the holy law draft (part 1)

Chapter 1

If there was one bit of advice I would give my past self, it would be to not kill my father. I didn’t know this back then, but it would eventually lead to tormenting guilt, which would then lead to unhealthy drinking habits, which would then bring me here at my waitressing job, where I was staring passively at the five broken glasses on the floor with a pounding headache from last night’s shots. It just wasn’t worth it.

Snapping out of it, I started picking up the broken pieces of glass, ignoring the table of five men snickering at me. If one of them made a joke about me, I was ready to go straight to my boss’s office and hand in my two weeks notice. They didn’t, unfortunately, and I would work another day at this shitty after school job.

I had cut my finger on the glass, which I hadn’t noticed until I was taking the order of table seven, occupied by a single tall man wearing a suit. It was 6 PM, but he only ordered a tea.

“You’re bleeding.” he commented, and I looked at my finger. There was a small drop of blood running down the side, and I smiled apologetically, wiping the finger on my apron.

“My bad. I had an accident with a couple glasses just now. So, just a tea? That’ll be all, then?”

He gave me the creeps. There wasn’t anything wrong with how he behaved, in fact, I had served far more impolite men with no issue at all, but there was something about him that felt off. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“That’ll be all.” he said with a courteous smile and I nodded at him, trying my best to not let him see my unease. I needed those tips, after all. The rest of my shift proceeded normally, although I did keep an eye on the man. He sipped his tea quietly all night, ordered another tea from a different waiter, and didn’t leave until I brought him his check.

“Thank you.” he said.

I nodded my head as, I don’t know, a courtesy, but before he could leave, he grabbed my wrist. I tried my best not to roll my eyes, my hand already on the pepper spray in the back of my apron.

“I can tell it’s almost done.” His eyes travelled across the inked patterns on my skin. I froze. One of my most noticeable features had always been the intricate markings on my skin. They were similar tattoos, only I had never actually set foot in a tattoo parlor. It had started with one, down my spine, when I was only eight, and over the years it had grown, carving my skin more until it started peeking out of my collars and sleeves. Everyone had always just assumed it was my way of rebelling against my mom. I was already hanging out with the shadiest people, so the tattoos fit right in. No one had ever even insinuated they weren’t just tattoos. Until this man.

I ripped my arm out of his grip.

“Get out.” I said, staring him down. He got up, tucked his hand behind his back, bowed his head slightly, and then walked out the door. I watched him leave, strangely out of breath. Overwhelmed with emotions, I struggled to take off my apron, before tossing it on one of the booths and following the man outside, but when I opened the exit and looked around, he was nowhere to be seen.

The door fell shut behind me with a large clank, but it didn’t startle me at all, too caught up in my thoughts. I didn’t know who that man was, but I did have the feeling this wasn’t going to be the last time I was going to see him.

I didn’t sleep well that night, and got sent out of second period almost immediately just for taking a little nap while my history teacher was talking about some white guy colonizing something. I yawned as I strolled through the halls, fishing my phone out of my pocket before I pushed the door to the principal’s office open with my shoulder. When I looked up, however, I saw that the person I was about to text was already there.

I clicked my tongue disapprovingly at Ellie, who was sitting in one of the comfortable chairs opposite of the principle. I took a seat in the other one, laying one leg across the armrest.

“I see you here too often, Ellie.” I said, feigning a disappointed tone, “What’d you do this time?”

“Probably the same as you,” she replied with a lazy grin.

Jim, the principal, sighed in despair and clasped his hands in front of him.

“This isn’t a reunion party, ladies.” he said. Jim was the kind of principal whose glasses were always perched on the tip of his nose, and whose pencils were always neatly ordered in a straight row. Despite the stick up his ass, he could be pretty fun sometimes. That, and he hadn’t expelled either of us yet, so in my book he was a great guy.

“Good morning, Jim.” I turned to him as he sighed in despair, clasping his hands together in front of him.

“Good morning, Luna. I’m just going to go ahead and assume you’re here for doing something bad in your History class again.” I nodded in confirmation. My history teacher was one of the few teachers who hadn’t gotten used to my ways and he was stubbornly sending me to the principal for every little thing. Jim continued with a roll of his eyes. “I suppose there’s a benefit to having you burst in here without knocking first, Luna, because I need to talk to the both of you. God help me.” He took a deep breath. “First of all, Luna, you are not and have never been on a first name basis with me. For the umpteenth time: it’s Principal Johnson. Second of all, you’re both seniors now, and it’s time you start acting like seniors. You’re still constantly annoying your teachers and disrupting class.  I got a complaint that both of you, separately, had been spotted hiding something from the teachers, and when asked what you were hiding, you both, separately, revealed you were carrying a boiling pot with you. I assume this was a wordplay on the slang term ‘pot’ referring to marijuana?”

I turned to Ellie excitedly.

“You did that too? We didn’t even plan that!”

“I know!” she replied, just as surprised.

Jim took his glasses off, rubbed his face and put them back on.

“I don’t care if it was a matter of miscommunication, Luna. You’re eighteen, and despite the ruckus you make in class you still get some of the best grades in your year. And you, Marcella, nineteen, the school’s star pitcher yet both of you are still sitting here, wasting your potential. I understand you’re young and wild, or whatever, but could you maybe be young and wild quietly? Or at least not on school property?” I opened my mouth to say something in response, but Jim held up his hand, shutting me up. “That was an example of a rhetorical question. Get out, both of you. Oh, Marcella,” Ellie turned to look at him, “You better be as dedicated to baseball as you are to annoying the entire school.”

She flashed him a cheeky grin.

“Sir, yes, sir.” She closed the door behind her.  “Do you think that was the stern lecture from Jim that is gonna make us get our shit together?” she asked me as we walked to the cafeteria. I looked at her, caught off-guard, before I saw the smile tugging on her lips and I punched her shoulder.

“You actually almost got me there.” I said, and she laughed.

“You have too much faith in me and my work ethic.” We took a seat in the cafeteria at our usual table near the window. Outside, the Texas heat was almost visible, and I was grateful we were sitting in the school’s AC. I got an apple from my bag and automatically handed it to Ellie, who, without fail, had stolen every single one of my apples probably since middle school. She regarded me curiously. Then,

“Come to my game tomorrow, Lou.”

Her sudden statement made me sit up, and I slowly put my bag down on the floor.

“Why?”

Ellie smiled lopsidedly.

“I want you to be there. It’s the most important game and I want you to be in the stands so that I can see you every time I do something extremely cool.”

I giggled.

“Cocky.”

Ellie then took my hand in both of hers.

“Look, I know that you have a bad relationship with cheerleaders, baseball, and basically the whole school,” I glared at her, “but I really want you to be there. I’m sick of having to wait until the next day to celebrate with you, and you must be sick of letting this fear control you.”

I stared her down for a moment, but it didn’t look like she was going to give in. Ellie wasn’t someone to ask a lot from people -- but when she did, she meant it.

“Fine,” I exclaimed, exasperated, “I’ll come.” She beamed at me, and I knew it was worth going just to make her happy. I cleared my throat, knowing I had something to talk about too.

“This is something else completely, but I need to share this with someone or I’ll probably go crazy.” I said, nervously tapping my foot on the floor. Her face quickly sobered up, and she put her apple down, untouched.

“Are you okay?”

I frowned, nodding.

“Yeah, I’m okay, I just… I had a weird run-in with a guy at work last night. He was there all night but he didn’t eat, almost as if he was there for something else.” I averted my eyes to my hands. “And he said something about my tattoos.”

“Your tattoos?” Ellie, along with my mother, was one of the few who knew the truth about my tattoos. I hoped maybe she could understand why I was freaked out about this.

“Yeah. He said something about how ‘it’s almost done’, or whatever. I don’t know if he’s just crazy, but he really freaked me out, and I don’t know if I want to go back there.” I felt awfully vulnerable speaking about this in the middle of break, but Ellie smiled reassuringly, although there was a hint of a frown between her brows, telling me she was still concerned.

“I’ll come with you to work next time. I might be a pitcher, but I’ve still got a mean swing where it counts--” I giggled as she swung an invisible baseball bat with grandeur, watching an imaginary ball leave the ballpark. Then, the bell rang and she picked up her apple, getting up. “Don’t worry, Lou. As long as I’m here, he won’t hurt you.”

Her confidence confused me for a second, but then again that never-failing faith in herself was just part of who she was. In contrast to most high school students, Ellie had never really given in to any insecurities. She held her head up high at all times, even as we walked to class with numerous people sending us dirty looks. I, on the other hand, had always been more sensitive to the opinions of others. I knew this school didn’t like me anymore after everything that had happened, and sometimes it would take its toll on me. The thought of getting out of this environment in only a couple more months was one of the few things getting me through this year.

“How many more days is it now?” Ellie asked me, moving closer to me as we walked past the cheerleaders. “Less than two-hundred, certainly.”

“If we manage to graduate.” I added, and Ellie rolled her eyes.

“I’ve been kicked out of class so much that at this point I’m graduating out of spite. I’ve told too many teachers I can do without their lessons for me to fail this year.”

I laughed. She had successfully distracted me.

It was while I was waiting for Ellie to come with me to work after school that I narrowed my eyes at the figures further down the hallway.  It looked like a group of people towering over a single person--

Isaac.

I sighed, deeply, wishing I didn’t feel this sense of responsibility for Isaac’s actions before making my way over to the scene.

Isaac was your standard rich white boy. He was very privileged but liked to pretend he wasn’t at all. He wore Gucci to school, but he was also the type of person to come to a very fancy restaurant dressed in baggy pants and an oversized tee. He was a selfish, power-greedy misogynist and naturally, that made him popular.

That, and he was sort of my ex-boyfriend.

We had a great time together, sure, in the same way that ignorance is bliss. Then I did some stupid things, and he did some stupid things, and then I promptly realized I was a lesbian. We split. Thank God.

Thank God, because otherwise I would be standing in Isaac’s posse right now, cheering him on as he made fun of some poor kid.

“For fuck’s sake,” I muttered before tapping him on the shoulder. “Hey, Izzy, let’s not do this right now.”

The tall boy turned to me, eyes confused for a minute, before he pushed his bleach blonde hair out of his face and flashed me a wolfish grin.

“Do what? We’re just keeping Jimmy company, since he always sits alone.”

“Come on, we both know that’s not what you’re doing here. Just get out of here, and go home.” I had been in this situation many times before, and I knew that the best way to deal with Isaac was to just ignore everything he said. His expression turned more menacing when he realized I wasn’t going to leave him alone.

“Little Luna. Always the big hero, huh? Coming for the rescue? What do you care about nobodies like him, anyway?”

“I don’t.” I said, “I’m just here to ruin your day.” I turned to his posse, gesturing at the door. “Show’s over, everyone. Time to go.”

There was some booing and a few insults spat at me as they started to leave, and Isaac turned to me, lips pulled up into a small snarl, as if he was trying to intimidate me.

“Bye, Isaac.” I said, waving at him, and he finally conceded, but not before hissingL

“Don’t get used to this.”

“Funny.” I said as he started to walk away. “‘Cause that’s exactly what you said the last ten times, Izzy.” He flipped me off, then left the building. I looked at the kid on the floor. He was still shaking, even though his bullies had left. I kneeled down in front of him but he looked up at me with a frightened expression, and then scurried off.

