Killing rites, p.31
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       Killing Rites, p.31

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 31


  Somewhere out there, Ex was looking for me. Part of it was that he cared about me, but somewhere along the line, I’d come to mean something else to him. I’d become a symbol. Maybe it had happened in Chicago. Maybe all the way back in Denver. I was his chance to make things right with the girl he’d failed. And now I’d vanished. As far as he knew, I was totally controlled by my rider and I’d started picking off Chapin’s priests. I wondered how hard it would be for him, thinking that his second chance was slipping away. Only I kind of knew. I thought about calling him, telling him everything was going to be all right. It wouldn’t have helped, though.

  The weeks we’d spent together, just the two of us, started to seem different now. At the time, I’d been so scared and so frightened. And guilty. And he’d been there to make all the decisions, call all the shots. It was classic, really. He needed a damsel in distress. I needed a knight in shining armor. Our pathologies fit together like a hand in a glove. The only surprise was that we hadn’t ended up in bed together, and even that had been a near thing. I wondered if it would have been different if he hadn’t slept with Isabel. Being head-shy about her could have been the thing that kept us one step back from the edge. If he’d slipped into my bed back at that condo in the ski valley—

  Except if he hadn’t slept with Isabel, everything would be different. He wouldn’t have left Chapin’s cabal in the first place. He wouldn’t have met Eric or been there to lend a hand when I first got in trouble. He would never have been part of my little constructed family. And without him, I wouldn’t have gotten out of Chicago at all.

  The guy next door turned off his television. I heard the water running in the bathroom next door. A bath or a shower or shaving. That anonymous intimacy felt strange. I could put my hand against the wall and know that two, maybe three feet away, someone was going through the private motions of their night, just as if I weren’t there. The wind rattled the door, and Ozzie stretched, yawned, and went back to sleep. Alexander’s breath was deep and regular, and there was a little color coming back to his cheeks. I picked up my phone—almost midnight—and checked my e-mail. Three pieces of spam and a Pink Martini fan newsletter I’d signed up for last year and never unsubscribed from. The temptation to call someone—anyone—was almost overpowering. If not Ex, then Chogyi Jake. Or Aubrey. Or Kim. My little brother, Curtis. My old boyfriend from college whom I didn’t even want to talk to. Some other human voice.

  I’d had three families, really. My real one first: mother, father, Curtis, and Jay, and with them all my friends and enemies at church and school. Then college, and the intimate little circle around my boyfriend and his compatriots. And then the one I’d inherited from Eric. They didn’t overlap. No one from ASU had ever met my brothers. Aubrey and Ex and Chogyi Jake didn’t know anyone from those earlier parts of my life. There were conversations I’d never be able to have, because the people who could have carried the other half were scattered to the wind. My older brother was going to get married, and I’d never met the girl. My younger brother was going to graduate from high school soon, and then God only knew what he’d do. My friends from college had stopped talking to me even before I’d left. And now Aubrey was gone, back to Kim. And, not putting too fine a point on it, I was gone too.

  “Hey,” I said softly. “You there?”

  Alexander didn’t react. Ozzie lifted her muzzle, sighed, and tucked her head down again. My rider didn’t do anything, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t listening. When I spoke again, it was barely above a whisper.

  “When I was maybe five, the church kindergarten had this classroom pet, and whoever had the most gold stars at the end of the day got to feed him. Were you with me back then? Do you remember that?”

  I sat down in the chair again. The wind had calmed a little. The neighbor’s shower was done. My rider’s voice sounded tired, but also amused. Like she was remembering the same things I was.

  “Twinkle, the guinea pig,”

  “Yeah,” I said. “That was his name. ”

  I leaned back in the chair. She didn’t say anything else. I couldn’t really feel her, there in my own body with me. Or maybe I was just so used to her being there that it was indistinguishable from normal. The idea that she’d always been there was comforting. I pulled up the phone’s web browser and read some celebrity gossip, downloaded a cheap pattern-matching game, and tried not to sleep. Every now and then, I’d hear a car pass by, tires humming against the blacktop. I wondered where Midian was, and if he’d gone through the centuries without friends or companions. It sounded like a terrible and lonesome existence, but maybe that came with being the kind of thing he was. Maybe it was like killing people. It just didn’t bother him.

  Ozzie’s head came up sharply. Her ears were canted forward, her wet eyes alert and focused on the door. She growled low and serious. I hadn’t heard anything. No cars had driven up. No footsteps on the wood outside. I rose up silently and put my hand on Alexander’s shoulder. His eyes opened and I nodded toward the front. He sat up, the bed creaking under him.

