Brooklyn Ray © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Part One: Haunted Places
Michael Gates curled his hand over the old fence surrounding his new home. Splinters nipped at his palm. Bitter wind snapped restlessly at his cheeks. He wasn’t used to cold like this, the kind that stuck to his skin and seeped through his clothes. This was coastal cold. Northern Cold. Port Lewis cold.
“I bet you’re missin’ Arizona right about now, huh?” Janice tossed a grin over her shoulder as she wobbled inside, carrying one end of a mustard yellow couch. She was a broad girl, tall like their father, with candy-apple red hair that came from a box. “Mom probably hasn’t converted your room into a yoga studio yet. There’s still time!”
Michael snorted. Denying the truth would only lead to more teasing, and he wasn’t in the mood to bicker with his sister. Not after a long-ass drive. Not when he still wasn’t sure about any of this—college, this town, this house.
It was almost charming, he thought. Windows jutted from sharp-edged sills and the attic skewered the sky like a steeple, stretched tall over the porch above a round window on the second floor. The paint had been yellow once, but the sun turned the walls white and the shingles gray. Vines crawled over the empty garden boxes attached to the porch, a burst of green in a colorless place. It was Victorian and strange, and as Michael looked from the creaky steps to the unkempt lawn, he remembered the word their landlord had used during an awkward Skype interview two weeks ago.
History, she’d said, like it was a curse.
“Hey, asshole.” Janice stood in the doorway with her hands perched on her hips, cheeks flushed and chest heaving. “Movers are heading out. You gonna help me drag these mattresses upstairs before Corey gets here or not?”
There wasn’t anything wrong with the house. The windows weren’t broken, the kitchen was stocked with upgraded appliances, and the fire alarms had recently been replaced. But wrongness still lingered, somehow.
His fingers slipped off the fence and dove into his coat pocket, thumbing the corner of a cigarette pack. “I didn’t even get a chance to smoke.”
“Too bad. Those’ll kill you anyway, c’mon.”
Michael rolled his eyes but reluctantly walked inside. The word kept repeating, whispered like a secret—history history history—and he couldn’t stop wondering about what a place had to go through to earn it. The floorboards flexed and whined under his boots. Above him, cobwebs dripped from a metal chandelier, and light beamed through the window onto a steep, carpeted staircase. He might’ve imagined it, must have imagined it, but he swore the air shifted, as if the house had sensed his aching lungs and insisted he take a breath.
“This place is weird,” Michael blurted because he had no other way to explain it. “Creepy weird, like I bet someone was murdered here weird.”
“You’re being dramatic,” Janice said. She tilted a mattress off the wall and pushed it toward the staircase. Her jaw clenched as they ambled up the stairs, freckled cheeks hollowed and shoulders rounded. They shared many things, like most siblings did. Dark eyes and wide mouths, long fingers and small chins. But where Janice’s fine lines and prominent bones made her look strong, Michael’s only made him look delicate. He was littered with scars because of it, badges to prove he wasn’t breakable.
After three trips up and down the stairs, they flopped the final mattress on the ground in the second-to-last bedroom, and Janice heaved a relieved sigh.
“Michael, c’mon.” She nudged him with her elbow, pulling his attention from the boxes scattered on the floor. “This place is just old, you know? Look, you’ve got a balcony”—she pointed to the French doors, then set her hands on his shoulders and steered him toward the hall—“and your own bathroom, and I mean, this is a fresh start for us. Port Lewis is small, but we start classes next week, and there’s a movie theater downtown and some really good breweries…”
Michael’s lips quirked into a half-smile. “The Pacific Northwest is known for its beer.”
“Exactly!” Janice gave his shoulders a reassuring squeeze. “Speaking of libations, how about you start unpacking and I’ll run out for Thai and a case of IPA, sound good?”
“Fine, sure, whatever,” he said, biting back a laugh. “Green curry for me. You should probably text Corey and ask if he wants anything.”
Janice swatted the bedroom door on her way out. Her keys jingled, sneakers thudded the stairs, and before Michael could shout—don’t forget the chili paste—the door slammed and she was gone.
Silence snaked through the house, disrupted by wind pressing on the windows, and the unmistakable inkling that he was being watched. Michael pushed his fingers through his hair, short auburn locks smoothed by product he’d found in his sister’s makeup bag, and heaved a sigh.
Janice was right, he told himself. The house was old. It creaked and howled and carried secrets from past owners. But it was just a house, and Michael had seen too many horror movies to let a little unease get the best of him. He rummaged through two boxes until he found a portable speaker.
“There we go,” he said, pulse quickening when his own voice echoed through the empty house. He set his phone on the dock and turned on a Pop Punk playlist. Music boomed through his new room, loud and fast, a sore reminder of the home down south and all the memories left behind there. His mother had allowed him to take a gap year after high school, where he spent twelve months abroad, bouncing from Ireland to London, Amsterdam to Italy, but when another year went by and Michael skipped registration at the junior college he’d promised to attend, his family’s patience thinned.
There’s no time left to squander, his mother had said. Go with your sister, take botany for all I care, but do something.