I got up again, watching him leave. I was no better than Isaac in his eyes. Worse, probably, although I’d never even done anything to him personally.

“There you are.” Ellie said, turning the corner, unaware of what had just happened, “Ready to go?”

“Yep. Time to meet my favorite stalker.”

We had driven our motorbikes to the restaurant I worked at, and it was now five minutes before my shift started. I got off the bike, stowing my helmet in the compartment on the back, and nervously wiped my hands on my trousers.

“It’ll be alright, Lou.” Ellie said, her arms crossed. “Chances are he won’t even be here.”

“Is that better?” I asked her, trying to tie my apron around my waist. “Maybe I’d rather know exactly where he is at all times. I can already see it happen that he’s not gonna be here in the restaurant, but when I get home he’s gonna be waiting for me in my bathroom, or something.”

Ellie snorted, moving over to me to take the apron from my hands and tie it herself.

“Let’s not think that far ahead now, alright? First step is to see if he’s here. After that we’ll worry about the rest.” She tied a knot, then gently pushed me into the direction of the restaurant. “Come on. I’m right here.”

I pressed my lips together, then looked over my shoulder at Ellie, before making my way into the restaurant. I froze at once, and Ellie almost ran into me.

He was there, sipping his tea, reading a newspaper. When we entered, his eyes met mine only briefly before they moved on to Ellie. For a long time, they held eye contact, Ellie looking as fearless as ever. Then, she took my wrist and pulled me out of the restaurant.

Chapter 2

She had dropped me off at home without a word. Her usually lighthearted demeanor had changed into something more serious, more pensive, and I could tell there were other things on her mind as she nodded goodbye. I figured I’d leave it until tomorrow, but now that it was in fact tomorrow, I wondered if she would even show up to drive to school together.

When I heard her bike rev outside, relief washed over me.

“Bye Mom!” I called out before closing the door behind me. “You’re awfully early,” I said as Ellie flipped her visor up.

“Good morning to you too.” she replied, her voice muffled by her helmet.

I stopped putting my jacket on to smile at her and say good morning back. Then, I put my helmet on and got on my bike. It was my one prized possession. I saved for years to get this ratty old motorcycle along with a driver’s license, and I spent months fixing it up with the help of Ellie and some boys from the garage. Last year, I could finally ride it for the first time, and it’s still as exhilarating as it was back then.

“I’m early because we have gym first period and Coach keeps threatening to put me on the bench whenever I skip.”

“Isn’t it fitness test day today?” I said, swinging my leg over my bike. Ellie threw her head back and let out a groan.

“Goddammit. Fine, let’s go. Race you there?”

Before I could even answer, she was off. Fucking cheater. I quickly followed, spotting her and making sure to wave at her when I drove past her. She flipped me off in response. I arrived at school only a couple seconds before Ellie, tires squealing as I made the tight turn onto school property. I parked my bike in its designated area, and took off my helmet. I grinned at Ellie.

She returned my grin with a glare.

“Don’t even say it. You cut me off. I almost died. I think we should make a new rule: if you almost die, you automatically win.”

I stowed everything away while sending her a pout.

“Maybe if you just become a better driver than me you won’t need those silly rules to get you a victory.”

She scowled at me as we made our way to gym.

“Alright, class, listen up!” Coach shouted, his voice echoing across the field for a moment. “You all know what time it is, yeah? That’s right! It’s track time!”

The groan the class let out only seemed to please Coach further.

“Run as many laps as you can in half an hour. Line up, and start on my sign.”

We did as he said, and an anxious silence hung in the air. It wasn’t a competition, nor did anything really depend on it, but my heart still hammered against my chest. When I looked around, I saw more stiff faces and thinly pressed lips and I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt like this.

Then, we were off, the dull thudding of shoes on the red track the only sounds left.

We ran in silence for a moment, naturally taking the lead, along with some other boys I recognized from the men’s baseball team.

“So are we going to talk about what happened last night?” I said after a while, and when I looked at Ellie, I saw her jaw clench.

“I can’t really explain it.” she said, shaking her head slightly. “I’d recommend changing shifts, and more importantly, don’t go back there without me.”

I frowned, confused.

“Do you know the guy? What’s got you so worried all of a sudden?” During that moment where the man and Ellie had looked at each other, something had happened, almost like they had said unspoken words to each other. When my coworker had texted me to see where I was, I had asked her about the man, and she said that he left almost immediately after she had seen me walk out.

“When I say I can’t explain it, I mean it. It’s… Not now. Not here.”

My frown got deeper, but that was when someone behind me kicked me under my shoe, trying to make me fall over. Ellie caught me just in time and I managed to continue without losing too much speed. I looked over my shoulder to see two of the cheerleaders laughing at me.

“Hey psycho!” One of them yelled.

I spat at their feet before turning around again. Ellie kept up with me as I started to run faster, eager to get away from them.

“They’re dickheads. Don’t let them get to you.”

“I’m not letting them get to me. I just really, really wished they would go away.” Ellie’s face twisted into a concerned grimace as she looked over her shoulder.

“I could just hit them and take the blame for them. I’m a little out of practice, but for you, I’d do it.”

I snorted, a small smile pulling on my lips despite the situation. Then, the smile disappeared completely when another cheerleader called out:

“Psycho, come on, don’t ignore us like your daddy clearly ignored you.” The girls barked out laughter and I sped up again, the aches in my legs distracting me from my anger. God, I needed to do something about these anger issues. It was almost as if I could feel the anger moving through me, from my stomach up my spine, to the nape of my neck where it surfaced -- oh God, not here, not now.

The pain felt like knives dragging across my skin, carving patterns into my neck and I had to move aside, the pain paralyzing me. The rest happened in a daze. Ellie was at my side in a second as I sat down on the astroturf of the field, my breaths panicked, my environment blurry.

“Head between your knees, Lou.” Ellie said, calm as ever, rubbing my back as she looked around for Coach. The pain, it was overriding my systems, begging for my attention every waking moment, only getting worse. It hurt far more than any of the other tattoos on my skin, and I feared for the worst. Maybe this was some freak disease and this was the last nail in the coffin. I felt the pain crawling through my veins, spreading everywhere, all the way to the very tips of my fingers and I gritted my teeth, my fingers digging into my own legs.

I hated this. I hated feeling this vulnerable in front of people who I definitely didn’t want to see me like this, and there wasn’t even anything I could do except wait it out. I hardly heard Coach footsteps approach.

“I’m taking her to the nurse, Coach.” Ellie said, “She won’t be able to calm down with all of these people around. You know how those cheerleaders are.”

He must’ve agreed, because the next thing I knew Ellie wrapped my arm around her shoulders and helped me up. I was heavily leaning on her because my legs were trembling with pain, unable to hold my own weight up anymore.

“It’s alright, cara.” she muttered, carefully leading us back into the school, into the nurse’s office, who immediately joined our side and helped put me down on one of the beds available. My hands were balled into fists, nails digging into my skin as I tried to take deeper breaths. In that moment, I was certain this pain would never fade, and it was only making me panic more.

“You know…” the nurse spoke, “I really think I should call an ambulance or at least take you to the hospital myself.”

I shook my head.

“No, no, please don’t.” I murmured, trying to sit up but Ellie held me back, forcing me to stay down for the moment. “My mother works at the hospital. She’ll just get worried. And the money… no, I’ll stay here.” My voice was frustratingly weak.

The nurse nodded in understanding.

“Alright. You can stay here. Miss Russo, don’t you have class to be in right now?”

Ellie flashed her a charming grin.

“Would you believe me if I said no?”

The nurse sighed, pinching the bridge in her nose, but left us be. She put a glass of water and some painkillers on the table beside the bed and withdrew into her office. Ellie looked around and pulled a stool towards the bed before taking a seat on it. She took one of my hands in both of hers.

“How’s it going?” she asked, brushing the hair away from my sweaty forehead.

“It hurts.” was all I could say before my jaw clenched up as another burst of pain shot through my neck. It was such a sensitive spot right below my skull, and it made it seem like my head was about to explode. “It’s never this bad. Why is it this bad?”

Ellie pressed her lips together.

“Maybe that man had a point. Maybe this is a process and it is indeed almost done. Maybe this is the last one.”

I didn’t want to think about that. If this was a process, and this was the end of the process, what would even happen after? Would I have to go to the hospital? Pay a ridiculous amount of money for a mere check-up on a non-existing disease? This was a nightmare situation.

“I can see the gears turning in your head. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” Ellie smiled a bit sad. “Here.” She got up, handed me the cup of water and a pain killer, and helped me sit up a little. “Drink some water, and then take a nap. You can just sleep it off.”

Weakly, I followed her advice, just glad I didn’t have to think and instead I could just follow her suggestions. The water was cooling to my lungs and I sunk back into the bed, the pain turning from a bitter burn to a dull throb. A memory swept me away.

“Daddy!” she yelled excitedly as she stumbled down the stairs. “Daddy, look! I got my first one! I got my first tattoo!”

To say her parents were shocked was an understatement. Her daddy roughly gripped her wrist, studying the complicated pattern on the vulnerable skin of her underarm.

Luna had expected them to be happy, thinking this tattoo was a sign of her growing up, but when Daddy didn’t respond, her smile faltered.

“Go upstairs.” he ordered, letting go of her wrist, which now had red marks all around it. Luna looked at her Mommy, who seemed just as not-happy.

When Lou’s parents heard her bedroom door close, their voices shifted from soft whispers to harsh yelling. Little did they know that Luna had indeed closed the door, but had stayed outside of her room to listen to her parents talk.

She knew better than to disobey her Daddy. But it was all so new and interesting, that not even fear could conquer her curiosity.

She regretted it.

Now she was sitting on the stairs, her hands covering her ears, knowing that if she went back into her room, they would hear and find out she’d heard everything. Luna squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her hands to her ears, but it didn’t help. Nothing could drown it out.

After a moment, she carefully removed her hands. Maybe if she told them and said sorry, she would be rewarded for her honesty and she would be able to keep her teddy bear. She stood up and tiptoed down the stairs, careful not to trip. A slam pulled Luna’s thoughts away from the distraction and she peeked around the corner, into the kitchen, where her Mommy was sitting on a chair, her shoulders shuddering. Was she laughing?

Her Daddy was slowly pacing around her Mommy, shouting viciously. It was almost as if he was circling her, like a lion circled a wounded gazelle. His fists were balled, his body shaking. The posture of a man who was up to no good.

Suddenly, he looked up. Not at Luna, but at her Mommy. The lion stalked over to the gazelle and slapped Mommy hard across her cheek. Mommy started shaking more, and little Luna was getting just as angry as her Daddy was.

“Please,” she heard her mother sob, “Please leave her out of this. Please, just go.”

“It’s her fault. It’s all her fault. Hers, and yours, too. I told-- this is useless. You are useless. I should've never let you keep her---” Luna watched her daddy’s veins throb in his neck as he searched around him for something more effective. Then, he reached for a beer bottle, smashed it on the counter and  pulled his arm back, but before Daddy could hit Mommy again, little Luna had grabbed her pink baseball bat and had hit her Daddy as hard on the head as she could. He fell to the floor like a ragdoll as her Mommy screamed, but she didn’t realize what she’d done yet.

I blinked a couple of times, trying to get the room into focus again.

