kitchen table, pushing my food around with my fork. I hated deceiving Nate, but there were too many things in my life that I couldn’t tell him about. It was easier to let him be disappointed in me than to try to tell him the truth.

  I wished there was a way to bridge the distance between us. He was all the family I had, and I knew my dad would have wanted us to be close. It wasn’t Nate’s fault; he had been a good parent to me after my dad’s death. I was pretty messed up when I came here, and I never opened up to him as much as I could have. And then I discovered Remy and the real world, and suddenly I had all these secrets I couldn’t share with anyone.

  It’s not that I didn’t care, because I loved Nate more than anything in the world. We just had so little in common. Nate was one of those people who didn’t believe in the paranormal or supernatural or anything that did not have a solid scientific explanation. He never read fantasy fiction or watched supernatural movies or TV shows. It drove him nuts when I watched Buffy reruns, so I usually watched them in my room. In some ways, he was more closed off than I was, and I wasn’t sure he could handle learning about my power and the real world around him.

  I rinsed my plate and retreated upstairs with the cat in my arms. The top floor of our building was split into an attic and an open space that served as my bedroom, kind of like a loft apartment without the kitchen. On one side stood my bed, dresser, and desk. Beneath the large window on the other side was a faded green couch that was barely visible under the clothes and books strewn across it, and beside the couch were two tall overflowing bookcases. My dad had been an English teacher, and he had loved books, especially the classics. He used to say “No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books.” I looked it up a few years ago and found that it came from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sometimes I’m not too sure about God, but I agree with my dad and Browning about books. I’ve read all of his books and added my own to the collection. I think he’d be pleased to know I grew up to share his passion for reading.

  The walls of my room were bare except for a few pictures of my dad and some of me, Roland, and Peter. Roland called the room depressingly empty and lamented the fact that I refused to replace my dad’s old stereo with a newer one. But I liked my space. It was private and I had my own bathroom, even if it was the size of a closet. The best part was that the room had lots of windows with a wide view of the bay. What more could a girl want?

  “Alright cat, let’s get you cleaned up before you go anywhere near my furniture.” I grabbed Daisy’s shampoo and a towel and proceeded to wash the filthy animal from head to toe. He was too lethargic from his meal and the healing to put up much of a fight, and he purred like a little engine when I toweled him dry. I set him down on an old blanket on the couch, and he stretched happily and curled into a ball, completely at home.

  After I set up the litter box used by our last feline guest, I left the cat to his nap and jumped in the shower, hoping the hot water would wash away more than the grime from today’s events. But nothing could cleanse me of the memories of what had happened with Scott. I had always thought of myself as a good person, but only a monster would relish hurting a person the way I had. I shivered despite the hot water flowing over me.

  My thoughts went to the little boggie family as I dried myself, and I wondered how they were doing. Instead of grieving the loss of a child tonight, Fren and Mol were at home with their new baby. I had saved a life today – that had to count for something. Was that enough to redeem me for the awful thing I’d done after?

  Dressed in a cami and my favorite pajama bottoms, I popped in a Fleetwood Mac CD and carried my sketchbook over to the bed. I’d inherited my dad’s CD collection, along with his love for seventies rock. It was one of the few things Nate and I had in common – our taste in music – and he even borrowed CDs on occasion. I shook off my regret as I flipped open the sketchbook to a clean page. If it wasn’t for this whole secret life thing I had going on, my uncle and I might have been a lot closer than we were.

  I thought about the boggies, summoning an image of the tiny boggie infant I’d held in my arms. My pencil flew over the paper as I tried to capture his likeness. I drew him in my hands because that was my clearest picture of him, the moment he opened his mouth and bawled for the first time. When I was finished, I smiled at the drawing of the little creature, his squashed face scrunched up unhappily and his tiny mouth open in a silent cry. I was no da Vinci, but my sketches weren’t half bad. It wasn’t like I shared them with anyone anyway.

  A tapping at one of the windows drew my attention away from my sketch, and I ran over to open the window to admit a large black crow. He cawed and flapped around the room a few times before landing on my outstretched hand.

