The threadbare carpet bites my knees every time I move and the dress I’m wearing doesn’t reach far enough to cover them. Poor planning on my part. There’s no room beneath this desk, but if I slip out now I risk exposure. So, I keep my head hunched down and scroll through Twitter and Facebook to drown out Mom’s boyfriend, Tim, and the woman who is obviously-not-my-mother getting hot and heavy on the table across from me.
I catch a glimpse her lying on her back with her salon-perfect hair dangling over the edge of the desk and the tip of her nose sticking out just above her bangs. Tim is hovering over the woman, sweaty and as red as a baked ham, with an expression that suggests he’s pulled a muscle. My phone has a folder full of pictures I snapped of them kissing in his car. And another folder of them kissing in the stairwell. Video of this would just be added trouble. When Mom found out that Annemarie and I searched “penis” on Google out of curiosity a few years back she canceled HBO and grounded me for a week and a half.
How much longer are they going to be at this?
I shift so that my back is on the floor and curl my legs up to my chest. Their breaths are just as deep and slow by the time I’m a week into my Facebook wall. I settle in for the long haul.
Mom’s relationships follow a pattern of guys with secret cellphones or apartments that she can’t go to. This guy’s late night archeology tutoring sessions didn’t seem to have any set times, he stood Mom up to go to one of them and he’s not even being paid. It felt like it fit the patterns.
I’d rather be grounded than caught, though. This is, like, my Olympics. I’m a pretty fucking awesome stalker. We high school girls tend to nurture our stalking skills. So, when I “accidentally run into you” in the hallway for the third time, claiming I’ve missed a button or remembered a funny joke, and you do that little laugh and lean in close and notice the smell of the perfume (that I practically thrashed around in a tub of), then the stalking becomes legitimate dating.
Boys don’t always figure out how to nurture their charm. Sometimes their stalking becomes kidnapping, which usually becomes twenty-five to life.
I burn through a good chunk of a Facebook game before I finally hear his breathing growing shallow. There’s a dull thud as his body hits the table. They finally fall silent. I poke my phone out over my shoulder past the corner of the desk to get another look at them with my front facing camera; the woman has her back to me and is slipping her underwear on under her dress.
“I can’t keep coming down here to see you,” she says. “We need to go to your place. It’s closer to the dig site.”
“Not there. She has the key,” he drinks in a few breaths. “She pops over sometimes to visit.” The ‘she’ in this case being my mom.
“It’s not like that, just she’s suspicious. Bad history with relationships.”
And yet you still humped this girl on the table in the lab where you both work. There’s a quality to the girl’s voice that I can hear affected by the acoustics of an auditorium classroom and asking about plate tectonics and laccoliths and their effects on artifacts. She mentioned dig sites. Karen something-or-other. She was a student in one of Mom’s classes; I used to come by after school and use passing out papers as an excuse to steal cookies and cakes from the faculty lounge.
Jumping out, pointing my finger and yelling “Ah-ha!” is out of the question. There’s several more minutes of them talking in low tones before he gives her a peck on the forehead and they part ways.
It’s like, she just had your cock in her mouth not fifteen minutes ago—you’d think he’d show a little more gratitude.
The shaft of my boot drags against the carpet as I crawl out from under the desk. I pause a second and listen for movement before getting to my feet. The usually pale skin of my thigh is rubbed a splotchy red. I limp down the stairs, my leg tingling from the sudden movement, and go out the door I propped open earlier.
My Jetta is parked in a student lot beneath next to an oak tree. Annemarie stands with her butt resting on the passenger side window and her head down over her iPhone. She glances up, the glow from the phone mingling with the parking lot light, painting her hair orange.
“You didn’t text me,” I say.
“This book’s just getting good,” she holds her phone even though there’s no way I’m reading it at this distance. “Besides, someone could hear if your phone isn’t on silent.”
“Like I’d make an amateur mistake like that.”
