Red mouth, sharp teeth
behind closed eyes, that's all I can see.
The sound of the door opening draws my attention. I hunch farther into my covers, and peer out into the interrupted darkness.
My "personal assistant" stands at the door, bent at the waist with a tray of tea, his trendy shirt and vest still impeccable even at this hour. All this could be overlooked, if it weren't for his face. That is, his smirk. He smiles at me with half-lidded eyes and says something that I don't quiet catch
his lips move, at any rate.
With his meticulously styled-to-look-casual hair and his tight fitting black clothes, he looks like a celebrity of some kind
or someone in the grittier part of town, maybe working in a casino.
He takes several steps over to my bed and reaches out to smooth my pillow with his long hands. I notice something like a hum, or some other soothing noise. "Chamomile tea for you, little master."
I sit up, and accept the cup. Sebastian holds very still, keeping the tray balanced. He watches me, and I shiver. Hunger. Anticipation. Surely that's what's behind his eyes
the mocking eyes of the demon I made a bargain with."My, my, but what a small master." Sharp and honeyed words drip through the darkness. My eyes won't adjust to the changing lightthe flickering candles and inky darkness blur. There was something in the water
the thing behind me
I sip the tea and try to forget my dreams. "Thank you, Sebastian. That will be all." I tap my ring against the china cup, and avert my eyes.
"As you wish." Sebastian smiles, and I see another hint of tongue and teeth. I shiver. Sebastian sets the tray on my nightstand, and his hands retreat, like white moths from a flame too hot. He moves like a fox, feet padding quietly to the door. He stops at the door, and inexplicably puts a finger to his lips. "Sleep quietly, little master. Your neighbors will talk."
That thin finger on his lips, a reminder of the secret contract...the thing that saved me from a nightmarish death and is simultaneously my ticket to hell.
I nod, and hold my teacup. "Did I scream?" I wonder. The apartment walls are too thin I'll hear complaints in the morning.
Sebastian smiles, the picture of cheer and amusement. "Perhaps they were out, or too drunk to notice." His eyes crinkle. "Good evening, young master."
I drink my tea and turn out the light. My clock reads 1:22.
Today is my birthday.
There's only one year left
That dreamthe memory is always strongest around my birthday. Memories of torture, pain and humiliation taunt me. But it's that dark hour when my black servant came, and that weighs on my mind.
One year left
power." I choked out, tears streaming, leaving streaks down my dirty face.
"Enough to punish the
" my voice breaks,
"filth that did this to me. To punish the people who dishonored my family name.
" the demon breathes, his face in shadow.
"Let's make a deal, little boy. I will be your power and grant you three conditions to form the basis of our contract. In exchange, you will grant me one.
" The eyes flash.
"I will devour your soul at the end of our contract in six or sixty-six years. The first, and you will command all my abilities as a personal servant. The latter, and I will save you this night and serve you once a year for every year remaining.
" His long arms snatch through the darkness to grasp my hair and face.
" I stammer.
"As you wish.
" and his form ripples like a reflection on a misty lake.
"Then let us carve a contract seal on each other's bodies
" he leans in, and I can see those white, sharp teeth once more.
"where to put it
I close my eyes and try to think of anything else.
One year left...
As my birthday rolls around, something happens every year. This year is no exception.
The fourth time I find hint of the video came from a Google search. I was looking into a "new religion" group for a job, scrolling through the results when TabooXXX comes up halfway through the second page. "Hot demon dangerous devil real video ritual sex" and "local religion," the short description reads, along with a few bold, other seemingly random words.
An uncomfortable feeling makes my stomach clench and me set my jaw. For a moment, my hand freezes, and I don't click on the link, don't even want to check to make sure it's not me, not that day. But the moment pauses, and suspicion and irritation mingle with fear and anger.
I click. The site loads, and there's a ten second preview and a close-up of a boy's face and some adult's (looking like he's enjoying himself) orgasmic face freeze on the screen before an ad/log-in screen pops up.
"You have reached the limit of free viewing. Sign up for membership for more hot videos!"
My stomach lurches, and my head reals with pent up emotion. I need to do something about this. Now.
"Sebastian!" I holler. "Come here." I tap my finger again, impatient for him to get
here already. "What's this?" I demand pointedly, before he even waltzes over to my computer.
He frowns at the screen, his eyes narrowing at the pop-up. Sharp teeth glint in the iridescent light. "Pray tell, dear master," he purrs, and his gloved hand presses to his chest.
I type a command, and it disappears, revealing the faces. I glare.
"Find out who uploaded this and see to it that they don't do it again. Destroy their server, and find out if anyone else
has it. Take care of it right
this time." I close the screen. A sour taste in my mouth makes me grimace.