My father had never been a nice man. He didn’t treat us that way because he was an alcoholic, or because he did drugs, he just did it because his heart was rotten. He didn’t know how to love anymore. And eight-year-old me knew that. However, eight-year-old me didn’t know that that tattoo wasn’t the start of my womanhood, and in fact, I still didn’t know why these tattoos randomly appeared on my skin.

I did have the nagging feeling I would find out all too soon.

Chapter 3

When I came to, I felt a lot better. Weirdly good, actually. Usually after an experience like this I would have to rest for three days to get back on my feet, but I felt strong, energized. I shook my head briefly, trying to get the room back in focus. I looked around me to see Ellie, who was still holding my hand, but she was looking away from me, deep in thought. She hadn’t noticed I was awake yet, and I hadn’t seen her this calm and relaxed in a while. I wished I could see this version of her more often, but I was afraid that this senior year just hadn’t quite allowed us to relax yet, with all the stalkers and tattoos.

As if she could read my mind, her eyes met mine, the subtle frown right back between her brows.

“How are you? The lunch bell just rang, but I was afraid the pain would come back, or something, so I--” She was rambling, and I held up my hands to stop the waterfall of words tumbling out of her mouth.

“I’m okay, Ellie. Really.” I said with a reassuring grin. “Thanks for staying even though Coach is probably waiting to tear you apart right outside those doors.”

Finally, she accepted my answer and she laughed, rubbing the back of her neck, eyeing the door nervously.

“Probably. I’m not afraid of him, though, so it doesn’t matter to me.” I watched her puff out her chest like a proud peacock, and laughed.

“You are so afraid of him.” I sat up, though it did take me a little longer than normal. The pain was gone, I noticed, and I wasn’t trembling anymore. I felt good enough to get up. When I got dizzy and lost my balance, Ellie was there in an instant, holding me up so I wouldn’t fall over. The nurse came out of her office too, checking up on me.

“All good again?” She was fairly used to my periodical visits to her office, and I was grateful she didn’t ask too many questions.

“All good.” I confirmed, sending her a polite smile. The moment we left the office, Ellie got grabbed by the neck by Coach, to no one’s surprise.

“I thought ‘taking her to the nurse’ implied coming back too, Russo.” he said, and I giggled as she stumbled along with him, sending me an apologetic glance.

I made my way over to the cafeteria, where it already smelled like cardboard and spoiled milk. It was brimming with students, and I tossed my bag on one of the empty tables. I took a seat and leaned back in my chair, rubbing the new pattern on the back of my neck. Ellie had had a point: It could be the last one.

The loud clang of two trays against my table pulled me back to reality. I raised an eyebrow as two cheerleaders sat down opposite of me, looking at me as if they expected something.

“Well?” I said, since they apparently weren’t going to say anything. “What are you waiting for? A handstand?”

“Where’s your little friend, Garcia? She’s not here?” The cheerleader I knew as Jenny turned around, looking for Ellie in the cafeteria. “Uh oh… What happened? Did she finally realize you were insane after that attention attack during gym?”

The other cheerleader (Anna? Anne?) laughed.

“You know, Ellie is really funny, really nice, too. Makes you wonder, why the psycho?”

I had to sit on my hands to control myself.

“Just tell me what you want. Please.” If they didn’t wrap this bullshit up, I wouldn’t be so nice anymore. “Do you want another situation like last time? Is that it? More drama? More gossip for you, more juvie for me?”

“No, of course not, Luna.” Jenny said, waving my questions away. “We want you to be happy. After all, we used to be friends…”

Until you beat Trace up and didn’t stop until she had to go to the hospital. The end of that sentence hung in the air, unspoken. I got up at once, my chair scraping loudly behind me, and I grabbed my bag.

“Is that all, then?” I asked them. “You just came here to pester me?”

“What did Tracy find out about you, Lou?” Jenny rested her hand on her hand, looking up at me with a slight smile on her lips. “We’re dying to find out what could’ve been bad enough to land her in a hospital.”

I leaned down to her level. I didn’t want to do this, but it was for her own good. Maybe if I threatened her she’d actually leave me alone for once.

“I almost can’t believe you’re dumb enough to think that if you ever found out, I wouldn’t put you in the hospital too.”

With that, I straightened my back, and walked off. My hands were shaking a little and despite the ringing of the bell signaling the end of lunch and the start of fifth period, I pushed open the door to the bathroom. The moment I entered, a sophmore’s wide eyes met mine and I nodded my head at the door. She nearly sprinted out, and I had the bathroom to my own.

I turned the tap on and leaned on the bathroom sink, taking the cool water and putting it on the back of my neck. While the tattoo wasn’t hurting anymore, it was still hot to the touch, and I think it was making me more irritable. I looked at myself in the mirror, staring at the dark circles under my eyes, the permanent frown between my brows. With my finger, I pushed the corner of my upper lip up, revealing my teeth. Something felt different, I just couldn’t pinpoint it.

I flinched heavily when someone knocked on the door.

Why would someone knock on the door of the women’s bathroom? I would understand if you knocked on a cubicle, but this was a common area without even a lock. I swallowed hard as I stepped away from the mirror. I reached out to the doorknob, took a deep breath, and then, at once, swung it open.

That man. He was here. In my fucking school.

On instinct, and nothing else, my hand shot out to punch him in the nose, but he disappeared before I could hit him. I blinked once, twice. A man, my stalker, had just disappeared into thin air right before my eyes. I must be hallucinating. There was no other explanation for what had just happened. It must’ve been the effect of the painkillers, or something.

I looked up when Ellie skidded around the corner, seemingly in a rush.

“Are you okay?” she asked, out of breath. Had she ran here? Why? How had she known I was here in the first place? She reached out to me, and I took a step back, shaking my head.

“What the fuck is going on, Ellie?” was all I could ask her.

In that moment, she looked completely helpless, and I felt bad for cursing at her like that. Then again, her helplessness was evidence that she was in fact hiding something from me.

“I can’t.” she said, and I took another step back.

“I don’t want any of this.” I said, unsure of what ‘this’ actually was. “You know that man. I know you do. The way you always arrive right on time-- something is going on. You know everything about me, Ellie. Why do I feel like I don’t know everything about you?”

A freshman walked past us, head down, very aware of the fact he was interrupting something. We watched him turn the corner.

“Please, Luna, just let me do this, give me some time--”

I shook my head.

“You can have all the time you want, Ellie, but I have to put my own safety first. If you can’t tell me what’s happening, and how that man just fucking, I don’t know, disappeared right before my eyes, then I don’t feel safe around you anymore.”

Ellie raked a hand through her hair, then sighed. When her eyes met mine again, they were filled with an emotion I couldn’t quite place, but her eyes were darker than normal.

“Now?” she asked.

I was afraid. I had never felt this vulnerable, this exposed. I’d always been able to just fight off or ignore any danger that I faced, but this time, it seemed to be something much, much bigger than me.

“Now.” I confirmed.

Ellie looked around the hallway, clearly nervous, her nose scrunching up. She let out a deep breath.

“I’m…. I’m a D.C., Luna.”

Both my eyebrows shot up. I blinked once, twice.

“Excuse me?” I blurted out. I had been expecting maybe that she had known that stalker man, or that this was a prank and she was in on it. Not this.

“I’m a D.C., Lou.” she repeated, as if it should all make sense to me the second time. It really, really didn’t. It only brought up more questions, and I was starting to get frustrated.

“Great. I’m so glad you told me! I never expected that you were a district of Columbia, but I should’ve known!”

Ellie smiled a bit sad and I felt like my sarcasm wasn’t really being appreciated in this moment.

“A Dream Catcher, also known as a D.C. Like in your book. When someone wishes upon a star, I’m the one who makes sure they come true.”

‘Confusion’ didn’t quite capture what I was feeling. ‘A complete and utter loss of what the fuck was going on’ came a bit closer.

The book she was talking about was called ‘Patroni Somnorum’, and it was my favourite book when I was younger. My father read it to me when he was in a good mood, and it told tales of knights and mages. One specific excerpt flashed through my mind.

The oldest Dream Catcher was created by Lucifer, and gifted the power of creation. “It is your job to fulfill the wishes of those who need it.”

It had always just been a bedtime story. Just characters from some silly book, not my best and only friend. In fact, I was still waiting for said best and only friend to burst out into laughter and say, ‘Did you really buy that?’

But she didn’t.

Instead, she made it worse.

“I was a special case, being the first. I - I was assigned to you. I’ve been guarding over your soul ever since I became a Dream Catcher.”

I let out a breathy laugh, my eyes wide as I tried to process this. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked for her to tell me what was going on, although there had been no way I could’ve predicted she was gonna tell me this. This was nuts. This was fucking insane. She reached out to touch me, but then changed her mind and her hand fell to her side again. “I wrote that book you… you hate so much, Lou. Patroni Somnorum. I can’t go over everything there is to know about this world before the end of class, but everything you need to know is in there. It’s all true.”

I had so many questions. My mind was a chaos, all my neatly organized thoughts now sprawled everywhere, but one question stood out from the rest. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the answer.

“What about our friendship? Were you assigned to that too?”

I couldn’t -- I needed to know that it was real. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that there were people who actually cared about me. Everyone had given up on me except for my mother and her, the only one who smiled when she saw me in the hallway, the only one who willingly sat next to me, the only one who seemed to genuinely care for me outside of my family. She couldn’t be faking it.

Ellie sighed, rubbing her chin, probably thinking about her answer.

“I-- Fuck, Lou, why do you need to ask this question?”

This was the point where I started crying. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t sad, I was just deathly afraid of her answer. Cold, ice-cold fear trickled down my spine like a feather, but the feather was made out of hard steel, and the soft edges were sharp blades.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe because it’s important to me?” My voice broke halfway and I saw Ellie’s face contort with pain. “You’re the only friend I have left and now you’re telling me it was all an act?”

She shook her head.

“I was never supposed to befriend you.” she said.  I wiped my nose with a trembling hand as I listened. “Hell, I was never supposed to talk to you in the first place. But I couldn’t help myself. You were so friendly, and kind, and caring and loyal and then, your soul finally managed to recognize me, and I just--” She stopped talking abruptly, the silence weighing heavy on us both.

“You just what, Ellie?” I asked, my hands shaking. “After hiding all this from me, don’t you think I can at least know the end of your fucking sentence?”

She pulled on her sleeve, the nondescript habit telling me how frustrated she truly was.

“Not like this, Luna! This isn’t -- this isn’t how I planned it.”

My jaw went slack.

“What plan? You planned this all out? You were going to ruin everything for me while following a script? What did you fucking expect me to say, Ellie! Did you honestly think I’d be okay with all this? You know me, Ellie. Look,” I calmed myself down slightly, taking deep breaths and counting to three, “I’m glad you told me, but Jesus Christ, why would you do this to me?”

“Because I’m selfish.”

I let out a humorless laugh and took a few steps back, hands dragging down my face.

“Great. No, yeah, great. You’re a fucking cliche. It’s so easy to just say that and get away with it, right?”