Annemarie locks her phone and slips it back down the front of her top. She’s all dresses, skirts, blouses and tights. She hasn’t worn anything with a fucking pocket since Pokémon cards were the in thing.
I’m climbing into the car as she slides in next to me. The spiraling ram-like horns poking out from beneath her bangs on either side of her forehead catch the Mardi Gras-style necklaces dangling from my mirror. Her horns are smaller than other succubi and don’t get caught on things often, but those trashy beads that people hang in doorways are the bane of her existence.
“Not again,” Annemarie whines.
I lean over and unwrap her. “We’re going to have to get one of those big cones to go around your neck like they use so dogs don’t lick themselves.”
“It’d just make me run into even more shit than I already do.”
“There,” I take the beads down at least until I figure out how to keep her from getting caught in them. “So I had a bit of a huge breakthrough tonight.”
“That why you were there so long?”
“Yeah. Tim is cheating on Mom with a student.” I flick through pictures on my phone of Karen pressed passionately against the wall next to the stairwell door as Tim kisses her face and then neck. Then I move through a group of them together in the car.
“How did you get these?” asks Annemarie.
“Why do you think I told you to stay over here? Kind of hard to hide with a six foot succubus trailing you around.”
“I’m not six feet tall.” She turns to look the window at something past the massive tree, something I can see. “You know this is going to kill her, right? How’s she supposed to go back to work if her partner-slash-boyfriend is cheating on her with a student? The school’s going to suffer. Who are they going to find to replace her?”
“I could take Mom’s place.”
“The university isn’t going to give a sixteen year old research privileges.”
Mom’s one of the few doctorates in Eclispademonology on the planet—that’s the study of extinct demons. Only a handful of programs in the country exist for it; her old grimoires and tomes were my bedtime stories and summer reading. Mom never encouraged it, but she never stopped me either.
The car revs to life as I turn to face Annemarie. “Do you remember Simon?” I ask.
“If I have to be the one to tell her that her new boyfriend is a lying sack of shit, so be it.” I back out of space and head for the freeway. “But we’re not going through that again.”
Annemarie is silent until we’re almost halfway to her house. “Maybe they’ll let you teach someday. No one’s lining up to talk about sifting through the dirt for clues about things that happened when dinosaurs were the flavor of the week.”
“Dinosaurs never existed alongside demons.” She should know this, she’s heard me do report after report on the subject.
I catch the smile on her face as we pass through the light of the halogen lamps that line the freeway. “Shut up.” I move into the center lane to avoid passing too close to a police car that has someone pulled over.
Lightning explodes in the sky in a three-strike burst that causes us both to scream. Hand to her chest and gasping for breath, Annemarie glances over at me. I’m trying to pretend I didn’t just swerve all over the place. “What the Hell? It’s clear out,” she says.
There’s no moon, so we glance to the gash in the eastern sky, streaked with hints of purple at its edges. It looks as if someone stretched a spot in a black trash bag until it ripped. The Wound’s been there since the Beginning, it’s the final remnant of my father’s lost war.
I got ahead of myself. My name is Lissette Metzger and my parents are a woman who was hipster before hipster had a name, and Lucifer. Morningstar Lucifer. Nurture over nature—I turned out fine. But I’ll be the opposite of fine if I’m not home by 10:30 PM.
Annemarie made me drop her off at the corner of the sagging chain-link fence that encloses her yard. She made some excuse about the gate being broken around front. This time of night, her dad would be passed out drunk and shirtless in the front porch rocking chair. No use risking the engine and lights waking him. I wait until she slips through the side door to the screened in side area of the house and flips the switch for the flood light behind the house to pull off.
Two hours to kill and only ten minute drive from home; there’s nothing appealing about seeing Mom cry again. If I’m in the house holding the evidence it’ll be impossible to keep it from her.
There’s a boy who has a work-study scholarship to the Catholic high school near Annemarie’s. On summer nights when school was out and we were out until the rain ended we’d pass him walking down the street, his shirt soaked through with sweat or rain or both and offer to give him a ride home.