"I think," Sebastian says slowly, "this may be a distraction to your work." His voice is a study in polite mockery, and his red eyes dance with sharp humor.
I swallow around my unease. "You presume too much." While I get my words together, I offer a light scoff. followed by turning from him in a show of irritation. Then it comes to me.
"It's an order
, Sebastian. See to it." I fold my hands, knowing my words to be a bridge between us that I'm not sure I really want.
The smile widens to encompass half his face.
I smile, and it's also sharp with relief. He's listening now, and not mentioning the arrangement
anymore. "I've word of that video." with that one admittance, I'm made too aware of my own body. The way my hair falls the same, but how my features have subtly elongated. My child's face is hidden within, but I'm not near grown. Still too short, too small, but getting there.
Sebastian's mirth is written all over his face if you know where to look. His eyes are on me and nowhere else. "Is that so?"
"You didn't take care of them all." I growl, wishing I could step out of my skin and walk away. "This time, make it permanent."
With his hands clasped loosely behind his back, Sebastian tilts his head to the side. "Permanently erased
"Precisely. Don't let them get away." I stand up and walk two steps, sure that my shame is as clear to him as his emotions are to me.
A flick of Sebastian's tongue. "Mm," he smiles. "Another person foolish enough to put that
cult video up for sale
" he rolls his shoulders, looking as dangerous as a hunting cat. "
surely they've heard the rumors."
"There shouldn't be
rumors." I snort. "I told you; this is to be completely taken care of. Erased from living memory and burned
out of anyone responsible."
Sebastian's smile is dark. "I believe you know how I feel on the matter," he says mildly, drolling ever-so-slightly.
My shoulder muscles twitch, and my vision dims. Thinking about it is almost too much. "We can't use other means to find them." I say curtly. "You know
all the real leads from that were used up years ago."
Sebastian lowers his chin, and his hair falls into his eyes. Even his mirth is hidden from me. "Yes. Of course."
I gesture at the computer. "The files are all open. Read it and leave immediately."
Sebastian's lips twitch. "And would the young master be having desert before I leave, or go without?" he asks.
With the formalities over, I step aside.
Best to let him work in silence. I certainly have nothing left to say.
Part 2: Carrying Out Orders
Vanessa's shines a pale red in mid-afternoon. Certainly a gaudy display in the night, when the sign illuminates curtained windows with scantily dressed manikins, it merely looks pathetic in the grey skies of afternoon.
I enter the shop, and give a cursory look around. There are several rows of shelves holding DVDs, and a rack near the register with several magazines sporting scantily dressed men and women.
My eyes go to the man behind the counter. He's of indeterminable middle age, wearing a shiny shirt and black trousers. A bowler-like top hat. Pinstripes, and a gentleman' vest. What could have once been high fashion or proof of high status now looks like a circus ringleader's gaudy getup.
I look at the man with half lidded eyes and offer him an elegant smile at a jaunty angle. I take a step forward and let my voice carry a hint of amusement. These creatures can be such interesting pets, after all.
"I have on good account, sir," I pause. Sir
is surely overdoing it. But I continue anyway. "That something that might please a certain gentleman's fancy." I take the remaining few steps in the crowded room, ignoring the rows of DVD and picture.
The man nods, chewing gum in the same way a cow chews its cud. He gestures to the rows of videos and offers an almost bored smile. "There's all sort here, mister." And he settles back onto his stool, flicking through some magazine.
I relax my features to something resembling placid amusement. "Oh, yes, I'm sure there is." I lean in close, putting manicured nails on the plastic counter. "I was looking for something less tame." My nails tap the counter. I'm tempted to gauge small trails down them, but not yet, not yet. Can't tip my hand so soon.
But then, there appears to be more than one owner, and the day proceeds most rapidly. I want my information. This simple man would probably understand something simple and direct best, after all.
"I was hoping you had a computer I could borrow." I smile again, my tone polite, but insistent. I reach into my suit pocket and remove a handwritten business card. I push it gingerly before him. I wrote it earlier; tabooxxx
, it reads. The card looks only marginally more elegant in handwritten calligraphy, but it lacks the finesse I hoped to give it, but of course, the name suits the sordid nature of the content.
The man's eyes widen, his brows rising to accent his marginally receding hairline.
"I came by to pay the owners a visit. Have you got some sort of ledger or balance system here?" I arch one eyebrow. "Shall you ring them, or shall I make a house call?"
The man furrows his eyebrows, and sets his jaw. "Now, you just hold on a minute mister, I don't know anything about that site" he stops talking the instant he sees my hand move for my knife.
Of course he's too late. I press the blade against his throat, enjoying the acrid scent of fear and just a whiff of blood. The knife slides through the skin easily, but I hold my hand steady, not wanting to bleed him out or damage his vocal cords. These things require a certain timing.