“C’mon, Lou, I’m trying to explain. See, I knew this was never going to end the way I wanted to. Of course I like you. You’re my best friend, not because they assigned me to you, but because I wanted to be your best friend. And it's -- There was still some hope left inside of me, just a bit, that told me everything would work out fine, somehow, some way. I knew it wouldn’t, but it was nice to at least pretend.” She paused. “A very long time ago, there was this Dream Catcher. He was assigned to a girl, and just like us, they were never supposed to meet. But, just like us, they did. They spent more and more time together, but this displeased Lucifer. He felt the human was distracting the Dream Catcher. No one knows what happened next, but there are rumors, Lou. They say they never saw each other again. That they forgot each other all over again. So I thought that maybe, as long as you didn’t know about any of this, we’d be safe. There wouldn’t be much to forget, so maybe they wouldn’t make us. I know I shouldn’t have taken the risk in the first place, but you were so… I don’t know. I just didn’t want to be a mere lost memory. I wanted to be more. I chose this path. I chose you.”

I shook my head and crossed my arms, staring at my feet.

“You were still assigned to me. Had you been assigned to anyone else, you would’ve never chosen me.”

She reached out and took my hand.

“That’s why I consider you a blessing, and Fate my truest friend. Had I been assigned to anyone else, I would’ve never wanted to,” She let out a brief laugh, “break literally all the rules just so they could recognize me.”

I looked at her, unease in my eyes. Did she not get it? I pulled my hand away from hers.

“You don’t know that, Ellie. Maybe it’s some weird kind of Stockholm syndrome thing, where you’re forced to put up with me, so you convinced yourself that everything’s fine, or something. I don’t know. It’s just not right.”

Silence.

“What more can I say to ease your mind, Luna?” Her voice was desperate. “Is there anything? Or is this where our friendship ends?”

I angrily wiped a lost tear from my cheek.

“For how long have you been assigned to me?”

“Two thousand and fifty-eight years.”

I swallowed hard. That was a bigger number than I expected.

“And in those two thousand and fifty-eight years, have you ever had your own life? A life that had nothing to do with me?”

“I don’t want to have a life that has nothing to do with you!” She exclaimed with a sudden burst of emotion. “Deodamnatus, Luna, can’t you see that I’m in love with you?”

We both froze and for a moment, it was as if time had stopped ticking.

She was in love with me.

Huh?

“You’re… in love with me.” I stated, more to myself than to Ellie. The phrase tasted unfamiliar.

Ellie made some vague gestures, then appeared to give up and she let out a weak laugh.

“So much for subtlety. I suppose that this is as close to hard proof as I can get.”

Haha. This was a hilarious situation.

“Why would you -- who proves themselves like this?”

She counted something on her fingers, and then said: “Yeah, just me.” She frowned, and turned serious again. “I don’t expect you, to, like, tipo -- well, I probably shouldn’t have told you in the first place, but--” She let out a frustrated sigh, annoyed by her own language barrier. “I’m sorry, Luna.”

I shook my head, more desperately with every shake. It was too much. It was just too much right now.

“No.” I then said, “This is all a joke. You’ve been reading my book or something, and you’re just fucking with me, like a piece of shit -- oh for fuck’s sake, you wouldn’t do that. Look, I need to -- I need to get out of here.”

I turned around abruptly, paused, then walked off. Who cared about dignity. Now was the time for running away from all my problems.

I furiously wiped away the tears, keeping my eyes on the ground as I left the school and walked to my motorbike. I wasn’t sad. I was just really, really confused.

“Luna.” Ellie took a hold of my wrist, but when I pulled away she let my hand go again. “I know what you’re doing.” She said, and the concern in her voice made me stop walking. “I shouldn’t have told you like this, and I knew you were going to run, but please, Luna. Don’t isolate yourself again. I know that this situation is strange, and I know that you’re panicking, but please, you can talk this through. I get that you don’t want to talk to me, but at least talk to your mom. I don’t want this to hurt you in any way--”

        “Well, that’s rough, buddy.” I snapped, not looking at her. “You already hurt me with this shit. You might have all the good intentions in the world, but it is just too much. I handle one big thing at a time. The whole Dream Catcher thing was a pretty fucking big thing, I’d say, and then this on top… Too much.”

“Okay.” was all she said, and she nodded. Her usually tall and confident posture suddenly seemed much smaller. “I’m sorry, Luna. I’m so, so sorry.”

For the first time since she admitted all this, I looked her in the eyes.

The raw emotion in her gaze made me look away again. I got on my bike, revved the engine, then drove off.

Right?

Chapter 4

When I arrived home, the house was eerily empty. I swallowed hard. Usually, I’d be happy to find the house silent like this, but nowadays being alone felt a little bit different.

I turned my phone on silent just in case Ellie tried to call me, since that was the last thing I needed right now. I felt incredibly tired after all the information she had just unloaded on me, and I needed a break. The initial unease of walking into an empty house had worn off, and I headed into the kitchen to grab a glass of water before making my way upstairs to my bedroom.

My closet door was still open from this morning and the faded pink box in the back smiled mockingly at me. It knew of the memories it contained, and the effect those memories had on me. I kept those memories in that box specifically so I wouldn’t have to carry them with me all the time.

I pushed the fear aside and picked it up. This action stirred up a cloud of dust and I coughed, opening a window.

No more time for excuses. No more time for running.

I tossed the box on my bed and pushed the lid off, keeping my distance. I hesitated, then looked inside.

The very sight of the contents of the box made my heart stop.

I should’ve thrown it out. I should’ve thrown it all out the moment my father was officially declared dead.

In the box in front of me lay three objects. In the far-left corner a baseball glove, worn until it fit my father’s hand so perfectly that only he could wear it. In it lay a small bracelet that would no longer fit my wrist, given to me when I was little and torn off in anger a couple years later because I ‘didn’t deserve pretty things’. Next to the glove, a large, leather bound book.

I picked it up. The book gave off a musty smell and I was enveloped in the memories that smell brought with it.

‘Patroni Somnorum’ it said on the cover in big, curly letters. I held it in my hands like a delicate flower, as if it could fall apart at any time.

It hurt my heart to look at it. I remembered the good times, my father sitting on the edge of my bed as I listened to him intently. He could tell stories like no other.

Then there were the bad memories of the book lying next to me, my head underneath the pillow as I tried to drown out the sound of people yelling downstairs. No reading that night.

I pushed past the fear and sat down on my bed, flipping through the book, taking in the familiar words, this time in a different context. It spoke of Dream Catchers, the way they could teleport themselves to different places at will, and the way they could hear all of the wishes of the world. I feared that Ellie had also been able to hear my wishes all this time. It stung a little, but part of me understood. That story she told about the other Dream Catcher and what had happened to them showed that this was bigger than just the two of us.

“Can we talk, Luna?”

I snapped the book shut at once as the man appeared in my room, barely being able to hold back a yelp.

“No.” I said, working on autopilot, my brain still in shock. “No, we can’t. Leave this house. Don’t come back.”

He didn’t budge, and I moved further back, putting more distance between us.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. I really need to speak with you, Luna.”

“How the fuck do you know my name?” I blurted out. If he wanted to talk, he was going to need to answer my questions first. “How do you know where I live? Are you here to kill me?”

The man’s slender hands came up to his tie, which he tightened a little.

“Most know your name, Luna, just as most know where you live.” He paused. “As to whether I’m here to kill you, I--”

He disappeared as the door opened downstairs. My mothers. I let out a deep breath and sprinted downstairs, nearly slipping on the stairs.

“That’s quite the rush you’re in, Lou.” Mom said, completely oblivious to the fact there had just been a man in our house. She looked at  me as she hung up her coat, and frowned. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

At once, all the tension left my body and tears welled up in my eyes. Upon seeing this, she rushed over to me to give me a hug, and I wrapped my arms around her, grateful. We sat down on the couch and I told her about everything that had happened in the last couple days, leaving out the Dream Catcher and the stalker bits.

By the time I’d finished, my mom had made herself a cup of lemon tea, which she was stirring absent-mindedly.

“She just… said it, huh?” she asked, and I nodded. “You’ve gotta admit, she’s got some balls.”

I groaned, and she laughed as she finally tapped her spoon on the edge of her cup and put it on my bedside table. She turned to me.

“Well? Do you like her back?” My mom sipped her tea while never losing the curious look in her eyes and I let out a sigh.

“Of course I like her, but I can’t imagine being in a relationship with her. Relationships are too fragile to take the place of a friendship. And, I mean, she said she’s in love with me. Not a crush, not ‘You’re hot, wanna fu…” My voice trailed off as I watched my mom raise her eyebrow. “Want a fun date?” Nice save, Luna. “Y’know, this is like, she’s really serious about this.”

Mom nodded. “It’s okay if you don’t recuperate her feelings, Luna. Her decision to confess this to you is no obligation for you to return those feelings. I’m sure Ellie doesn’t want you to feel this pressured either. And, there are some pros to this. I mean, I won the bet we made at my yoga-class. That’s twenty-five dollars in the pocket.”

I burst out into laughter.

“You bet on whether Ellie was in love with me or not?”

“No, we made a bet on whether she would admit her feelings to you through words, or if she would just sweep you into a kiss. To have it over with, you know.”

I caught my mind wondering what that would be like.

Mom wrapped her arm around me as I blushed.

“We’ve all seen the way she looks at you, Lou. I think you’re the only one who’s surprised.”

“It’s-- It’s just weird.” I put down my tea. “And a couple days ago she asked me to come to her football game, too. Do I go? Do I stay here and cry? What’s the plan?”

Mom laughed.

“Oh, you’re definitely going. Besides, she’ll be down on the field and you’ll be up in the stands, chances are she won’t even see you.” Mom didn’t know everything that had happened, so I didn’t know if her judgment was the best, but I was still grateful for an excuse to get out of this house. In the stands of our stadium, with so many people around me, surely that guy wouldn’t be able to find me. I felt uncertain about leaving my mother alone, but the way he had disappeared the moment she had arrived at home put me at ease.

Why was I even here? This was such a bad idea. This was like, a lose-lose situation. I’d no doubt see Tracy here, and Ellie, and everyone who hated me and-slash-or was hated by me. It was hot, and loud, and everything was bad.

I sighed and followed a big group of sophomores into the stadium.

The entire crowd was alive, morphed into two beings, one dominantly colored red and white, the other colored blue and gold. The hooting and whooping of the students was deafening, yet thrilling, and almost infectious. The strange urge to cheer bubbled up, but I resisted. I followed the swarming mass and ended up at the front of the stands, as close to the field as I could get. Great.

Then, the players entered the field.

I spotted number 11 almost immediately. Ellie was calmly waving at the crowd, as if this wasn’t one of the most important games she’d ever play.

Well, she did say she was basically immortal, so maybe this wasn’t as important as it seemed.

The entire red-colored part of the stadium let out another groan as the opposite team rolled in another point. The entire first two innings hadn't been very good for Magnolia High, and it wasn’t getting better, either. Beaten and tired, our players got their last strike out and switched to field again, Ellie taking position as the pitcher. They were being cheered on so loudly that that same strange urge to cheer with them bubbled up again, but this time I couldn’t control myself. At the top of my lungs, I shouted:

“LET’S GO ELLIE!”

Perhaps it was my close vicinity to the field, perhaps it was her super magical Dream Catcher power, but her eyes instantly found mine. She looked surprised, but then a boyish grin appeared on her lips, and strangely enough, the third inning went a lot better.

Ellie was so good at what she did. She was grace herself with every baseball she pitched, despite the tremendous pressure on her shoulders. It was the last inning, and we were only one point in the lead. Everyone in the stadium was on the edge of their seats as Ellie got ready to pitch the closing batter.

