My world looks, for lack of a better word, like something out of a Van Gogh painting. Walls are indistinct, blurred and often seem to bend around themselves. I could see Mike cuddling with his husband only by the outlines of their clothing. I didn’t want to intrude, but they insisted on hanging out in the shop where I essentially lived.
I heard Laura coming from about about two blocks away, or at least I wasn’t sure who else would be listening to a techno remix of Carol of the Bells. “Well, think my ride’s here.”
“Go get ’em, stormchaser,” Mike joked. His voice rippled through what passed for my body. The sensation of his voice was like heavy raindrops hitting a dry dirt road, both as I remembered it from my days as a human, and as it felt to me now. I once made the mistake of explaining to Mike how voices felt to me, and ever since he referred to my supposed love life as weather phenomena.
I gave the light rumble that I used to emulate laughter. A conscious decision, I no longer laughed spontaneously. Once upon a time, I would have bragged about my skirt chasing ways, now it was just a painful reminder of the past. Mike didn’t mean anything by it, to him it was just a joke. I never asked him to stop, because I wanted that reminder.
“I’m still trying to figure out how to make a move without getting punched in the dick,” I said. “And, yes, she would find a way.”
“Sounds like quite the little thunderstorm,” Chad spoke. Where Mike was a boistrous, loud man and proud of it, his husband was more reserved. Chad’s voice was like the sensation of a heavy fog on the skin. I suspected, but didn’t know if he had the lisp some gay men cultivated. My ‘hearing’ wasn’t human enough to discern those things. It took me almost two years before I retaught myself to understand human speech, and another four before I could emulate it.
You don’t know the half of it. “Well, I’m out. Happy Holidays.” Another of Mike’s seemingly random bag of quirks; the pair didn’t celebrate Christmas. Or perhaps they celebrated in the really, really traditional fashion, by getting drunk and having lots of gay sex.
I drifted through the wall into the drizzly weather. I can approximate my other senses into things human beings understood, but there is no language to describe the sensation of moving through other objects. Even after years of practice, I still felt a little queasy every time I did it.
I imagined Laura to be beautiful, but I couldn’t see her. I could see her clothes hugging her figure, how they shifted as she leaned over and opened the door. I could hear the vibrations of her breathing and the slow thrum of her heartbeat told stories about her. All of that, but I would never see the color of her eyes or smell the scent of her skin.
As always, that was the furthest I could see of her. I couldn’t see the shape of her face, nor the color of her skin or hair. My power stopped where people began, even those things about people that weren’t alive. I was even blind to any dirt, or sweat, or makeup she might have had on.
I could imagine what she might look like, with memories I had from when I was normal, but that was about it. I knew she was tall, slender, and based on the reactions of those around us she was attractive. She knew it, too.
I moved inside the car and closed the door. “Hey, Glen.” Laura’s voice was like a warm shower on a cold day. “How’s it been?”
“Same shit, new year,” I complained.
She laughed while I luxuriated in the sound, even if it wasn’t a happy laugh. “If this year’s the ‘same shit’ to you, then you’ve led a more interesting life than mine. What are you, a secret agent? Were you sent by the Russians to steal Mom’s pie recipe? The secret ingredient is ‘she buys them from Walmart,’ by the way.”
The old me would have pointed out that, traditionally, I was supposed to seduce her before she gave way the secret information. The old me was dead, buried, and the inscription of his tombstone read ‘gone too soon’.
“You bring up a good point. Here’s hoping next year is quiet and boring.” I felt like such an ass, as if I had room to talk with what she and her brother were going through. “Thanks for picking me up.”
“It was on the way. Beth’s going to meet us there.”
“Who’s Beth?” The only person I knew by that name was one of Mike’s old employees from a year or two back. She was an unpleasant person, and didn’t last more than a couple weeks.
Laura’s heartbeat jumped, and I knew she was about to lie to me. I found myself disappointed. “Umm, you’ll probably figure it out for yourself anyway. Your hearing is crazy good like that, right? We’re saying she’s my guest so Mom doesn’t shit a brick wall, but really she’s Zach’s.”
