Authors: Rachel A. Marks
ALSO BY RACHEL A. MARKS
(Book One of the Dark Cycle)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Rachel A. Marks
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Skyscape, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Skyscape are trademarks of
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Cover design by Cliff Nielsen
For my daddy, who taught me how to see.
Darkness brutal, darkness fair
steals a heart
with bell and book
and candle mark.
Even as I rise
because of what it took,
clawing into home and hearth.
Bought by Darkness, lost to Light.
seeds child of night.
She seeks salvation in the stone
and lies among the brine alone,
of thorn and bone.
Darkness fair, Darkness savage,
at last atonement for my soul.
With Love so pure
it shields from night
when son will fall in sacrifice.
~ scribbled on a church bulletin, stuffed into Mom’s grimoire ~
Hey Demon Dork,
I know that you’re reading this and feeling betrayed. A sister isn’t supposed to hurt her brother like I’m about to hurt you.
You know now what I am—you know that my humanity isn’t real. Your determination, your goodness, isn’t going to save me. But that’s not your fault. Hopefully, by giving myself to them I can at least save one of us for a little while. Maybe wherever I am now I can stand in the doorway and hold them back. But you need to hear me. Don’t come find me! Don’t try and save me anymore. It’s too late.
The Darkness knows you’re in the wrong place, the wrong time. It’ll do whatever it needs to make you surrender to them.
But that can’t happen. You can’t be brave, Aidan.
I will see you again, I will, but for now this letter will be my voice, my way of telling you what’s next. Don’t throw it away. Don’t, for any reason, burn it. I’ll find a way to write again.
~ A note tucked away, waiting to be found ~
I never would’ve come on this job if I’d known it involved a demon. But last night during the briefing, Sid acted like it didn’t even involve anything paranormal.
“Probably just a human thing,” he said. “We can wave a little smoke, give the client a prayer or two, maybe one of Holly’s happy cookies, and the nice lady will be feeling better in no time.”
Not exactly. Standing here looking at the client’s massive living room that’s piled to the ceiling with stuff, I can tell this won’t be as easy as appeasing a grumpy five-year-old.
“You should’ve brought Connor,” I mumble to Sid as I survey the mess around us. The
is here somewhere. I can smell its rotten-egg ass even over the stale air and must coming from the clutter. Mountains of junk rim the walls and cover almost every inch of what looks like a very expensive marble floor. “I can’t believe you dragged me here.”
It’s my first time on a job site since everything went to hell four weeks ago—literally. I’ve tried to stay out of the paranormal stuff; I need to know more about my Awakening and my new powers before I run headlong into crazy again. Not to mention that I need to focus my energy and abilities on figuring out how to bring my sister, Ava, back to me, not on helping random strangers. So instead of going out on jobs, I’ve spent most of my time at the LA Paranormal house, trying to figure out what I can do to fix Ava’s sleeping state and wake her back up. I visit her body in the beach cave by my great-grandmother’s house every day, looking for her spirit, looking for some sort of change in her, but that’s about it for my excursions. Eric, my supposed guardian angel, appears to be in the wind. And all he left me for guidance was a vague journal. No help at all.
If Sid heard my complaint about being here on the job, he isn’t acting like it. He’s just smiling his salesman smile and listening intently to the large woman in the silk muumuu on the leather couch as she tells him how her cat tried to eat her last week. She looks young, midthirties. Too young to be wearing a muumuu and living in this filthy place. A bit of bandage peeks out from under her flowery sleeve. There’s an angry-looking scratch on her neck, too. She ended up in the ER with twelve stitches from the attack.
“Fluffy keeps leaving dead mice lying around, dead rats, even floppy gophers,” she says, her face wrinkling with disgust. “Dead all-sorts-a-stuff everywhere. It’s starting to stink no matter which room I sit in, and I can’t take it anymore. I can’t seem to escape it. And then this happened.” She motions to the scratches on her neck.
I smell the death, but the odor is layered with the putrid stink from rotten food, moldy boxes stacked end to end, and piles of clothes mixed with God-knows-what. Not to mention the sulfur wafting around from whatever demon is hiding in this place. How can this woman tell one gross thing from another?
Sid crunches his way over some debris to sit beside the client on the five inches of couch space still available.
“You rest easy,” he says as he pats her broad shoulder. “My boy, Aidan here, will take care of anything that’s gone wrong.” He motions toward where I’m standing by a stack of magazines and DVDs, and the woman looks at me for the first time since Sid and I walked through the door.
Her eyes grow a little when she studies my face, my hair, her gaze taking in the markings on my hand and arm for a few seconds longer than normal.
I really should be used to the staring by now. Ever since my “change,” or whatever we’re calling it, strangers seem to think I’m either something to marvel at . . . or something to fear. It makes me wonder what they’re sensing. Just one of the reasons I like staying at the house and leaving the jobs to the others.
She gives me a half smile, half grimace, her lips tightening over her teeth, then she turns back to Sid. “I’m not sure what else I can do. I’ll pay you whatever you want, just please, fix Fluffy. He’s all I have left now.” Her voice shakes a little and she points to something near her foot that looks like a plastic box. No, a cat carrier. I hadn’t noticed it among the piles of clutter.
Something moves inside the carrier. A shadow. The cat? A hiss emerges, like an answer, and the smell of sulfur billows out even thicker.
A shiver runs through me.