She stepped out and the ball left her arm with a tremendous speed, but the batter swung and missed. That was strike one. She got tossed the ball again, and got to try again. God, this was nerve-wracking. My hands were pressed to my lips and the stadium was surprisingly quiet as she threw her next pitch. I recognized it as a splitter, and the batter swung out again, strike two.

For the third pitch, she paused for a moment, shaking herself out. She looked at the batter, then at her ball. She pulled up her leg and pitched the ball at a record speed, the batter swung, missed, strike three, they were out.

The entire stadium broke out into cheers, flipping completely, jumping up and down on the bleachers. It was official now, we had finally won, and Ellie had played phenomenally.

Ellie jumped impossibly high in glee before she was trampled by her team, who violently hugged and slapped her. Somehow, she managed to escape the whirling mess of baseball players and she looked around, almos frantically, before her eyes landed on me.

Oh no.

I had wished for a confrontation-less night, just watching Ellie play, and then magically going home without talking to anyone, but maybe part of me had known that would've never worked. Maybe part of me even wanted Ellie to jog up to me like she was doing now.

I leaned against the railing separating the crowd against the field and a smile tugged on my lips as she reached me, her cheeks and nose a rosy red. She took my hand and kissed it before pulling herself over the border in one swift movement.

“I did it. Do you know what I am?” she asked me before taking both my hands and dancing with me to the loud music blaring through the stadium. I threw my head back and laughed.

“You’re the best, we get it.”

“Damn right I am!”

We spent the rest of the night at Stacy’s, a rich kid on the baseball team who would regularly break into her parents’ wine cellar to hold parties. I had had a couple beers, then a couple more, and was now kneeled underneath a table with Ellie, hiding from a lanky, curly-haired boy, whose virginity had been taken by no one else but me.

“Shh!” I whispered obnoxiously, putting my hand over Ellie’s mouth. “If he notices me, we have about 0.25 seconds to move, because that is the average whatever. The distance between us and the door is approximately 30 meters, so if we travel at a constant speed of 11 kilometers an hour, as moving faster would prevent us from not falling, as we are-- as I am quite drunk, it should only take us, like, 3 — ‘cause we gotta convert it to metres per second — divided by 30… no, wait, 30 divided by 3— oh, that’s just 10. 10 seconds.”

“You’re such a stupid drunk, Lou.” Ellie whispered back and I giggled.

“I’m so regretting this tomorrow.” I barely finished the sentence before I yelped, grabbed Ellie’s hands and got up, quickly running to the bar, where I immediately assumed a casual position with Ellie, smiling lazily and looking very interested in an imaginary conversation with her. “He was going to look at us. It’s better like this.”

Ellie laughed, then turned to the bartender and asked for a gin-and-tonic and a water. She pushed the water towards me, before downing the gin-and-tonic in one go. I pulled a face before gulping down the water and glaring at her.

“I hate you.”

“I know, Lunalina, but you’re getting close to too drunk and I don’t want to have to convince you you actually can’t fly again.” I laughed, but then a couple of the other baseball players joined us, pushing beers in our hands and chanting: “Chug! Chug! Chug!”

I did not miss a beat as I set the glass to my lips, challenging Ellie, before chugging it in record time.

It was nice to see that when there was alcohol, there were no such things as enemies. We were all drunk and stupid, and that made us all equal (and stupid). I think this celebration was the first time I had actually had fun with people besides Ellie in a long time. It gave me hope. Maybe the school would turn around and start accepting me again.

“Your mom’s gonna be pissed off at me.” Ellie said as we walked home, the streets illuminated solely by the occasional lantern. I giggled.

“I’m not that drunk. My mom loves you. I don’t think there’s anything you can do wrong in her eyes. You could kill me and she’d still invite you over for dinner.”

Ellie snorted, tucking her hands in her pockets, only to pull them out immediately as I tripped on my own feet trying to get onto the porch to my house. She caught me, putting me upright again with an entertained look in her eyes.

“Yeah, your mom’s still going to kill me.”

She pulled her hands away from me but I caught them in mine, looking up at her.

“I would never let her do that.” I said, my face completely serious, because I meant it. “I love you. You’re my best friend. I don’t care if you’re a Dream Catcher or whatever as long as you’re my best friend too. And it’s good that you told me you love-love-loved me because at first, I was like, oh, that’s Ellie, that’s just Ellie, but now, right, now, it’s different--”

She tucked her fingers underneath my chin and my breath hitched.

“You’re drunk, Lou.” she said, although there was a hint of a smile on her lips. “I’m gonna shut you up there for your own sake.” She got her key from her pocket and opened the door for me, letting me in. She leaned against the doorway as I took off my coat. “Have some water before you go to sleep.”

I nodded, kicking my shoes off, then smiling up at her.

 “Today was nice.”

She smiled too.

“It was. Good night, Lou.”

Chapter 5

I hopped out of the shower as quick as I could, putting on my clothes and rushing downstairs, where my mom was reading a newspaper. After that man had entered my house, I didn’t like being alone in my room anymore. There was safety in people.

“Good morning, party animal.” Mom said, not looking up from the newspaper, only smiling slightly as I rolled my eyes.

“Morning. Did we wake you up last night?”

She put her newspaper down and crossed her legs, picking up her tea.

“I was awake anyway. I heard you two talk on the front porch, though.” She smiled secretively. “You should be incredibly grateful she loves you enough to tell you to shut up every now and then.”

I frowned. What had I said?

“I don’t remember it all that well.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “What did I say?”

She shrugged, putting down her tea and getting up to grab her stuff.

“I’ve got to go to work.” she said as an excuse to not have to answer. “Have fun at school today!” she called out before she left the house, and I stared at the closed door, extremely confused. I smeared a piece of bread with some jam, grabbed my school bag and then walked outside, sitting down on the curb to wait for Ellie. Maybe if I was outside with plenty of eyewitnesses, that man wouldn’t show up again.

When Ellie arrived, she stopped in front of me, flipping her visor up.

“Why are you sitting out here?” she asked.

I got up, slinging my bag over my shoulder.

“Good morning to you too, Ellie.” She didn’t let me change the subject, and I sighed. “Yesterday that man appeared in my room, and I thought maybe outside would be safer.”

Her hands tightened around the grips of her bike as she took this information in.

“We’ll talk about this in school. C’mon, get your bike.”

Despite saying we’ll talk about it in school, Ellie had excused herself the moment we arrived, disappearing off to some other place that she refused to tell me about. I figured it had to do with D.C. things, and left it for now.

I was on my way to my Bio class when she fell into step with me, her hand on the middle of her back.

Goddammit. Everything she did was just a gentle reminder that this woman was in love with me. I had to be very interested in some lockers we were walking past so Ellie wouldn’t see the blush on my cheeks.

“About that man.” Ellie said, her voice low so the people walking by wouldn’t hear. I mentally braced myself and waited for her to continue. “I’ll be making sure to pay more attention. He’s not gonna get anywhere near you anymore. I promise.” I let out a relieved breath, and Ellie removed her hand from my back when we arrived at my class. Wait, had she just walked me to my classroom for period one? She never did that. Besides, she had English all the way upstairs, that was just inconvenient.

“Can we skip period two?” she asked, “I want to talk to you about this man more, and help you process, you know, the whole D.C. thing.”

I smiled, tugging on the strap of my backpack.

“Sure. Meet in the library?”

“Great.”

Then, Ellie did the most outrageous thing. She looked at me, a bit longer than usual, and smiled cheekily.

“I’ll see you, Lou.” she said, before turning and heading to her own class.

I stood there for a couple seconds, wondering how just a simple look got me feeling all types of ways. I fled into the classroom to hide the blush that seemed to permanently reside on my cheeks.

I grew more curious with every step I took in the direction of the library. I spotted Ellie immediately when I got there. She was sitting at a table, one leg propped up on her chair, and in her hand, a red pen, which she was fidgeting with. She seemed to be deep in thought.

“Hey, Ellie.” I said softly, and she looked up, the frown on her face replaced by a smile. I wasn’t sure if that was just because she was happy to see me or because she didn’t want me to see that she was troubled by something.

“Hey.” she said as I took a seat opposite of her, and she put the red pen back down. “I’m sorry if this is too much right now, I realize I didn’t exactly ask you if you wanted to know more about all this--”

“I do.” I interrupted her, before she could doubt herself too much. “This is part of who you are. This is something that’s affecting me. I know I didn’t exactly react well the first time I heard it, but I’ve processed it. I’m in, Lou. All the way.”

She looked at me for a moment, and then smiled brightly.

“Alright. I’ll get right into it.” She shifted in her seat, clasping her hands together as she thought about her first sentence. “From your book, I know you know about Dream Catchers, but I also wrote about other types of beings that exist in this realm. Most of the time, we’re divided into two categories: humans, and inhumans. While humans exist out of only one type of being, a human, there are many more different types of inhumans, Dream Catchers being one of them. The other most prevalent type of being are demons.” I didn’t like where this was going. “‘Demon’ is an umbrella term for any being who doesn’t have a soul. As someone who was assigned to you, I was relieved of my own duties as a Dream Catcher and I was equipped with a handy little tool that allows me to sense other beings. Not only can I sense where your soul is at all times and how it’s doing, I can also sense when there are inhumans near you, so I can protect you. For a couple months or so, there’s been a very gentle alarm, so gentle that I didn’t notice it at first. I thought it could be just an inhuman in our town, but recently it’s been growing stronger and stronger. I can only assume that that man who keeps finding you is an inhuman with malicious intent, and judging from their behavior, they’re probably a demon.”

I swallowed hard.

“That’s… not ideal.” I said, and Ellie smiled a bit sad.

“It isn’t. I can’t figure out why on Earth a demon is after you. I know I was assigned to you to keep an eye on you, but no one actually ever told me why exactly I would need to do that.” Upon seeing the look in my eyes, she quickly continued. “Don’t worry. This isn’t my first rodeo. They assigned me, the first Dream Catcher, to you for a reason, you know. Here, look.”

She placed her hand on the table, palm up, and looked at it intently.

Just when I thought nothing was going to happen, a flame suddenly burst from her open palm, and a proud smile appeared on Ellie’s lips.

My eyes grew wide. “Is that----?”

Her grin grew wider. “Magic.” Before I could interrupt, she added: “Don’t call me a magician.” I rolled my eyes like I hadn’t been planning on saying exactly that. “Back to the point. Magic works in different ways for most inhuman creatures. Some have to recharge their magic, some use herbs and spells, but I create magic. I was given a small bit of magic at the beginning of my Dream Catcher career, and since then I’ve gotten better and better at it. When I say he’s not gonna get near you anymore, I mean it.”

I nodded. There wasn’t a bone in my body that doubted her, and I felt a lot safer.

We had gone back to following our classes as normal, but I couldn’t help but look at my classmates differently. Could any of them be inhuman too? Did they look like humans? I supposed that man that was stalking me did, and that was a little scary. Maybe there were far more inhumans on Earth, in this classroom even, than I thought.

The bell rang and it was time for lunch. I packed my bags up a little slower than the rest to see if anyone would stay behind too, perhaps to kill me while they had the chance.

Fortunately, no one did, and I made my way to the cafeteria. It was already full of students, chatting happily and eating their meals, but something felt off. I collected my lunch and found Ellie at our table, already eating.

