I was the monster from the movies. Difficult to put down, creative in how I killed. I operated by a pattern, and I accomplished what I set out to do.
In assuming my role, here, in lining things up and knocking them down, in sticking to my word, and in doing justice, I was being rewarded by the universe. Things were being allowed to go my way. I didn’t have the burden of Thorburn karma. I was fledgling, relatively newborn, and the parts of me that were older were being subsumed, eroded away in favor of me becoming more of a monster. I was becoming less of a fragment of Russel or Ross Thorburn, and more of a complete Other thing.
I had no illusions. I was walking a fine line, a tightrope. One serious mistake, and I stood to fall, and fall hard.
The Duchamps were walking through the dark and the drifting snow. I barely looked at them, my eyes on the ground where I walked, my attention elsewhere.
“They’re going to see us,” Evan said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Is bad,” Evan said, stressing the words, like I was a small child.
“It’s good,” I murmured. “I can tell when they’re scared. The trick is to only give them glances of us. Get them nervous. Let them worry.”
I glanced at Green Eyes.
“What do you think I was doing when we first met?” she asked. “I thought if you startled and fell, I could catch you.”
By all rights, I should have been annoyed. I had concerns about Green Eyes, that went beyond the fact that she openly talked about murdering people. She was impulsive, and that wasn’t just a problem in terms of the risk it posed to her, but it was a problem in the risk it posed to her victims.
That woman, Jan, I wasn’t sure she’d really deserved to be killed.
“Green Eyes,” I said.
“You made me a promise, that you would be careful about who you targeted.”
“One of the four remaining targets is the old man in that group.”
“With the necklace?” Evan asked.
“Yeah. With the necklace. His schtick is messing with fortune, basically. He knows how to play the game, how to get the universe on his side, and presumably that means things go against his opponents.”
“Against us,” Green Eyes said.
“Against us,” I said.
I felt a spike of attention as someone noticed me, peering backward over their shoulder and into the gloom.
I changed direction, picking up speed, and let them put some distance between myself and them.
The fear only heightened, in the moment they lost sight of me.
“You’ll need to be especially careful when we go up against him,” I said. “You can’t jump in like you have twice now, especially now that we’ve got a guy like him in play. Even if you think I’m in danger. Even if we aren’t fighting him, specifically. Even after, it’s just…”
“Okay,” Green Eyes said.
“Okay?” Just like that.
“I may need more than a try,” I said. “If you go after the wrong person, or if his magic kicks in and throws a wrench in the works…”
“I’ll try,” she said. “I’ll try.”
“You don’t trust yourself enough to be sure?”
She turned her face up to look at me. I hadn’t realized how dark it really was, with how my eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and my natural ability to see in darkness. But her eyes glowed much as they had in the oppressive darkness of the Drains.
“Do you trust yourself?” she asked.
I didn’t have an honest answer for her.
“That’s not supposed to be snarky or clever. It’s a real question,” she said. “Physically, you’re about as messed up as I am. But your head? Your heart? That’s different. You get hurt and you fill in the gaps with bits of ‘monster’, but you’re doing it faster than I was. But the stuff that hurts your body is different than stuff that hurts your head and your heart.”
“You’re asking how hurt my heart and head are?”
“If that kind of hurt affects your head, then I feel like I should be more monstrous than I am, there.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Do you trust yourself, when you think about that?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Fairly sure I do.”
“A small part of me feels like I was the sort of person who didn’t trust herself, even before I was a monster,” Green Eyes told me. “How can I be sure I can trust myself now?”
“That’s a good question,” I said. “I wish I had an answer.”
“You’re such a guy,” she said. “God. Not every question needs an answer. Not every problem needs advice. Sometimes the question is an answer. My question was an answer.”
“Oh, oh, I know this one!” Evan chimed in. “Rhetorical question.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant,” Green Eyes said.
“But it’s still rhetorical!”
“Shh,” I said, “We don’t want them to hear. There are some Others in that group.”
“It’s still rhetorical,” Evan whispered. Green Eyes raised her head to stick her tongue out at him.
We were drawing closer to the retreating group. The conversation was distracting from my thoughts about strategy, how to deal with them before they found a sanctuary of sorts. Getting them scared was good. Scared meant they were more likely to make mistakes, or to show their hands.