The change is instantaneous. He stiffens and freezes, and then swallows hard. His eyes move from me to the door, to the security camera in one corner. His lip trembles, and he begins to talk. "Oh shit, shit man, I dun know nothin'," he blubbers, his face going pale. "I just work the desk, man. I dun know"
I shake my head slowly, clicking my tongue. "Ah, but that's not true, Mr. Thompson." I give a weary sigh and look at him reproaching. "You
are this little shop's proprietor, I believe. And you deposit the money from several dummy companies for you and your business partners to access." I smile, bearing my teeth. "I want those names. Tell me, or I'll slit your throat."
The man' knees shake so badly that he sways.
I leap onto the counter, steadying him. "Hush, now, stop your crying. You'll slit your own throat this way," I croon, my voice low and thick with humor.
"Fuck man, just fuck! I ain't done nothin'"
I make an tisking noise. "No, no. No begging and no blind accusation. My master sent me here to clean shop." I feel my eyes warm with the order, see everything in brilliant red for a moment. "I'll rid the world on one tacky shop, find the owner and take care of the server." Hunt down, more like. Stalking sounds agreeable, as well. I inhale slowly, taking in the scent of fear again. I hop off the counter.
Hear hammering in his chest, Mr. Thompson starts to speak. "I don't got nothing to do with it, man, Jack and Scottthey run that thingI don't have" He looks to the camera and door again, anxious for someone to come in andwhat? Save him? Distract me. The thought is amusing.
"Jack and Scott?" I say languidly, and join him behind the desk. I run one finger across the shelf under the register. Dust coats my finger. No matter. Seeing nothing that looks like a ledger, I decide to check the back. "Thank you, Mr. Thompson. It's been a pleasure."
I turn to walk toward the "Staff Only" door, my steps slow and steady. I bring my hand up and casually fling my knife into the man's throat. I'll have to remember to take it with me when I'm done here.
I walk in, expecting to find a pig stall of an office. I'm not disappointed. But there' nothing on paper about Tabooxxx. I sigh, and sit down at the computer. I suppose I can purge the system and send a virus out from here as well as anywhere else. Jack and Scott will be easy enough to find. Thompson's computer likely holds all the keys I need.
I settle in for the long game.
The lack of freedom in dreams isn't something I can easily forget. The pull of dark to light, the easy flow of thoughtso like a riverleaving me high within a cave not of my own making. My mind is disoriented, but I see it as logical.
There's nothing but darkness.
A bar of white light streams from ceiling to floor, and within the space of a breath, more follow. Encircling me. They glow white hot in the gloom, and it would blind me.
I can't touch the spidery white things. I close my eyes, but in a dream, it doesn't help.
It never does.
"Hello?" I call out. Shadows whisper a wordless reply.
I can feel the dark on my face like a blanket of fog. It's enough to make me open my mouth to scream.
But silence erupts from me, clinging to my tongue and licking my lips like an old, too-familiar friend.
Then, "Boy?" a voice, light and airy, interrupts the quiet. With a start, I know the voice to be the sound of the wind.
I smile into the darkness, but I can feel it's not a happy smile. More like a tired sneer or a jack-o'-lanterns' hallow grin. "The airy scent of spring is on you," I say, and the words are not mine. I hear them and repeat like a fairy boy in a limerick.
With a laugh like a gale, the voice disappears. My only friend is gone here, and I am alone again.
Silence. It creeps back to me on toes of ice and claws of doubt, and I know I will never be away from it. My heart begins to race, but I cannot hear it.
Dreams are strange. The simplest of actions or situations are turned ominous by a gut-wrenching, overpowering loneliness, fear, and dread
that's enough to catch and devour
your breath. I know this. I know it's a dream. But like all the worst of nightmares, I'm powerless to change what I see, and it leaves me shaking.
The dream flickers. The darkness seems deeper, the quiet more subdued.
Out of the silence, a chuckle emerges. Fingernails digging into my palms seem to ease, and I know they were mine. But still, I am trapped here.
It's everywhere and nowhere at once. I hate dreams for that reason.
White, gloved hands with the look of antiquity free my wrists. A red mouth. Sharp, white teeth. Are they made of the white bars, the cage from before, or is it just the same color?
The boy that was me trembles, and the me that I am watches between hollowness and anticipation.
"A name for a name," the voice is quite familiar. I know it better than my own.
Heaviness. Weight like swallowed leaden wings settles into my chest, just below my heart. It is so heavy. So heavy.
Then there are eyes. Relentless, cool eyes fastening on me.
I open my mouth to speak.
thoughts?to the next chapter