“Hey Lou.” she said as I sat down, barely able to stop eating for more than a second. She had the largest appetite of anyone I knew. “Are you ready for me to kill you?”

I looked at her, eyes wide.

“Huh?”

“Are you ready for me to kick your ass? We have gym after lunch, right?”

I shook my head, convincing myself I had just imagined that.

“Yeah,” I said, distracted, “What are we doing in gym again? Dodgeball?”

We both looked at the other end of the cafeteria, where a crowd had started to gather. Through the herd of students, I could just make out Isaac’s bleach blonde hair and that same poor kid again. He was cowering in fear against the wall, and I just caught Isaac’s fist swinging for his head.

Before Ellie could catch my wrist, I was on my way over there, worming my way through the mass of students. The crowd became thicker as I got closer, and finally I broke through. Now I could see the entertainment in Isaac’s eyes and it made me sick. It was that pure bliss that made me snap.

“Get away from him, asshole.” I said, my voice authoritative, pushing away a random kid who was standing in my way. Isaac looked up at me, and then, smiling, pulled the poor kid up by his collar until the tips of his toes barely touched the ground. He was squirming and wriggling in the air like a fish on a hook. No one ever fucking stood up for that kid. They were all watching this play out, not doing shit, and God, I was pissed. Then, Isaac smacked the dangling kid against the wall and the boy groaned in pain, his eyes squeezed shut, his head hung limp. I could feel his pain, my chest aching, and anger consumed me. I could feel its fire biting my skin, my nerves on edge. Flames racing through my veins, pumping fury until it all needed to get out. My hands balled into tight fists.

“I said, get away from him, Isaac.” My jaw was locked, my teeth gritting as I spoke. Something in me wanted to do so much more than threatening.

One moment, Isaac was holding the kid up against the wall like he weighed nothing and the next, he was lying on the ground, cowering away from Isaac and his laughing crew. I saw Isaac pull his leg back to kick the kid in the ribs and before I could help it, I had taken the final few steps across the line and socked Isaac on the jaw.

The cafeteria burst out into cheers; not because they supported me, or Isaac, but rather because they supported another fight for their entertainment. Especially when it involved the school’s rich boy and the school’s juvenile delinquent.

Isaac staggered back as I rubbed my knuckles, moving to stand protectively in front of the kid, who was silently wiping away tears, out of everyone’s sight. I watched Isaac recover from the blow.

He tapped his already bruised jaw with a cynical smile on his face.

“Wanna do that again? C’mon. You know you want to, killer.”

That phrase triggered something in me, distracting me, and in that split-second Isaac saw his chance and delivered a jab to my chin. My head shot back and time seemed to slow down.

I didn’t know why I was so mad anymore. I knew it had to do with that kid behind me somehow… but none of it mattered anymore. My vision blurred. My senses heightened, and my ears drowned out the noise around me. All I could hear were the steady beats of my heart. My breaths were calm, collected, my brain focused on one thing only: he must pay.

I watched the faint silhouette of my fingers stretch and unstretch in front of me, and I looked up at the vague shape in front of me. I bent my knees slightly. Then I hit him. I exhaled sharply as my fist hit his nose, and as his arm reached out to return the punch, I shifted my weight to my back leg, staying just out of his reach. I grabbed the useless over-extended arm and pulled on it, putting him on the floor easily. The whole thing happened in mere seconds.

I wasn’t in control of any of my movements. It seemed more of an instinct, like it was a primal intuition that told me his eyes, nose and groin were his three weakest areas. Something else was leading, and I was merely following. I didn’t know how to stop.

I kicked his side, one, two, three times. He managed to get up and he raised his fists protectively in front of his face. He got a mean right hook through my defense and it seemed to give him confidence, but I wasn’t going to let him be cocky. Light on my feet,  I danced around him, daring him to hit me. He seemed to hesitate, but then pulled his fist back and went for it anyway. To his dismay, I stepped forward instead of back, his arm brushing past me and with as much force I could manage, I hit him in the dead center of his stomach.

He wheezed heavily and I hit him again, and again, and again, until suddenly my arms were immobilized, held behind my back and I was pulled away from my victim, but not without protesting. It wasn’t done with him yet.

I yelled at him, called him unfamiliar names, threatened him but he grew smaller as I was dragged further away from him, my shouts only growing louder. Some people were talking but I didn’t hear them, didn’t want to hear them and then someone new moved me to the ground where warm, gentle arms wrapped around me, holding my fighting body still. I was breathing heavily, my eyes opened wide but I didn’t see anything. A soft voice hummed a tune, unknown to me at that moment.

I blinked once, twice. Stared at the lights on the ceiling until purple spots masked my vision. Counted the bruises on my damp skin.

My hands were still trembling and I slowly raised them in front of my face. The skin was scraped off my knuckles, and it bled. It stung numbly.

I knew it was Ellie taking care of me and shame overtook me. I had promised her not to do it again after the first time… yet here I was.

Most of the students had gone back to class, and Isaac was nowhere to be seen. The aftermath of a fight wasn’t as thrilling as they thought, it seemed. Ellie helped me up, an arm around my waist, guiding me back to the cafeteria, setting me down at one of the tables. She got a few wet towels, took my hand, and started tending to the first of many bruises and scrapes.

I watched her wipe the blood off my hands. Neither of us knew if it was Isaac’s or mine. I leaned forward as Ellie dabbed a tissue onto my split lip, her hand holding my chin up. I searched her eyes but she wouldn’t reveal anything. I stayed silent, only hissing softly when she pressed down on my bruised cheekbone, and that, finally, seemed to trigger something in her.

“I don’t…” She shook her head and tried again. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.” I murmured.

“You do know. Don’t become all shy now.”

I sighed. “It’s him. He knows me, he knows just how to use that part of me against me, and I was already angry because he was hurting that boy, and he had to go and provoke me--”

“And it’s up to you to not let yourself be degraded like that. It’s not his fault, Lou. You blame him but it isn’t his fault. He’s a fucking piece of shit regardless, but you need to face the fact this is the second time you’ve done this, and that something needs to change.” I couldn’t stand it when Ellie was disappointed in me. It happened rarely, but when it did, it was terrible.

“It’s not like I can control it, Ellie! I don’t want it, it just happens!”

“Then learn to control it, Luna!” Ellie exclaimed, her tone intimidating and stern. She wasn’t letting me get any word in. “You promised yourself, you promised me and you promised your mother that you wouldn’t do this again. All you had to do was stick to it.”

She knew what she was talking about and I knew she was right.

‘This is bullshit.” I lied, standing up, my chair scraping loudly against the tiles of the cafeteria. “You’re acting like I killed Isaac. Everyone gets into fights. People get hurt, big fucking whoop. Consequences disappear as wounds heal.” I was just about to stalk off when Ellie leaned back in her chair and said:

“Jim wants to see you in his office.”

I looked at him, my eyes ice-cold. Ellie fearlessly met my glare, knowing she had won. She continued.

“Jim wants to talk about you and your tendency to be a danger to his students, but that doesn’t matter, right? ‘Big fucking whoop’, hm? Don’t consequences disappear as wounds heal?”

It started to rain.

Heavy droplets hit the cafeteria window and thunder roared outside, the occasional flash of lightning lighting up the cafeteria.

The fury had changed to fear and I stood frozen. This wasn’t good. Jim was going to expel me. I needed this education. And it was my fault I was going to lose it.

Ellie stood up and walked over to me.

“Out of all of us, Lou, you’re the one who wants and deserves this education the most.” Her voice had lost that intimidating tone and the look on her face had softened. She wasn’t angry with me. She just wanted me to do the right thing. “You’re good with words. Use that to your advantage. Tell him exactly what he wants to hear, and then deliver your counterarguments.” Nerves started to kick in, and as if she felt this, Ellie cupped my cheeks, making sure I was paying attention. “You deserve to stay. He knows that too. All he’s going to do now is try and see if he’s right,  so it’s up to you to show him that he is.” She looked at me intently, and I calmed down a little. She took one of my hands and squeezed it softly, then turned me around, and gave me a gentle push in the right direction. “Alright. Go, c’mon. I’ll find you when you’re done.”

Chapter 6

Jim’s office was cold. The school lights cast heavy shadows under his eyes as he looked at me, his fingers tapping against his lip.

“I don’t know what to do with you, Luna.” Jim said, and his hands moved to clasp together in front of him, resting on his desk. “I really don’t. Nothing seems to work.”

I watched him, not saying a word. The cut on my lip had reopened, and I wiped it periodically.

“The bullying problem in this school has not gone unnoticed. There are very specific programs to stop this, programs we are working on incorporating into the school that will help lower the rates of bullying. That’s what we’ve got. What I don’t need is some vigilante running around the school choosing to bring justice to these bullies themselves. If I want my school to be a safe environment, but there’s one girl consistently bringing violence into this building, am I to just let that happen? Do you see my issue here?”

I nodded and leaned back in my chair, crossing my legs.

“I agree with you.” I said, “This school needs to be a safe place for students. I make it a less safe place. I have no excuse. I can say that I’ll try to be better but I said that the last time too. I realize my actions don’t seem to live up to my words and I don’t yet know how to fix that. I’m afraid, however, that I’ll have to object to whatever it is you’re implying. I went to this school because your fees were affordable. No school in this town and beyond it can match those fees. I have to graduate here if I want to amount to anything. I don’t mind retaking this year, but if you really want to make your school such a safe environment I suggest letting me graduate here in a few months.”

He heard me but I knew he wasn’t listening. After all, I was just a student.

“I’m sorry, Luna, but it’s a matter of protocol. You are a danger to my students. I let you off the hook once. You’ve proven to me that you were  a waste of my time.”

I looked at him, wide-eyed, not sure if he had really just said that.

“You -- I --- You--” Focus. You’re good with words. Talk to him. “With all due respect, I don’t appreciate being viewed as a waste of time, sir. You know my history. You know no one wants to be in this school more than me. I didn’t grow up in the richest family, and expelling me now is deliberately obstructing my chances at a stable future, because you know it’s easier to just let me be here for three more months.”

My family wasn’t necessarily poor. We had enough money to consider ourselves middle class once. However, my dad didn’t die immediately, and attempts at keeping him alive cost us thousands of dollars, and then my therapy cost us another fortune, and now I had two shitty jobs, my mom worked days on end as a nurse and Jim was saying I was a waste of time.

“If the stakes were so high, Luna, you should’ve controlled your temper.”

I took a deep breath and tried to stop my hands from trembling. They didn’t know. Ellie didn’t know, Jim didn’t know, no one knew what it felt like. It wasn’t me lashing out. It was something else, completely beyond my control, but they couldn’t ever understand that.

“Three months, Jim. Please don’t let my own stupidity ruin my life.”

Jim was silent, watching me. I averted my eyes.

“Here’s what. I’ll give you a trial. I’ll suspend you, for, let’s say, a week. Starting right now. I will look around, see if it gets more peaceful, and since I’ll have more free time without you constantly in my office,” a pointed look, “I’ll spend some time researching cheaper education options for you, if it comes to that.”

Letting out a relieved breath and relaxing my tensed muscles, I clasped my hands together and humbly bowed my head. I really thought I was done when he mentioned the temper.

“Thank you. I really, really appreciate that, Jim.”

He smiled. “Yeah, yeah, alright. Now get out of my office, Luna, I’ve got work to do.” He perched his reading glasses on the tip of his nose and turned to his monitor.