She didn’t lie. Huh. Reading between the lines made it pretty clear she was talking about White Lady, or Anima if you preferred. “Don’t worry, when I figure it out I’ll be the very model of discretion.”
She relaxed and kept speaking. “So, anyway, she’s Zach’s new rebound crush after that backstabbing bimbo bitch fucked him over. I think it’s too soon, but,” I felt her clothes move as she shrugged. “Well, he always did have a thing for older women.”
“Just stay out of the minefield, and when it goes off you step in to pick up the pieces,” I advised. “Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.”
“Yeah.” She didn’t sound like she liked that advice. She was a lot like her brother in that way, she wanted to do rather than watch. I could empathize, it was hard to know your family was in trouble and be unable to help. At least I knew Selina was safe, now.
“I’ll see what I can do.” After what that Alex brat pulled, Zach could use all the help he could get. I was doing my best, but, well, powers are reflections of who we are, and Zach was the kind of person who didn’t want anyone to know when he was hurting.
“Really? And what can you do that I can’t?”
“Sorry, can’t say. Bro code.”
“Well, if the answer’s ‘strip club’, go to the one on seventh,” she said. “It enforces the no drugs or prostitution laws. Plus, they actually play not shit music once in a while. Not good, mind you, but not shit.”
I mentally added three more reasons to be glad Laura wasn’t my sister, as if I needed them. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I bet.” She sounded so much better now. I settled in, happy that she was happy. “Ugh, you must think I’m such a downer.”
“I assure you, that was the furthest thing from my mind.” The closest I’ll get to admitting my real thoughts. She doesn’t need me complicating her life more than it already is. “Besides, this hasn’t exactly been the cheeriest holiday season. You don’t have to pretend you’re happy all the time when you’re not.”
“It’s the weather, I swear,” she sighed. “It’s been nasty and rainy all month, and it’s just, ugh.”
I didn’t believe that was the problem, but I wasn’t going to say anything. “That’s why they have all those songs about rain. To make people feel better about it.”
“Is that what it is?” I imagined she was smiling. “Well, how’s this for a song? ~It’s beginning to rain a lot on Christmas. ~What happened to the snow? ~This global warming thing, it’s a conspiracy! ~To save money, on snow plows.~”
Her singing sent a shiver through me, literally, even if she wasn’t really trying. I imitated laughter, to make her feel comfortable, before speaking. “Have you ever considered a career as a singer? I know I’d buy your records.”
“Achievement get: one fan,” she joked. “At this rate, I’ll have a Rolling Stones interview somewhere in the mid twenty-third century. Besides, you know they’d auto-tune it until you couldn’t even recognize my voice anymore. I’ll stay indie, thanks.”
Pity. Oh well. “Truly, it’d be like photo-shopping the Mona Lisa until she looked like Snooki.” I had no idea what Snooki actually looked like, and only vaguely remembered the Mona Lisa. Either way, Laura laughed in her usual, musical way.
“Damn straight. Speaking of music, up for some Yasmine?” She didn’t wait for me to answer.
“Always.” It wasn’t long until we made it to Zach’s house. Laura stopped the car and I opened the door myself. I also opened hers, just because I could. I’d never be able to touch her, but at least I could be a gentleman.
Laura knocked on the door, and watched a woman come to open it from the other side. “Laura!” Her voice was slightly grating, the combination of age and an old smoking habit felt like sleet. They hugged for a second. “Come in. Zach said you were bringing a guest?”
“Umm, two, sorta,” Laura answered. Her voice wavered, showing her nervousness. “Beth’s running a little late. Glen’s one of Zach’s friends that I picked up.”
“Oh,” their mother was clearly nervous. “From his, uh, work?”
“Yes, Mom.” Poor Laura. “You don’t have to talk about him like he’s not here.”
That’s my cue. “Hello, Mrs. Parker.”
“Oh!” she jumped. “Could you please not use powers in the house?”