Occasionally he’ll text me, but the conversations never lift off. I don’t need him to be good at talking, anyway. I lift my phone to my ear as I pull up to the stop sign and it clicks mid-ring.
“Hello?” his voice is confused and distracted. I’ve caught him busy.
“Hey. Do you know who this is?” His name is listed in my phone as Nick, but I have a habit of giving people names I wish they had.
“Yeah, listen, I’m doing this thing for school and I need to get the opinion of someone who goes to a school with uniforms. Like, I need to know how you feel about it—can I interview you?”
“Sure. Ask away.”
“I’d rather do this in person. The body language and junk might be helpful to the article. It’s no problem if you’d rather do phone, though—”
“No. Sure, Lissette. Come on over.”
“See you soon.” I hang up before he can answer me and take a left onto the road. The driveway at his house is all grass and mud. I’m the only car so I pull in close. It’s for the best, the gear shifter makes the logistics of the whole business too hard and my backseat is piled high with heels, bright dresses and empty slushy cups from Sonic.
He’s at the door in a wrinkled white t-shirt, and his dark hair is slicked down to his forehead wet. I’ve never seen it dry.
I’m in a yellow and black polka dotted sundress and my hair is in that Zen state of messiness where it looks look like I don’t care, but not so bad that it appears that I’ve given up. I step out of the car and go in the back seat for a random notebook that’s under the driver seat.
“Sorry to bother you.”
“It’s okay,” he comes off the porch and walks halfway to my car.
“You’re here alone?”
He nods. “Dad works in a plant and my sister has the car.” No mention of a mom; she’s dead or left. I can’t remember.
He falls in step with me as I reach him and holds the door for me. “Well, I won’t keep you for too long.”
“It’s okay really. Tomorrow’s Saturday, so no practice.” The screen door closes behind me and I stop next to a cracked leather couch that’s draped in those decorative yarn blankets. The kitchen kind of just begins out of nowhere off to my left and there’s a hall past that, the bedrooms I figure. “Do you want something to drink or anything?”
“Water please. Thanks.” I touch his arm with the tips of my fingers.
I watch him get the glass and make the water out of the corner of my eye as I sidle toward the hallway with the notebook clutched to my chest. The door at the end of the hall is open and a basketball jersey is tacked to the wall inside.
“Is that your room?” I ask as he hands me the water.
“You’ve been playing football a while then?”
“That was basketball actually,” he chuckles.
I take a big drink of the water. “Oh, right. Can I see? It might be best if we do the interview where you’re most comfortable anyway…”
“Sure. I mean, yeah. That’s fine.”
His room is all posters and trophies and musk mixed with body spray. There’s an Evangelion poster to my right; racist portrayal of Angels, but at least his taste in Anime isn’t shit.
I catch him staring at my eyes. Most Nephs have multiple colors in at least one eye. Mine are green with a yellow swirl. It gets a lot of looks and you get used to spotting people trying to look while trying to look like they’re not looking.
“How—how do we begin?” he asks.
There’s a black and white poster of two girls laying on their sides kissing with artfully messy sheets around them above his unkempt bed. I walk over and sit on the corner of the bed and place the notebook down in my lap. It must be past eight forty; I don’t want to waste more time than I have to.
“Look, I’m going to be straight with you—this notebook is full of drawings of horses,” I open it to show him the colored pencil sketches of two horses running through a meadow. “There’s no interview or article. I just wanted to have sex, but I don’t have any condoms and I can tell by the state of this room that you don’t either. We can make out. I’ll even slide the top of my dress down, but the bra stays on and your dick stays behind at least two layers of cloth, okay?”
“It’s a yes or no question, whatever-your-name is. I’ve got to be home in an hour and fifteen minutes.”
“Okay as in yes or…”
“Yeah,” he closes the gap between us and I polish off the last of the water dropping the cup on his bedside table. He kisses me as if he’s worried that I might slap him or pull away. But before long we’re full on kissing and I’m pulling his head into mine and trying to draw him back onto the bed.