I silently stood up and left.

Outside, Ellie was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed. As soon as she saw me, she pushed herself off the wall and looked at me expectantly. The good news had given me a sudden burst of energy and before she could say anything I hugged her tightly, wrapping my arms around her neck. I felt her hesitation before she relaxed and rested her cheek against my head, a warm hand on my neck.

“So he didn’t expel me just yet.” I murmured. She let out a relieved sigh. “This time he’s suspending me for a few days to see if I’m really such a ‘danger to the school’. In my defense, I’m only a danger to Isaac--”

“Miss García…” Jim’s voice sounded irritated. “You’re suspended, remember?”

“Right!” I called out, stepping out of Ellie’s embrace, “I forgot.”

A laugh came from his office.

I turned back to Ellie.

 “I gotta go home. Tell my mom.” I pulled a face.

“It’ll be fine. Your mom is the nicest person I know.”

I was going to head out, but I hesitated.

“I’m sorry, Ellie.” I then said, my voice weak.

She looked at me almost in surprise, as if she hadn’t expected me to apologize.

“You’re my best friend, Lou. This isn’t going to scare me off. Don’t worry.”

My mom’s car was already in the driveway when I arrived home, and I swallowed hard as I opened the door

I smiled toothily.

“Hello, my sweet mother. How was your day?”

She narrowed her eyes at me and put her bag down. “What did you do?”

I sighed and my shoulders dropped. “I got into trouble.” Mom moved over to me and sat down on the couch with me. She carefully touched the cut on my cheekbone as I fidgeted with the strings of my hoodie, tying them into a bow. “I kind of got into a fight again.”

She sent me the infamous Look. “Luna...”

“It’s not as bad as last time, - well, I don’t think so - it’s just that principal Johnson thought it was bad and he suspended me for a few days.” I added in a mumble: “Which will probably change to expulsion later.”

“Excuse me?” Mom said, her eyebrows raised. “What was that last bit?”

I pressed my lips together.

“It’s like… a free trial. They get a few days without me to see if I’m ‘a danger to the students’ or something like that and if it turns out that I am, I will get…” My voice trailed off. “...expelled.”

She was quiet for a long time, but then, almost embarrassed, spoke:

“Luna, you know I can’t pay for you to go to another school—“

“I know, I know, Mom.” I interrupted her, stopping the words from tumbling out of her. “It’s okay. This has nothing to do with you. It is my fault.” I laid my hand on my chest. “It is my responsibility. If or when I get expelled, I will find a cheaper course, or something — and I’ll sell my motorcycle, too. I don’t want you to stress out about this. I can and will handle it.”

She nodded, but still looked uneasy. “You really need to see someone about this, Luna. Your anger issues. I just don’t understand it. You’re always so calm around me, and around Ellie, too.”

I sighed, running a hand through my hair.

`“Isaac… he was bullying this kid, and then he called me a ‘killer’, and I just—“ I shook my head. “It wasn’t his fault. It was my fault.”

My mom watched me for a moment, before wrapping her arms around me and hugging me tight.

“You’re not a bad person, Luna.” she said, knowing my fears before I even dared to admit them. “You have never been a bad person. You never will be a bad person. You’ve had bad influences and you’ve had bad experiences but in your heart, you have always been good. I have never doubted that.”

I woke up the next day at seven am, grumpy, hungry, and not looking forward to school. I pushed the blankets off me but then abruptly froze. Right. No school for me.

I was scrolling through my phone for a minute when my mom walked in, sitting on my bed. She brushed the hair out of my face.

“Good morning, sweetie,” she said, and I noticed she was already fully dressed. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “Just a bit bruised. Where are you going?”

She looked at her clothes, then back at me.

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about. There’s a healthcare conference not far from here, and I’ve had a ticket for a while now. If you don’t feel right, or if you want me to be here, I’ll cancel--”

“Mom.” I interrupted her, pushing myself up and rubbing my tired eyes. “It’s fine. I’m really, really fine. If you stay we’re just gonna be sitting here all day, not doing anything.”

I could tell she still wasn’t sure.

“What about your injuries? Can you walk? Can you make yourself food?”

“Yes, Mom. I got in a fight, I didn’t break both my legs.”

Finally, she seemed to feel reassured.

“Alright. I’ll be off, then. There’s enough food for a couple of days, and you can invite Ellie, but no sleepovers, you got it?”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure.”

She got up and headed toward the door, but then stopped and turned around.

“And about last night, honey, I’m not mad. Don’t think for a second that I’m mad. I love you and only want to help you with this, yeah?”

I smiled, grateful.

“I know, Mom. Love you too.”

“Alright, I got to go. See you soon, Lou.” She waved at me before closing the door behind her.

Later that day, I was lying on my bed, scrolling through my phone when someone called me, surprising me and causing me to drop my phone on my face. I fumbled with it in my hands before picking up.

“Hey, Lunalina.” Ellie said, annoyingly cheerful.

“Ugh.” I replied, not in the mood for anything that cheerful and I heard her laugh.

“Is it so hard, being without me?” she asked, and I snorted.

“Actually, it’s quite nice. We should do this more often.”

“Dickhead. Oh, here comes Jim.” I heard the sound of footsteps and the phone rustled a little, but I could still overhear their conversation. “Hi, Jim -- sorry, I meant sir. Oh, I’m just sitting here, chilling, not doing anything wrong -- a cigarette in the bathrooms?” Ellie’s dramatic gasp made me giggle. “It nearly caused a fire? My goodness. That is really, really bad. I bet whoever put that there is a major danger to the school.” I shook my head at this idiot, but couldn’t stop smiling. “Yeah, bye sir! Bye-bye.” It was silent for a moment, but then Ellie had picked up the phone again. “Honestly, kids nowadays. It’s like they’re asking to get suspended.”

“You’re such an idiot, Ellie.”

“Only for you.” She responded, before letting out a sigh. “It’s so boring here. How did we ever get through break, it lasts literally forever. If it wasn’t for your mother’s ‘Ellie, you shouldn’t skip school!’ I’d be at your place right now.”

I laughed. “My mom isn’t home. She left this morning.”

Ellie let out a squeal.

“Are you kidding me? That’s amazing. I’ll be there in a second. Oh, by the way, get the tissues ready, ‘cause we’re gonna be talking about all your problems tonight.” I opened my mouth to say something, but she beat me to it and quickly added: “Your mom told me to.”

That made more sense.

“There’s no guaranteeing I’ll let you in.” I said, grinning.

“Whatever. I have magic powers. I’ll get in somehow. I’m almost here, by the way. Shouldn’t you be hastily brushing your hair and applying some last-minute make-up?”

“Your ego has outgrown you.”

“I feel so loved right now, you have no idea. I’m at your door. Remind me to fix your doorbell, it’s broken.”

My grin grew wider. “It isn’t broken.”

“Well, then remind me to kick your ass for ignoring me. I’m hanging up. Hurry, it’s freezing out here.”

“It’s like, ninety degrees.” I replied dryly, running a hand through my hair as I checked it in the mirror.

“Open the damn door!” She hung up and I laughed, walking downstairs.

“Just use your dang teleporty thing!” I called out, hoping she would hear me, “It’s so much easi---hoo!” I let out a squeak because suddenly, the music turned on, and Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ blasted through the house. Then, the lights turned on all throughout the house and turned all kinds of colors, and I was so distracted by it that I didn’t even notice when Ellie came in, grinning widely.

I whirled around when she started speaking.

“Oh, man, I freaking love my magic.” she said, doing a little hop before she took my hands. “Dance with me, dea.” I laughed as she twirled me around, and I didn’t stop laughing until we were well out of dance moves.

Ellie set me down at the small kitchen table and I watched him follow her nose to the garbage can. She looked over her shoulder at me, her eyes narrowed.

“Did you burn Pop-Tarts?” She didn’t need an answer. I was the only American alive who had the ability to fail at making Pop-Tarts. I was good at a lot of things, cooking just wasn’t one of them. “Alright. I'm going to make you dinner, and I’m going to ask you some simple questions, otherwise known as ‘Questions Your Mom Told Me To Discuss’.”

I snorted.

“No cheating, you got it?” She said, before reaching for something in the fridge. “Great. When was the last time you went to therapy?” Ellie started, as she cut up some chicken and broccoli. She was not wasting any time, clearly.

“Oh, like two years ago?”

“Why did you stop going?”

“It was expensive. We couldn’t afford it anymore.” I watched her put the chicken in a large bowl and add all kinds of spices I didn’t even know anyone used, let alone that we had them in our kitchen. “I offered to stop going because I didn’t feel like it was doing anything anyway. And I’m fine with it.” Ellie took another pot and filled it with water, a bit of salt, and then added washed rice to cook it. In the meantime, she started to stir fry the chicken.

“What’s your initial reaction when I drop the name ‘Tracy’?”

I pressed my lips together and my jaw automatically tensed.

“Regret.”

“And what about that day, after English Lit, when you wouldn’t let me sit with you at lunch. Emily and Jenny walked up to me and started ranting about you and just how aggressive you were. True or false?”

Finally, she made both of us plates of rice and chicken, and put them on the table. She took a seat opposite of me, and looked at me expectantly.

“Both. I wasn’t being physically aggressive. I just told them I slept with their sisters.” I took a bite. It was delightful, of course. There wasn’t anything she could do wrong. “I didn’t, obviously. I have standards.”

A smile ghosted her lips.

“Good. Lou, I think you need to go to therapy again.”

I shook my head.

“I can’t. It’s too expensive.”

“I’ll pay for it.” Ellie offered, but I shook my head again.

“I’m not going.”

“Why not? It’s free, and all it can do is good--”

I forcefully put down my cutlery and took a deep breath, before looking up at Ellie.

“I killed my father. I went to a therapist for ten years. I got the help, and it didn’t work. This is it. This is the sanest I am going to be. There’s no use in going to a therapist. There’s nothing they can do.”

“Luna, I--”

“I have so many regrets, Ellie. I never wanted to hurt anyone. Yes, Tracy was threatening to tell the entire school I’m a murderer, but I should’ve talked to her. I should’ve…” Tears welled up in my eyes, but I couldn’t stop talking. “I can’t sleep without thinking about her blood-filled mouth and her swollen eyes-- And in juvie,” I let out a humorless laugh, “You don’t even know what happened in juvie. Everyday, all I wished for is to get out of there as soon as possible. It was like that atmosphere just made me angrier, more aggressive. I wasn’t allowed to see anyone in the second half of my sentence. Isolated. That’s what I was. And--” I had to cover my mouth with my hand and press down or I would be full-on sobbing. Ellie was still patiently listening, only now she reached out to grab my free hand and just hold it, thumb rubbing the back of my hand. “And my father… It’s like he haunts me. Like I can feel his presence, and his fury, this indescribably anger that terrifies me to the bone. Therapy won’t erase those memories.” I watched my tears fall onto the kitchen table, each dull splash a harsh reminder of my vulnerability.

Ellie stood up and gently pulled me up with her, and magically, the lights dimmed.

“Dance with me, mea Lunalina.” she spoke softly. The radio switched through multiple songs until it landed on Elvis’s ‘Love Me Tender.” Ellie pulled me close and I wrapped my arms around her neck, my head resting against her neck. Her heart somehow beat in time with the music, it seemed.