  “Harper, it’s about time you came home,” I scolded him, stroking the soft feathers at the back of his neck. He’d been gone for two days, and I was worried he’d gotten into trouble. Technically, he didn’t live with us, but he liked to hang out here, especially on the roof. He had kind of adopted me after I saved him from Scott, but he still liked to go off and do his own thing.

  “If you’re hungry, there’s food in your dish,” I told him when he shifted restlessly, a cue that he wanted a treat. I wasn’t surprised when he left my hand, flew out the window, and headed for the roof. More than once I
d suspected he understood me when I talked to him. I read that crows were very intelligent, and Harper had gotten a good dose of my power when I’d healed him. Who knew what other affects my power had on animals?

  I left the window open for him and sat down at my laptop to check out the online activity. Today was the second time I’d used troll bile to purchase medicine for Remy, and I was paranoid as hell that someone would trace it back to me, and especially to Remy. It was the main reason I dealt only with Malloy. For all his crafty ways, Malloy was very discreet about his business. In his line of work he had to be if he didn’t want to end up gutted in an alley.

  The message boards were busy. There was no mention of troll bile, but another thread caught my eye – one about vampire activity in Portland. Vampires were the most common topic discussed on the boards, and there were always tons of posts about vampire sightings, though it was pretty easy to distinguish the real deal from the hype. I’d never seen a vampire, but I knew plenty about them, mostly learned from Remy, and my education had taught me that Hollywood and fiction writers had absolutely no clue.

  Vampires usually kept to large cities where their hunting could be camouflaged by the higher crime rate. They lived in covens and liked to hunt in small packs, and while they were mostly active at night, mature vamps could handle exposure to daylight as long as it wasn’t direct sunlight and not for long periods. Younger vamps, those less than a hundred years old, were not strong enough to withstand even a minute of daylight. Most vamps, young and old, wouldn’t risk the chance of meeting the sun, so they stayed hidden during the day.

  And there were no solitary vamps wandering the earth with tortured souls waiting to be saved by true love. Vampires were pure evil, and their only redeeming quality was that they could be killed with the right weapons. Unfortunately, if a human got close enough to see a vampire in the flesh, chances were they would not survive to talk about it.

  The posting about Portland caught my attention because Portland was a little over an hour from New Hastings, and I used to live there with my dad. There usually wasn’t that much talk about the Portland area because its population was not big enough to hide unusual activity. So when I read that four teenage girls, all seventeen and eighteen, had disappeared in the last two weeks, a chill went through me. All the girls were reported as suspected runaways, though they had taken nothing with them and none of their friends believed they would run away. None of the girls knew each other, and the police had no leads. The poster said it looked like a vampire was at work in the area.

  Bile rose in my throat. Vampires took great pleasure in torturing their victims before they drain them. And what they left behind… A shudder passed through me as an image came unbidden to my mind. I closed my eyes, but the scene had been seared into my brain.

  I gritted my teeth and waited for the old fear and pain to pass. At times like this I wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and hide under my covers. But I didn’t. If there were vampires in Maine, I had to know.

  The rest of the thread did not offer any more information other than the girls had all disappeared at night. The user who had started the thread was a regular on the site, and we talked often. He really knew his stuff, so I pinged him and asked for a private chat. Within minutes, he popped up in a separate window.

  Wulfman: Sup, PG? Been a while.

  PixieGirl: Yeah, been busy. Reading your post. Vamps in Portland?

  Wulfman: According to my sources. Weird though. Not their usual scene.

  PixieGirl: Wonder what brings them back to Portland.

  Wulfman: Back? What do you know?

  Pause.

  PixieGirl: Knew someone killed by vamps ten years ago.

  Wulfman: Wow. I never knew. Sorry.

  PixieGirl: You remember any activity back then?

  Wulfman: I wasn’t on the scene then. I can check my sources and get back to you.

  PixieGirl: Thanks.

  Wulfman: It would help if I had the name of your friend who died.

  Long pause.

  Wulfman: Still there?

  PixieGirl: Yeah. His name was Daniel Grey.

 

 
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