They were, I noted, putting more creatures in the back ranks.
“I think being with you helps,” Green Eyes said, her voice small.
I glanced down at her.
“With my feeling sure of myself.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
Evan looked up at me. He switched to looking down at her, for just a second, as if he were checking something, then looked up at me.
He hopped in place once, silent.
“Good,” I said.
Green Eyes smiled.
Why did Green Eyes seem to associate creepy, predator-ish situations with these sorts of discussions? In grave danger? I like you! Stalking potential victims? You’re swell!
I had to focus. We didn’t have a lot of time, and we needed to figure out an angle for attack. We’d caught them off guard once. Then we’d hit them from the air… I’d been hoping that the darkness, the cold, and the general ambiance of a town at war would generate cracks I could manipulate.
The way things were going, however, it looked like fear wouldn’t provide any choice opportunities to pick off members of the crowd. Mason Hall-McCullough, as it happened, had a lot of luck to spare, and it was helping him there.
I could only make out the rear of the group, and I couldn’t help but notice the way the group moved. Slowing a bit, people changing direction. The Others were moving more to the sides of the group. Was something else attacking?
I slowed, and, unable to stick an arm out to stop Green eyes from crawling, stuck one foot out to touch her shoulder.
If we’d been moving, or focused on something else, I might have missed it. Someone rose to their feet as the last members of the group caught up to them, and fell in stride with the group. A man with a blond beard.
I caught the look he cast back over his shoulder as he noticed me noticing him. I felt his fear. Not as pronounced as some. He wasn’t as scared, and there was a reason.
“They’re getting away,” Green Eyes said.
“Move slow,” I told the others.
We did. Smaller steps.
I saw the spot where the guy had stopped.
Almost invisible, drawn in the snow and ice with thick lines of something blue, it had melted snow and ice down to pavement, and was consequently surrounded by a darker outline. A diagram. Not a circle, but something complicated. From my perspective, it looked like a distorted triangle , with complex geometric lines within, the flat side pointed toward us. The far end of the triangle crossed over, and formed what could have been described as supports for a smaller diagram.
“Huh,” Evan said. “What is it?”
“A trap,” I said.
“Does the trap have something to do with the box over there?”
“Box?” Green Eyes and I both asked, almost in sync.
“Yeah. Box. Far side. Squiggly bit, circle, zig-zag, then the forky bit, and there’s the circle on the far bit of the forky bit…”
The smaller diagram, supported by the larger triangle.
“Yeah,” I said.
“And in that circle…?” he asked.
“They’re getting away, don’t drag this out.”
“Hmph,” he grunted, which was a very small grunt coming from such a small body, “Wooden box, between the black chunks of frozen slush.”
Green Eyes reached over and grabbed my side for support, fingers encircling branches, to raise herself further off the ground. “Ah, yeah.”
“Okay, then, doing this carefully…”
I advanced for a closer look.
On the third step, the diagram reacted.
Smoke, as snow and ice evaporated. The diagram had changed, the supporting lines around the smaller diagram extending further, and to either side.
“Geez,” I said. I took another half-step closer, and watched as the smoke and lines extended further. “Reacts to proximity. Evan? Be careful.”
Evan flew out, turning immediately, then came back to land on my shoulder.
I saw more smoke rise, almost the sort of thing that could be mistaken as air from a storm drain or a sharp draft of wind that stirred the snow. The diagram had extended further.
It was duplicating. Four triangles forming a square, with the box presumably at the center.
It was, it seemed, sensitive enough to react to Evan.
“We should go around,” Green Eyes said.
“We’d lose too much time,” I said. “We’d lose them.”
I bent down, and grabbed a hunk of frozen slush. Ice black with accumulated grime, the sort that fell off the underside of a car. I tossed it, then caught it.
“Can you hit it?” Evan asked.
“I’m not sure I should,” I replied. “I’m looking at the diagram, and… look. Some diagrams keep things out. Some keep them in. You can look at the way that things point, and infer a lot from that. Triangles pointing in, triangles pointing out…”
“Point of the big triangle closest to us touches the box,” Evan said. “The ones that are further away do too.”
“Are you sure it wouldn’t be faster to go around?” Green Eyes asked. “I’m pretty sure I can keep up, if you don’t go quite as fast as you did before.”