So, he’d followed Janice to Port Lewis, a town built on rumors, whispers about magic and witches, and ended up here, sliding the mattress into a black bed frame, listening to songs he’d fallen in love with during senior year, and watching a shadow cross the floor in the reflection on his balcony window.
Michael froze, mouth set and shoulders pulled tight. He held the edge of the mattress, gaze pinned to the reflection in the window, afraid the image would disappear if he moved, and more afraid to turn around. Because there, looking back at him, was a pair of eyes and a curious smile attached to a distorted shape standing in the doorway. His throat cinched and his mouth dried, and all the bravery, all the fight, all the resolve, fell out from under him. He blinked once, twice, a third time, and then it was gone.
Impossible. He turned on his heels, expecting an ah-hah! An I got you! A moment when he’d catch something—someone—hiding in the hallway. But the doorway was empty, and when he peeked into the hall, it was empty too.
“Janice?” He pushed open each bedroom door and looked inside. Nothing. He did the same with the two bathrooms, the linen closet, the cabinets. Nothing. “Corey?”
A sound he faintly recognized came from behind him, far enough away to seem distant, close enough to make his breath quake. Metal on metal. The drag and click of a lock being unfastened.
It was right then he noticed the stagnant air, the heavy quiet. His music was no longer playing.
Michael felt it like he thought all people usually did—a wrongness that settled deep inside him—coupled with the urge to leave, the need to run. But he didn’t. He turned slowly this time, reining in his runaway heart, and trailed his gaze up the narrow steps at the end of the hall to the attic door, unlocked, and ajar.
One moment the shadow was there, and a second later it simply wasn’t.
“Who are you?” Michael called. He clung to the only bravery he had left. Defiance. The reckless confidence responsible for many of his scars.
The attic door swung open on rusty hinges.
Adrenaline cautioned, but curiosity encouraged, and Michael found each step easier to take as he climbed the stairs. The banister was smooth under his palm, the air alight with danger and magic and something unknown.
Something dark, he thought. Something tarnished.
Don’t, his heart said. Run. Go. Now. Now. Now.
Michael swallowed hard and stepped into the room. Sunlight illuminated moth-eaten curtains in front of the window. A bed was pushed against the wall, sheets tucked, white comforter smoothed. There was a lamp on a black nightstand, unlit candles on a six-drawered dresser, and a bookshelf against the far wall. He crossed the room, trailing his fingers along the edge of the bed, the windowsill, then the shelves, tracing letters on thick leather spines. Magic & Purpose. Ceremonial Preparation. Incantations. He plucked a paperback from the middle shelf—Demonology—and opened it. The pages were sallow, stained in some places and ripped in others. Sprawling notes in black ink filled the margins. He turned the book over in his hands and found a name written on the inside of the back cover.
“Victor Lewellyn,” Michael whispered.
The floorboards whined. Breath hit the back of his neck. A low, smooth voice said, “Michael Gates.”
Dread filled the pit of his stomach. He snapped the book shut by the spine, attempted to summon any semblance of the bravery he’d found before, and came away with none. His breath fluttered from him in trembling gusts, and when a warm palm cradled his elbow, a sob caught in his throat.
“Don’t be scared,” the stranger purred. His hand slid along the underside of Michael’s forearm and curled over his wrist. “You say my name like a prayer.”
Michael shut his mouth with an audible click and watched Victor Llewellyn’s fingers, tipped with black claws, slide over his knuckles and grasp the book. Reality tilted, shifting from a nightmare into something worse. History suddenly seemed like a hollow explanation for what this house had seen.
Victor’s lips grazed his pulse, breath steady, touch confident. His voice was strained between his teeth, deep and inhuman and obscurely intimate, pressed to Michael’s throat like the clasp on a collar. “Fuck, you smell like honey.”
“What…” Michael’s lips parted. He rehearsed what he was about to say, repeating it again and again, but the question never materialized. What are you? He wanted to ask, he wanted to know, but his voice malfunctioned with Victor’s teeth so close to his skin.
Ghosts were real, he believed in that much. Spirits and poltergeists and an in-between that gave the lost a home. But Victor Lewellyn was not a ghost.
Michael’s heart drummed, blood coursing fast through his veins. His knees wobbled, his eyes wide and hungry, desperate for a glance. For a memory. For proof. He inhaled deeply and turned until they were chest to chest.
Victor’s mouth formed an easy grin, face sculpted by shadows where the light didn’t touch and smoothed like polished copper where it did. He looked like a painting, rich and haunted, a canvas that turned beauty into a monstrous thing.
Humans did not have cheekbones as carved as his. They did not have eyes like lit candles, or black horns curling from their temples. They did not have claws that came to rest on the hinge of Michael’s jaw, or breath tinged with ash and blood. Humans were familiar. They were simple and safe. Victor was not.
“What are you?” Michael asked, breathless.
Victor tilted his head. A strand of dark hair fell over his brow. His smile softened as he slid the book back where it belonged, tipping Michael’s chin toward him with one hand, and effortlessly caging him against the shelf with the other. They stayed like that, watching each other, until the sound of the front door opening broke the silence, and Janice’s voice rang through the house.
“Look who I found in the driveway,” she hollered. Keys jingled, plastic bags rustled.
Michael glanced at the door, and when he looked back, Victor was gone.