  The knock on the door was so soft and tentative, it would have been easy to sleep through. Ozzie looked from me to the door and back, anxious but quiet. I patted her back.

  “Who’s there?” I said.

  “Jayné?” a young girl’s voice said.

  “Dolores, is that—”

  The door burst in, the frame splintering as pure animal force pushed lock and bolt out of the wood. The stink of sewer filled my nostrils as the enemy rushed into the room, pulling the dark behind it.

  Chapter 19

  There was no mistaking who they were. Or, more to the point, who they had been. I recognized Dolores’s wide face. Her older sister, Soledad, still had the unmistakable resemblance of family despite the changes the rider had made to both of them. Their eyes were the perfect black of spent motor oil, and their skin was the same soft brown I’d seen in San Esteban, only covered now with a greenish film like something you’d find on lunch meat left in the back of a refrigerator for years. Dolores wore a dark velvet dress and white leggings soaked with sewage that also clung to her body. Big sister Soledad had blue jeans and a black T-shirt that were just as filthy. Dolores’s open mouth overflowed with a huge black tongue, and green-brown rivulets drained from her nostrils. Something like a black fog swirled behind and around them, particles of raw darkness pressing against the light. The stink was overwhelming and familiar.

  Behind me, I heard Alexander cry out, but I didn’t look back. Dolores—smaller by thirty or forty pounds—leaped in toward me. Her thin arms spread before her, her fingers spread in claws. Behind her, Soledad shrieked and lifted a fire axe over her head, ready to cleave my skull. And then I wasn’t driving. Dolores slashed at my belly as the axe blade came down. I felt the cold pain of claws against my skin, but my body turned away, letting the axe fall past my side and pull the larger girl off balance. My right hand closed in a fist, swinging hard toward Dolores’s thin chest, but the girl dodged. She moved with a jerking speed, like she was stop-motion animation that had forced its way into real life. Soledad leaped onto the dresser, holding her axe in both hands. My body started to turn toward her, but Dolores’s claws dug at my thigh, commanding my attention.

  The girl I’d saved a few days before grinned at me and spat. Her teeth were a stained yellow, and the voice that spilled obscenities from her lips was rough and guttural. My body shifted to the right, bringing up my left knee and kicking hard at her belly. She shifted, taking the worst of it as a glancing blow to the ri but I still thought I felt something give way under my heel and she stumbled back onto the chair.

  I’m sorry, I thought toward the little girl.

  She was eight. In a sane world, her biggest problem would be memorizing her times tables.

  My hip swung around, my weight following it. When I brought my elbow down, she slipped away. The chair disintegrated under my blow. Somewhere nearby, Ozzie was bar
king in a frenzy. Something behind me cracked like a baseball bat hitting a home run, but I couldn’t even look back to see what it was. Dolores’s hand was on my shoulder, the grip colder than snow and stronger than a vise. I heard my voice cry out in pain, felt myself stumble, and then she was up on my shoulders, thighs squeezing my neck and arms wrapped around me. I was blind, and my throat felt like it was about to collapse.

  Something in my larynx crackled—cartilage starting to give—and I tried to cough, but no air would go in or out. I started to panic, but my rider spread my stance, bending at the knee like a sumo wrestler, and then bent forward hard from the waist. Dolores spun down through the air, crashing through the front window. Her grip on my throat eased, and I sucked in foul air. I almost retched, but at least I was breathing. My flattened hands forced their way between the possessed girl’s legs and my own throat, and we strained against each other. Bones creaked like trees in a high wind, but millimeter by millimeter, she lost ground until all at once, she jumped away.

  “Betrayer!” Dolores cried in her loathsome voice, the thick tongue slurring the words. “Meat-fucker! You turn against your own kind for them, and you will suffer the price. ”

  “Oh, whatever,” my rider said, then twisted and sunk a balled fist deep into the child’s solar plexus. I felt the heat of her will in the blow, and the thing inside Dolores grunted, stumbling back. My head turned. The black fog put the whole room in twilight, lights that had burned gold now struggling to a dirty orange. Alexander was on his hands and knees, the older sister standing above him, axe raised above her head like an executioner. Ozzie had her teeth set in the girl’s right calf, pulling at it and growling. The axe arced down as Alexander rolled to the side. The axe rebounded off the floor with a grinding sound. The rip in the carpet bled black.

  Ozzie jumped back, barked, and lunged again, taking a fresh grip on Soledad’s leg. With a shout of rage, it turned its head, taking aim at the dog.
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