His tongue tastes like Dr. Pepper and cigarettes. He puts a knee into the mattress to brace himself between my legs and I push my forehead to his to keep our lips apart. “Let me get these straps down,” the heater kicking on almost drowns out the sound of my voice.
The top part of my dress falls until it’s hanging off my thin leather belt. He rests a hand on my shoulder lightly and works the fingers of the other one up into my hair. Either he’s shy or he’s taking it slow. It’s okay; we’ve got an hour.
Then again, I want to stop by this gyro truck on Westheimer before I go home.
I grab him at the waist with a burst of strength that’s part cheerleading muscle, part Neph. I flip him partway onto the mattress and straddle him. His fingers play at my skin that’s almost hidden by my knee high leather boots (the damn things have too many buckles for me to bother taking them off; I don’t hear him complaining).
“Sorry for getting rough,” I tell him before I kiss his neck.
His hands are on my waist, but he’s not aggressive. We stay like this for I don’t know how long; necking back and forth. I pin his hands to the wall right below the poster of the lesbians and we kiss until my back hurts from fighting to keep my legs wrapped around him and my body bent to kiss him. And then the alarm I set before I came in here goes off.
“I have to go.” I retrieve my phone from the cup of my bra and silence the alarm.
“What was this?” His eyelids slump and he glances away.
I shrug as I slip back into my dress. “I get bored and I needed to avoid going home because Mom is going to cry when I tell her what I did.”
“You’re going to tell her about us?”
“No, her boyfriend’s cheating on her—it’s just—it’s complicated.” I climb off of him. “I’ve got to go. Thanks Nick.” I go to head out of the room scooping up the notebook as I leave.
“My name is Alex.”
“Right. Tell your dad to get a Brita filter; the water tastes like metal.” I’m out the door texting Mom as it shuts behind me. I don’t think he moved from the bed.
Be home soon. Gyro for dinner?
Her reply comes a few seconds later. Sure.
Trying to soften the blow of infidelity with spun meat. This will go over well.
Mom is sitting cross-legged on the bar stool when I come through the door clutching my phone and two gyros. She turns to greet me and her thick horn-rimmed grading glasses are perched on the end of her nose. There’s a bottle of beer or some kind of wine cooler next to her. The bottle is green, but she always picks her labels off.
“Guess who’s got two gyros and is a minute late?” she narrows her eyes at me.
I sit her food down next to her. “There was a line.”
“It’s okay,” she smiled as she grabbed the wrap up and pulled the foil with her fingernails. Mom’s hair is an ombre white-blonde and dark brown, but the slight gray in her roots is showing. She’s got freckles and full lips that are always the color of a candied apple. It’s odd to be saying it since Dad is probably one of the most attractive creatures in Creation, but I wish I had taken after Mom more.
“I told them to take it easy on the onions this time.”
“Good. I thought I was going to have to bathe my tongue in tomato sauce to get the smell out.”
“We need to talk, Mom.”
“About?” she pauses with the gyro lifted to her mouth but not quite in attack range. The grease is threatening to drip onto her Florence and the Machine t-shirt. I freeze.
“My curfew…couldn’t we go a little later. I mean ten forty five or eleven even?” I ask.
“Maybe,” she says. ‘I’ll think about it.”
“Okay. You’re going to get grease on yourself,” I wrap a napkin under the underside of the gyro and clutch it there until she wraps her hand around to hold it. She smiles until her cheeks turn red from strain and then bites into the gyro. Telling her now would be a greater disaster—a Hiroshima out of what would have been Pearl Harbor. I unwrap my food and take a bite.
How long has it been? My last clear memory is seeing Mom curled up on the recliner across from me eating Greek yogurt and watching the News. I’m outside sprawled out on the couch with Mom’s purse under my head for a pillow now. A rough stone temple reaches impossibly high up into the sky. Thick roots jut out of the cracks at the temple’s base like they’re trying to pull it the rest of the way down.