Sid leans on his cane and stands up from his spot beside the woman as he runs a hand over his bald head. Then he hesitates, like he smells it, too. He steps back, studying the carrier, then looks sideways at me, a question on his face.
Could the cat be possessed?
Or maybe the cat isn’t a
“So, Ms. Bentley.” Sid clears his throat. “How long have you had, um, the, um . . . Fluffy?” He tries to move back toward me, but stumbles over a box marked
As Seen on TV
, before steadying himself on a nearby coatrack—his arm tangles in the strap of one of the very large bras hanging from the hook. He doesn’t seem to notice, though; his eyes still haven’t left the small cat carrier at the client’s feet.
“He was a neighborhood stray,” she says, sounding deflated. “I took him in a month ago, shortly after . . . after my mother died. She hated cats, so I was never able to have one. And Fluffy was such a sweet thing.” Her eyes glisten with growing sadness.
She puckers her lips like she’s holding something in. Finally, she says, “Until a few days ago, he was all cuddles and smooches.”
Well, now Fluffy is all talons and teeth.
“Very sorry.” Sid finishes making his way over to me and pats me on the shoulder, very fatherly-like. “Aidan will need to look at the, uh, the . . . your Fluffy.”
I turn to him. “Will I?”
He nods. “The show must go on, my boy.”
Really? Must it?
Didn’t Shakespeare say we’re all actors on the stage of life, or something? Well, Sid takes that notion very seriously. The twenty-four-year-old time-traveling magician from the Babylonian court is always playing some part or another to fit the game.
He nudges me again and whispers sideways, “I know you’ve been wanting to jump back in, so here you go. Just see what you can accomplish. It’s in a cage and all that.” He waves his arm as if he’s just explained how to go about this.
I glare at him and shake my head. “You’re an ass.”
He lets out a fake laugh and gives the client a look like,
Aren’t teenagers impossible?
“It’s a preliminary test, Aidan. So we know what we’re dealing with.”
I sigh. As much as I don’t want anything to do with this job, I need to start figuring out my power. It feels like it’s growing, every day, bigger and louder, like a ringing in my ears. It’s pushing now, this weird urgency, making me itch to . . . well, kill. It’s terrifying.
I need to get these new urges under control. And if I want to kill a demon again so badly, why not give it a whirl?
I’m wearing my amulet, so if a corporeal demon is in that carrier instead of a cat, then it won’t see me. However, if the demon is
the cat, using the cat’s eyes to see, then I’m about to be discovered.
I take a deep breath and step closer to get a look. Following the boss’s orders.
Ms. Bentley leans toward her innocent Fluffy.
I crouch down to get a clearer view, avoiding the trash at my feet.
The cat hisses and its plastic carrier jerks and clangs. But the thing’s not looking at me, it’s more like it’s sensing danger, its hackles rising. And then I see tiny horns beside the ears, and thorn-like protrusions on its back through grey-striped fur. Its eyes dart around the room—eyes like light reflecting off a pool of oil. Its teeth are shiny silver.
Not an actual cat. An actual corporeal demon. Check.
This lady is lucky all the thing did was set her up with a few stitches. It could’ve scratched off her face entirely.
Prickles work over my skin as I stare at the thing. Corporeal demons are somehow less disgusting than the ones I see on the other side of the Veil. The ones that manage to get called up by witches and cross over to the physical plane are always trying to masquerade as something they’re not, and sometimes they suck at it—like Fluffy here, a cat with horns. Yes, they’re still creepy, just not as creepy as when they’re full monty in their spiritual form.
Looking at it makes the strange new urges in my gut stir, reminding me that I’m a killer now. Officially.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I say, quickly standing, itching to run but not wanting to scare the woman more.
I stumble back to Sid’s side and say under my breath, “We’re done here.”
“What sort of help will you be if you leave?” Ms. Bentley rests a hand on the carrier, as if comforting the demon inside. “We need help.”
A corporeal demon as a pet. That’s definitely new. I wonder how she hasn’t noticed Fluffy’s oddities. I mean, horns? Come on.
Maybe the fumes from the rotting crap in the house have messed with her head.
Sid clears his throat and waves an arm as if trying to keep her calm with hand gestures. “It’s all right, Ms. Bentley. It’s merely that your cat may be possessed and in need of an exorcism.”
I turn and gape at him, wondering why he’d spit that out right now.
She gasps and clutches her muumuu to her chest with a meaty fist.
I nudge Sid. “But my boss and I should maybe discuss it and get back to you.” Sid’s reading this all wrong. Not surprising, since the guy is slowly losing his senses from staying too long in this time. But I’m not a fan of him blurting out made-up shit to the clients before we’ve agreed on what shit can be said out loud.
“I’m paying you to fix this now!” she says. “I can’t leave poor Fluffy in a cage forever.”
“We’ll call you,” I say, shoving Sid toward the door before he can say anything else stupid.
Sid trips over a karaoke machine and nearly dives into the wall headfirst. But somehow he looks graceful about it, with his thin limbs and delicate fingers reaching out like a dancer’s. “Don’t let it out of the cage. We’ll call you tonight,” he says, righting himself effortlessly with his cane. “And we’ll try to get help here in the morning. Just, please, keep it locked up until then.”
She stands, watching us maneuver our way out of the living room. “One more day!” she hollers with a catch in her voice before the door closes behind us, leaving us on the porch.
I need a shower.