“Smaller symbols seem to point inward, if I had to guess,” I said. “I don’t recognize the language. What’s the box like?”
“It’s… sort of like the box of books the priest tried to put me in. But wooden blocks. Like a child’s blocks. What’s that game where you build the tower and pull out pieces?”
“It collapses, then,” I said. “It’s built to break.”
I dropped the hunk of ice.
“We could be going around,” Green Eyes said, practically squirming in impatience. “Just saying.”
“As traps go, I don’t think we want whatever’s in that box to get out,” I said. “It could be a curse, an Other…”
“Or a distraction from chasing them,” Green Eyes said. “A mystical bit of mumbo jumbo to catch your attention and not let it go. Because that’s how those enchantresses work, right?”
“It’s not impossible,” I said. I walked around the diagram, keeping an even distance from it.
“Just like that,” Green Eyes cajoled. “Keep walking. Or run. Don’t focus on the box.”
But I stopped. The four triangles didn’t meet at the corner. There was a gap between the four sections of the symbol.
Nothing in or pointing to the gap. Nothing, as far as I could tell, that worked with or included the gap.
I positioned myself carefully, then walked down one of the four paths, between two of the triangles. It was only a foot and a half wide.
I reached the center of the diagram. I was careful not to breach the lines of the triangles, keeping my body angled to one side, my hands and arms within the lines. The only lines of the diagram I actually crossed were the lines of the circle encapsulating the box.
With the side of my thumb, I scratched out the blue stuff, distorting the smallest triangles within the innermost circle, the ones that pointed everything toward the box.
I angled my head one way, then the other, examining the box. It had been placed with two pieces of ice blocking the view of it from our direction.
Then I reached out and took hold of it.
“What are you doing?” Evan asked.
“Being very careful,” I said. “Which is a lot easier when people don’t speak very suddenly, right in my ear.”
“I bet. Screw those jerks.”
I was careful to keep pressure on the right spots of the box, holding its shape by keeping pressure on the edges.
As I drew it out of the circle, backing down the path, it started to shudder.
The box growled.
“I greet you, stranger,” I spoke.
It growled again.
“I bid you to name yourself,” I said.
“Inomenos,” the box answered. “Who are you, to bid anything of me?”
“Blake. The Thorburn bogeyman,” I said. “What are you?”
“You’re not worthy to ask the question, bottom-dweller.”
“Am I?” Evan asked.
“I am Inomenos. I am a wrong, made by man, released against men. I have earned a name for myself.”
A curse, given life, I thought.
“You’re bound by the Seal of Solomon?”
“Yes. You’re bound to truth, but you’re not bound to any seal.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. “I’m more interested in the rules that bind you.”
“I am not obliged to answer, monster of the Thorburns.”
“Monster of the Thorburns is far less descriptive than you’re imagining,” I said. “The family is mostly monsters, honestly.”
“Blake,” Green Eyes said. “They’re gone.”
“Listen, can we cut through the rigamarole?” I asked.
“Rigamole. Cut? I do not know this word, nor the phrasing.”
“Just answer my questions, and I might let you out.”
“What?” Evan asked.
The box hadn’t answered, so I only offered my first question. “When you’re free of the box, what are your instructions?”
“To devastate my master’s enemies until fifteen minutes pass without my finding them, then to return, and await being bound once more.”
“Can we redefine ‘master’ here?” I asked. “Can you call me master?”
The thing chuckled, from within its box. “No. Not a thing such as you. A mortal, only. A man.”
“The bird?” I asked.
I continued, “The body is-”
“Insufficient. Not yet a man.”
“‘Man’ is vague,” I said. “He’s still mortal.”
“Vaguely mortal, vaguely a man, vague in form.”
“Okay, scratch that line of thinking,” I said.
Green Eyes gave me a look, and I jerked my head in the appropriate direction. Might as well get moving.
The diagram continued to unfold like a flower as we approached and walked past it. When it became complete on all sides, an energy of some sort gathered in the middle. The snow and ice in the center of the diagram spurted a bit, forming a plume of snow and ice that exploded in a general way, before striking the road again.