Wherever I am, it’s all wrong; it’s just an island in the middle of what would be a sea, except that the water just goes out for a few dozen yards and then pours off into nothingness.
I’ve never had a dream before, but there’s a first time for everything.
A path made of crumbled bricks leads toward the temple and I follow that. There aren’t many other places I can walk—the grass is thick and damn near as tall as me. The road (the term road here meaning ‘jagged fucking rocks that make a path through the grass’) winds around the temple, but as I walk it seems that the building is growing too slowly.
Why this dream? And why now?
I walk for about ten minutes before I see the door in the distance, the shadow of the temple covers everything around me now. As I reach the temple I could see someone nearing the doorway in the distance. I wave, but maybe I’m too far away.
The doorway is shrouded with falling water that crashes down from some unseen spot high up on the temple. I stick my hand out to touch my reflection in the waterfall. Before my hand connects with the water her fingers break through and she grabs the strap of my dress roughly. My hands instinctively go for the arm and I rake at her skin.
I topple backwards into the grass, my skirt bunched up against my waist. A rock or something rough tears into my leg. The Other Lissette is towering over me with the sky at her back. I can’t see her face, but I can see her smile. “Now we have to have some discretion. You’re not allowed in there.”
“I’d like to think that was pretty much a straightforward thought.”
I sit up, but keep my arm ready to fend her off. My left shoulder is hot with pain. “Are you me?”
“Not quite. I’m your shadow.”
She cut me off. “All you need to know is that if you step through there you will most certainly…experience whatever horrible thing I have to tell you will happen to keep you out of there. Picture that and then multiply it by ten.”
“I got it.”
“I don’t know. You’re out here and you waste it with this,” she motions towards me with disgust. “All B’s in college prep courses because ‘it’s enough’, reject of a best friend and slutting it up with strange humans.”
“Shadow me is kind of a bitch it seems,” I climb to my feet and stumble away being careful to keep my eyes on her. “I do whatever I want with my time and I spend it with who I want. You try to grab me like that again and I’m slapping the shit out of you.”
“We’re our own worst critics, right?”
“We really do look alike. Same clothes and hair. How did this happen?”
“Nephilim are in a state of duality. Human and Angel—not so much hybrid as they are two half souls and two persons.”
“So you’re like my other side?” She nods and I want to ask how she knows all of this, but I don’t want to give her the satisfaction. “I guess you could say I’m beside myself here.”
“Don’t. We hate twin jokes.”
There’s sudden pressure in the air and a tension that causes me to glance around. Intuition is rarely a false alarm.
“Shit, you feel it too, don’t you?” the Other Lissette’s eyes are wide now and she points to a darkened rip in the sky. The Wound.
“Abraxas—it’s something in the darkness. I should know what, but I can’t remember.” She’s not making sense and she goes to grab me, but I deflect her hand.
In a blink the Other Lissette and the island and temple are gone. There’s just darkness. And then screaming. Millions of shrill voices rip through me. I can’t move or breathe or see. Darkness and screams. The sound grows dangerously close to cracking from the volume. My throat scratches and goes hoarse. Am I screaming with them?
My body tenses and my eyes open to see Mom fumbling with her purple grading pen. “Christ,” her voice is a whisper.
“What is it?” my whole body is sore.
“One of the girls who needed special tutoring is bombing this test Tim asked me to grade—I don’t get what else I can do.” Tim, Mom’s soon to be ex-boyfriend, teaches archeology and he tests multiple choice so it was entirely within Mom’s (or anyone else’s) ability to grade for him.
“Who is she?”
“Karen Laurel,” Mom says. “Sweet girl.”
The dream or whatever it was still echoes through my mind and it takes me a second to hear what she’s said properly. I saw one of these study sessions for myself earlier tonight—it goes a long way to explain her test.
Mom smiles. “You look like someone just walked over your grave. Everything okay?”
I press the button to unlock my phone and look down at the pattern security screen; it times out and goes dark. “Yeah. It’s nothing.”