“Not much choice, I’m afraid. This is my default, and only, state. But you don’t have to worry about setting a place for me at the table.” I was used to dealing with people who couldn’t adapt to my lack of a body, so it didn’t really get to me, save that it bothered Laura. “I’m going to let Zach know I’m here.”
“Mom, you’re embarrassing us in front of the guests,” Laura hissed. I wasn’t sure if she knew I was still in earshot. I deliberately pulled my focus away from their conversation and searched for Zach. He was in his room at the computer, no surprise.
“-convicted of twenty nine counts of second degree use of mind control, two counts of first degree mind control, three counts of use of a power for a violent crime, and one count of armed robbery. His execution will be carried out at an undisclosed location.”
As with most compressed recordings, the anchor woman’s voice was grating and artificial. “I thought the news just did happy stuff on Christmas,” I said to announce myself.
There was a click, and the sound from the computer stopped. Zach didn’t bother looking up. “Hey, Glen. Just going over some of the old news about me. This clip’s, like, almost a month old already. For all I know, they already killed him. Body count’s already at two, and working on the third.”
He sounds miserable. “I thought we had a plan for Kitten.”
Zach made a couple more clicks.
“Arrested local Adams high school student Alexander Bennett. The seventeen year old was allegedly caught on tape confessing to knowingly aiding a serial killer, as well as use of Imbued abilities, in order to maintain his status as a popular athlete.” The anchor lady sounded far too cheerful.
“Officials at Adams declined to comment on whether this development might cost them the title of state high school football champions. The state athletics board offered a statement that they will wait to see what the courts decide before making any decisions.”
Zach’s phone rang, he just picked it up, pressed the silent button, and dropped it back down. “He’s guilty as sin, and they’re going to kill him thanks to that tape.”
“I don’t think capital punishment is an option for juveniles,” I said. I wasn’t certain how Virginia’s laws worked, but I was pretty sure he’d just go to jail.
“Maybe, but even if they don’t stick a needle in him, he’s in a cell for the rest of his life.”
“-Reverend Sandoval leading a protest against racial profiling in the Arlington and DC area,” the anchor continued. “Claiming the local Hispanic community has been the target of a systematic attack by police.
A man’s voice started. “Despite being less than twenty percent of the population, Hispanic youth are two times more likely to be searched by police than similar white youth.”
He was silenced when Zach finally paused or turned off the video.
“He helped murder people,” I tried. I paused when the phone rang again, and got the same treatment as last time. “You didn’t know he was involved, and if you did could you stay silent and let him get away with it? We both know you did the right thing.”
“He helped me. He’s the reason I’m a hero.”
“Bullshit!” I vibrated the walls of his room to emphasize my point. I could only exert about the same strength as a human hand in strength in a given area, enough to turn locks or open doors. But if I wanted, I could do that hundreds of times over a large enough area. No single ‘hand’ meant much, but hundreds of them on a wall added up to an impressive rattle. “You are the reason you’re a hero. You ran into a burning building to save lives, not him. He sacrificed lives for his own ambitions.”
“Rapists and child molesters,” Zach said. His phone rang again, another glance and it was off. “I’m going after Kitten for the same thing, aren’t I?”
Stubborn son of a bitch. “Maybe, maybe not. But if Ferne found it this easy to track them down, she should have turned them in to the cops. Or she could have gone to the government.” The government did have things in place to aid those vampires who needed to feed or die. “If she really cared about doing the right thing, she wouldn’t have done things the way she did. Now put on your happy face, Laura’s-”
There was a knock on his door, then it opened. “If you don’t stop hiding in your room, Grandma’s gonna write you out of the will.”
His phone rang again. Laura sighed. “Are you going to answer that?”
“It’s Cassie, and I don’t want to talk to her.”
“Fine,” Laura reached her hand out. “I’ll talk to her.”
“Whatever.” Zach tossed his phone at her, then started clicking on his computer while Laura answered the phone.
“Hey, Cassie, I think you know this is a bad time-”
“Yeah, she said something about that.” I didn’t recognize the childlike voice on the other end. “But I wanted to let Whipping Boy know I got him a Christmas present.”