We walked at a good clip. I didn’t want to run, but walking was too slow. Moving at a light jog let me move just fast enough to watch where I was going. I definitely didn’t want to fall and let the box fall apart under me.
“Let me explain my line of thinking,” I told Inomenos-in-a-box. “I want to screw with the guy that summoned you.”
Silence. Only the sound of my footsteps, the scratching sounds as Green Eyes’ scales scraped over ice, and the distant, faint tolling of the bell.
“He put you in a box instead of just summoning you and pointing you at me. To me, that says something about his relationship with you. Am I wrong? Or would you like a chance to go after him?”
“I’m forbidden from harming him until the close of the deal.”
“The deal is closed when you’re bound again?”
“Then… okay. What if we made a separate deal? So it didn’t get in the way of the one you made with him?”
“Are you prohibited from indirect harm?”
“If I intend to harm, even indirect harm is prevented.”
I resisted the urge to curse. Annoying.
“Then… I swear to release you, provided you swear to grant us the same protection from harm you gave the one who summoned you…”
“I would rather remain,” Inomenos told me. “In hopes you drop the container, or lose it.”
“I’m not done,” I said. “Go after the ones near him. The blonde women. Return to him as you’re instructed, but seek out the ones within ten paces of him. Plague them, torment them, but don’t inflict any permanent harm on them. Nothing they’ll suffer from, in body, mind, or heart, more than a day from now.”
“I have reason to believe they are his allies,” Inomenos said.
“I’ll give you one reason to see them as his enemies. If you look, I suspect you’ll see that the men do not keep the company of the women. They’re reluctant to mingle, except where they’re otherwise bound together as family, as married couples. There is doubt in their hearts, fear, and confusion.”
“If this is so, I will do them mischief.”
“Good,” I said. “Agree to do me and my companions no harm, and to return to your master to be bound if you do not find your suspicions validated.”
“Try to catch them by surprise,” I said. “Before they know you’re coming, the more you’ll achieve. Time is short. The more time you can cost them, the more it will hurt. It’s a good way to do mischief for them.”
“I will try.”
“Go for it,” I said.
I tossed the box to the ground.
It broke into its constituent elements.
Inomenos appeared in a dark cloud, flexing four skeletal arms, yawning until his lower jaw nearly reached his pelvis, where his legless body stopped. There was only dark smoke beneath. His face was like melted wax, the teeth few and far between.
He howled, but it was an eerie, wrong sort of sound. Where most noises seemed like they started from the mouth and expanded outward, his howl was almost like he was devouring sound, drawing it in, and drawing himself forward in the same motion. He disappeared into the darkness and snow ahead of us.
“Huh,” Evan said.
It didn’t take too long to catch up with them. It helped that we could hear the screaming. Inomenos’ screams, more than the rest.
The area was residential, the houses older and not so well kept. The group was in one house’s front yard. Snow had cascaded from the roof to block off the door and front windows.
The sounds were horrible, and I wasn’t particularly vulnerable to it all. Many of the younger Duchamps were bent over, hands over their ears. One noticed me as I looked at her. She looked my way, and I could see images dancing across her eyes, as if they were television screens. Herself, a crowd, in a place that wasn’t here. It was some place with pillars and marble walls.
The older ones were holding up, though, they each had their own images dancing across their eyes.
They were forming rank and file, implements out. Lenses, rings, bowls filled with oil.
Trying to bind the spirit.
Slowly succeeding, as its mobility seemed to be getting cut off.
The guy with the blond beard that I’d seen by the diagram was moving through the crowd, toward it. Duchamp women stepped or staggered out of the way.
“Take a long route, go, do what you can, then get clear,” I told Evan.
He took off.
“And me?” Green Eyes asked. “You want me to stay back?”
She was pulling the closest thing she could manage to puppy dog eyes, given her translucent eyelids, and a bit of agitation at the end of her tail, twitching restlessly. I could remember how eager she’d been to keep moving.
“No,” I said. “You can come. I think I’ve healed enough. Here.”
I offered a hand.
She climbed up onto my back, tail encircling my torso. Her hair draped over one of my shoulders as she leaned forward, elbows bent at angles.
Keep your friends close, I thought. We focus so much on the ‘keep our enemies closer’ part.
I glanced around, and then took a route opposite to the one Evan had taken, through a backyard. Circling the group of men that was so distinct from the women.
“Do you know the witch in the Drains?” I asked.
“I know of her.”
“She explained this bit of fortune telling once. Apparently I drew the High Priestess with the left hand. I have to be careful about who I gather around me, or it’ll be disastrous.”
“You’re talking about me?”
I stopped in my tracks.
Maenads. The High Priest’s bloodstained, drunk murderesses. Their hair was disheveled, as were their winter clothes, and they had the eyes of animals. One was perched on the corner of one roof, the other stood between the two houses.
“Shit,” I said. “Now I’m doing it.”
“Talking about stuff in the middle of a crisis.”
“What were you saying?”
The Maenad on the corner of the roof leaped. A lump of snow the size of her dropped off the roof.
I lurched to one side, thinking she was going to leap onto me, but she didn’t. She dodged off to one side, and circled around.
Putting me and Green Eyes in the middle of the two.
“We each take one,” Green Eyes said.
I expected her to leap, saying that, but she didn’t.
“Y-” I started
Green Eyes leaped.
“-es.” I finished.
The Maenad took her head on, fingernails extended like claws, teeth bared.
I didn’t have a chance to see the catfight, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. My focus was on the other one.
She moved quickly, and not in a straight line. Her feet touched the wall of the one house, where siding stopped and concrete began, and she propelled herself over to the railing surrounding one house’s porch. The entire railing wobbled with the sudden weight, snow flying, as she ran along the top, the toes of her boots scraping ice beneath the lighter snow.
As graceful as a jungle cat. About as violent, I imagined. She reached the end of the railing and leaped.
I swung the Hyena for center mass.
One boot settled on my knee, the other hit the knuckles of my hand. I could see her muscles flex beneath the tight-fitting, unbuttoned jeans she wore.
She was like that for a fraction of a second. I saw her nostrils flare. Even as her face screwed up in disgust, smelling something on the Hyena, she kicked herself away, landing on all fours, elbow and knee deep in snow.
These are his god’s warriors.
One hand reached into her coat pocket. I tensed, ready to throw the Hyena if I had to.
A handful of cigarettes and joints.
She raised them to her mouth, bit, and let them fall, scattered, onto the snow.
She was still biting an old fashioned lighter that had been in the jumble.
Her hand disappeared into her jacket again.
I charged, forcing my way through the snow.
She leaped back to maintain distance between us, and stumbled on something in the snow, and caught her balance, hands going wide to her side.
Aw hell no.
Teeth pulled the stopper from the flask. She tossed back a swig.
She hit the lighter with a practiced flick, producing flame.
Still moving forward, I bent low, grabbing at the snow. Scooping it in one hand, and hurling the handful of snow at her face.
Just a little too powdery.
She spat alcohol through the open flame, letting it ignite.
I had to let myself fall in deep snow that hadn’t been shoveled all winter, to avoid getting ignited.
She took another swig.
I was only halfway to my feet. I dove into the snow.
I felt heat roll over my back.
Okay. Snow was a good enough shield. How much alcohol could she have?
It was just me and Green Eyes, here.
Right. Switch things up.
Trust. Keep my friends close.
I twisted around, rising, my back to my opponent, my eyes on Green Eyes’ continued struggle with the other Maenad.
The Maenad was on top, pinning the tail down with one foot. Green Eyes had a grip on one wrist, but one of her own wrists was being gripped, fingernails digging in past scale and skin to the meat below. There was a trail of blood on one lip and a bite mark on her collarbone that was bleeding a lot.
I didn’t think. I only threw.
Hurling the Hyena.
The Maenad I was fighting sputtered, losing whatever alcohol she’d just taken into her mouth, and screeched out a belated warning in Greek.
The Hyena embedded itself in her sister’s back.
The screech of rage, oh man.
Green Eyes pulled the Hyena free, tossing it to me. I caught it in both hands, to avoid catching the blade. She had descended into the snow before I had it in my grip. Swimming in it.
I saw the remaining Maenad’s eyes widen. Yes, she could get me, with another swig and a breath of fire, but doing so came at the cost of Green Eyes maybe getting her.
She leaped back to the point between the houses, then backed away more.
She howled, wordlessly. A mad scream that joined the noises in the background.
Calling for help.
“Green Eyes!” I shouted.
She didn’t pop her head up.
It didn’t take five seconds for the help to arrive. More Maenads, Bacchae, and Satyrs.
Clambering over the houses, with roofs so easy to reach now that the snow was as high as it was. Over the porches.
I backed away, but it was slow going, mired in snow.
The High Priest of Dionysus approached down the length of the alley, where the snow wasn’t as high, due to the two adjacent buildings and the overhang of the roofs. He stopped at the end of the so-called path, so he wasn’t wading in mermaid-infested snow. His Maenads flanked him.
“Blake,” he said. “You’ve managed to be an ungodly nuisance.”
“Going by the fear I can feel from that group of people, I’ve been more than a nuisance.”
“Yes. You’ve been other things, but that doesn’t change that you’ve been a nuisance.”
“Any last words?” he asked.
“Why would I need last words?” I asked. “I’m not planning on dying anytime in the immediate future.”
“It’s a courtesy. I only need to say a word to my deity to lay you out flat.”
The Maenad said something in Greek.
“Your mermaid, as well.”
“Sure,” I said.
“You’re not going to escape. You weren’t going to escape the moment they caught your scent, without that damnable bird around to shake it.”
I didn’t have a response for that.
“Just so you know,” he said. “I have no intention of attacking your friends. You’re removed, we have plans for Rose. I fully intend to talk to Sandra and urge her to banish your friends from Jacob’s Bell. This isn’t their town, and it’s not good for them. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s better for them if they’re not here.”
“I don’t disagree,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Despite everything I’ve done,” he said, “I did want to be a good Lord.”
“Despite what I’ve done here, tonight, I only intended to remove the most problematic men from the Duchamp’s roster. I hoped it would shatter the family’s power base, done right. Make people think twice about maintaining their alliance with the family.”
“What does that achieve? They’re still obligated to stay, to help, by compacts made months, years, or decades ago. Fight in service to the family in a qualifying situation.”
“I needed the Enchantresses alive, if we were going to collectively rally against Johannes,” I said. “But at the same time, I needed the family broken. Maybe the husbands will stay and help take the Lordship, but if they know that this is a bum deal, if they’re going to get killed off while the Duchamps walk off frazzled but okay? If they’re wondering if they’ll get murdered at the request of other Duchamps… can the Duchamps keep what they’ve taken?”
“I see,” he said. “And if they can’t keep what they’ve taken, will they still bare their necks? I’m almost disappointed you failed.”
I shot him a quizzical look.
He shrugged. “I can love the woman, even if I loathe much of what her last name brings.”
“Have you ever had your heart broken?” he asked. “It’s an important question.”
I had to stop to think.
“I can’t say for certain,” I told him, “But I think, in a way, I am a broken heart.”
He tilted his head a little to one side.
“Jeremy!” Sandra cried out.
She stopped, freezing. “Back away, very slowly.”
Jeremy did. One step back, then another.
Green Eyes emerged from the snow in front of him. Her jaws were open wider than a human could pull off, teeth open, a bear trap, waiting to be sprung. A half-foot from Jeremy’s groin.
He backed away another step. Green Eyes matched his pace, maintaining the distance.
Jeremy glanced to one side. “You didn’t smell her?”
From the length of Green Eyes’ snow-crusted hair, Evan shook himself free of snowflakes.
“Ah,” he said, with a note of finality.
His eyes met mine. Level. Serious. Unflinching.
Green Eyes was waiting for my cue.
The maenads and satyrs were waiting for his.
I was utterly still, in a way only a bogeyman could be.
Jeremy was still in a way that only a guy with his private parts in a bear trap could be.
“Green Eyes,” I said. “Back off.”
She didn’t budge.
“Seriously,” I said. “Don’t touch him. It’s okay.”
She remained still for a moment, then backed away an arm’s length. Jeremy stepped back, and Satyrs drew closer, to protect him.
“Okay,” Jeremy said.
“How much bad karma do you rack up for setting your monsters on us now?” I asked.
“I imagine it’s less,” he replied, “than it might be for turning on one’s wife.”
He turned around, facing down Sandra, not me.
I could see the confusion on the maenad’s and satyr’s faces.
“I love you so much, Sandra,” he said.
“I know,” she replied. “Bastard.”