Ellie absent-mindedly murmured along to the lines as we swayed to the gentle song. Her voice soothed me. She made me feel at peace. I hadn’t felt at peace like this in a long time.

Chapter 7

I had been able to convince Ellie to stay for the night, regardless of my mom’s rules. Neither of us were in the mood to sleep, and we laid down in bed, talking for hours about anything that came to mind.

I had taken her hand and I was now holding it up as we both looked at it.

“You’ve worn these rings forever.” I yawned, before touching the ring on her ring finger, a similar one sitting on her the ring finger of her other hand. It was a dainty ring, made out of a bronze olive twig. “Is there a story behind them?”

Ellie shrugged.

“I liked them.” She took my hand and held it up with hers. “You wear like a billion rings, you don’t have stories behind them either, right?” I wiggled my fingers, the many rings on my hands rattling against each other. “You’ve always worn rings.” she continued. “Even in your past lives.”

I looked at her, dropping my hand, rings forgotten.

“Past lives? You were there for them?”

She nodded.

“I had to protect you, so of course I was there, even though you couldn’t remember me. For some reason, you did always try your best to make my task as difficult as possible. You’ve been in the army four times. I’ve seen you battle the Kraken, I’ve seen you lead groups of mercenaries, and I’ve seen you literally hijack a ship. There was a point where I thought you were actively trying to get yourself killed.”

I laughed.

“Hijacked a ship? How the Hell do you do that? Was I a pirate or something?”

This was apparently a good question, because a big grin appeared on her lips.

“No, actually. Okay. This one’s my favorite. It’s July 1717. You grew up fearing the sea, because your father had feared the sea and your father’s father had and so on. There was no real reason. They were just afraid. However, you weren’t like all those men. When you were sixteen, you had grown so curious, that you stole a boat and sailed off to sea, no crew, no nothing. You couldn’t sail, you didn’t know how to navigate the seas. You were an absolute useless sailor. The thing was, that ship you stole belonged to a certain pirate.”

“Who?”

There was a sparkle in her eyes as she dramatically revealed who.

“Blackbeard.”

“No way.”

Yes way. You stole his ship, and suddenly you had 40 cannons and a shitton of gold. Your poor sailing skills would cause you to ram into other boats who willingly surrendered and gave you their things. You quickly became known as ‘The Siren’ because the rumor was that you had seduced Blackbeard and driven him into madness. You somehow managed to dock at a small port, where I was residing too, and you chose the first forty people you spotted as a crew. I was to be your right-hand, but because of the whole Dream Catcher thing, you forgot me every time you looked away. You kept on trying to kill this intruder, but eventually you got used to having a stranger aboard, and together we boarded a shitton of ships, and stole a shitton of goods. You were world famous at some point. All over the world women were inspired by your  ‘siren call’ and would take to the seas under your name. You basically accidentally started a revolution among women. You were probably one of the richest people on Earth at some point.”

“Naturally.” I snickered.

Ellie laughed and wrapped her arm around me, pulling me closer to her. She absentmindedly wound a strand of my hair around her finger, then unwinding it, over and over. Somehow, this rhythm was very calming and I felt as if I could fall asleep right then and there -- until Ellie suddenly realized what she was doing and abruptly stopped the calming movements.

“Lou.” she whispered.

“Mhm” I murmured in reply, on the brink of sleep.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me, yeah?”

“Mno.” Wrapping my arms around her waist, and my legs around hers, I stopped her from going anywhere.

“You gotta let me go, cara.” Ellie said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

“Shh. Just sleep.”

I heard a sigh, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Fine,” she said, still keeping her voice low, “‘Night, Lou.”

She shifted and rested her hand on my waist.

“Love ya, Ellie.”

“Love you too.”

God, she was so beautiful. I had always known she was physically attractive, but being so close to her in the morning, and being able to notice the light freckles, the faint scar on her lip and her long lashes made it seem as if she had been sculpted by Michelangelo himself.

I wish she wasn’t so damn perfect, I thought, my brows furrowed, cursing her lack of flaws. It was just unfair.

Strangely, right when I thought that, a smile appeared on Ellie’s lips, eyes still closed.

“You know I can hear you when you wish for things, right? That’s why they call me a Dream Catcher.” she purred, and almost instantly I felt my cheeks turn red.

Ellie opened one eye and as she looked at me, a brilliant, slow, lazy grin formed on her lips.

If I hadn’t been laying down, my legs probably would have given out.

“We should get out of bed.” I said, but neither of us made any attempt to move.

“Probably, yeah.” she responded.

Our legs were tangled together. There wasn’t much room on my single mattress, but no one seemed to mind. In fact, I moved a bit closer until we shared breaths and I brushed Ellie’s hair behind her ears. I hesitated before smoothing her unruly brows and letting my fingers trace her jawline. Ellie was completely still during this, just watching me, not saying a word. I brushed a thumb across her full bottom lip, and that was when Ellie leaned and kissed me on the cheek. Then, she pulled back and watched my eyes, to see what kind of reaction she would get. Then, she leaned in and kissed the corner of my mouth and in response, I moved in closer. I wanted this. I was sure. Ellie moved in closer too, and I parted my lips.

“Can I kiss you?” she whispered.

The phone rang, and we both let out an exasperated groan. Our bubble was popped and now I had to get out of bed, walk all the way downstairs and then have a conversation with, well, probably my mom.

“This is Luna García, who is this?” I spoke into the ancient phone still connected to a wire. What was this, the middle ages?

“Hey Luna. It’s Mom. How are you?”

“Eh, fine. I just woke up.” I watched Ellie go down the stairs as well, only she went straight to the kitchen. “I think Ellie’s going to make---” I stopped abruptly when I realized I was literally telling my mother she had stayed over. “I mean, I think I’m going to call Ellie over so she can make me breakfast.” I corrected myself. Ellie had heard me from the kitchen and laughed at my poor improvisation skills.

My mother didn’t buy it.

“Right,” she replied. “Be honest. Did she stay over?”

Dangit. “Yeah, but we didn’t… do anything. She was just there for comfort. Besides, didn’t you tell her to come over to ask me all those intrusive questions?”

“Yes. Ask you questions. You know, asking questions can definitely happen during the day-time.” I rolled my eyes. “My next lecture is about to start. I’ll probably be back tonight. Oh, I guess I don’t have to tell you to use a condom--”

“Mom!”

“Love you. Bye!” She hung up, leaving me with a red face and Ellie laughing even harder at me.

A few minutes later, I was setting the table as Ellie plated our food. She placed one omelet in front of me and the other one on her side of the table. “Omelette a la Ellie. Délicieuse.”

“When did you learn French?” I asked her, taking a small bite.

“Please. I’ve had about an infinite amount of time to learn languages.”

“Then how come you have a D in English?”

With a piece of omelet on her fork, she glared at me.

“English is a shit language. The words are all in a weird order. I don’t get it. I have to actively search to figure out which word fits where.”

I giggled.

“That’s adorable.”

She rolled her eyes and I caught a hint of a smile pulling on her lips.

“Let’s do something today.” she then said, changing the subject.

“Like what?”

“There’s a party happening at Brady’s. Thought we could go there.”

I pulled a face.

“There’ll be a ton of booze?” she tried, standing up to put our plates in the dishwasher.

I was still hesitating and Ellie held out her hand before pulling me up.

“I’ll buy you dinner beforehand, I promise. I just don’t want you to be cooped up here all day.”

I stared her down as she grinned lopsidedly at me, knowing me all too well, and I let out an exasperated sigh, giving in.

“Fine!”

Chapter 8

It was already seven o’clock and we would leave at eight thirty, have dinner in some probably shady place, fuck around for a while and then go to the party. I didn’t like having a social life.  

Before we went to the club, we both got our very own rom-com montage in which we continuously changed outfits, all of them crazy and ‘unacceptable!!’ until the final outfit, of course. Yes, I did put on a costume, and no, Ellie did not like it. Who cared, I dressed for myself and if it wasn’t for society I would have worn that shark outfit to the party.

Ellie’s third outfit immediately sent me into a laughing fit. I had disapproved of two outfits already but when she reappeared from the closet she was changing in with a white shirt and a leather jacket on, I just lost it.

“Ayyy,” I said, raising both my thumbs at her, which caused her to burst out into laughter.

“I’m changing. You ruined it.”

She disappeared into the closet, and soon enough she started talking, her voice muffled.

“Hey, how about I just go in my underwear? What’s your opinion on that, Lou? Is there anything you would like to kill?”

“What?”

“Is there any outfit you’d like? Anything?”

I snorted, “Well, I will say that I don’t think going in just your undergarments will be very stylish.”

She just huffed and opened the closet door again, looking, well, hot. Where I had previously been lying on the bed, I was sitting up now, my legs dangling over the edge. She didn’t have many clothes here and was wearing one of my older dresses, hot pink, hugging her every curve like it was made for her.

I cleared my throat. “I approve.” I said casually, as if I hadn’t been staring at her for the last few minutes. I looked away.

“You literally couldn’t pay me to bend over in this thing, so yeah, you better.” she teased, breaking the tension.

Was I actually crushing on her or was I just attracted to her looks?

Ellie had walked me to a stand not far from my house and I nearly burst out into laughter when I saw the place she had chosen. We often did this kind of thing, where one of us would pick a place to eat. Today had been her turn, but I hadn’t been expecting this.

“You can’t do this to me, Ellie!” I said, punching a widely grinning Ellie on the shoulder.

We were at a hotdog stand, a particularly familiar one in the center of Magnolia. It smelled like piss and sausages, but the warmth coming from the hotdog stand was very welcome on cold winter nights. This stand was the stand I’d gotten a hotdog when I had been completely wasted, maybe a couple weeks ago. I’d accidentally knocked over the entire stand, and then I had just run away.

Ellie ordered two hotdogs as I desperately tried to hide my face. When the vendor handed me mine, though, I made eye-contact with the hotdog guy, and he froze, finally recognizing me.

“Hey!” he yelled, but before he could do anything, I grabbed Ellie’s hand and ran from the hotdog stand for a second time.

It wasn’t hard to spot Brady’s house. The entire neighborhood pulsated with the beats of the loud house music, the mansion crawling with underage drunks. We got in easily and were greeted by a wall of sweat, hormones, and pure evaporated alcohol. It had barely even started and it was already a hot mess.

Ellie and I lingered at the bar, drinking as we watched people from a  distance.

“Oh my god, look it.” I said, slapping Ellie’s arm repeatedly while pointing at a boy on his phone, next to a mildly agitated looking girl.

Ellie snickered. “He’s cheating on her, like, right next to her.”

“How do you know that?”

“The look on his face. Also…” She pointed at another girl at the otherside of the room, and we watched her, just long enough to see her smile at her phone the exact moment the boy sent his text. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“That is so fucking sad. I’m gonna tell her.”

I was just about to approach her when Ellie caught my wrist.

“No --- look. Oh… my god.”

As if in slow-motion, the girl being cheated on ripped her boyfriend’s phone from his hands, and threw it on the floor, shattering it completely, before stalking off. Ellie and I were both left with gaping mouths and wide eyes.

“Oh my fucking god.” I said.

“‘Oh my fuckin god’ is right.” Ellie responded.

“I need another drink.”

Just as I said that, the music turned off, and so did the lights. We were encased in darkness and on instinct, I grabbed Ellie’s arm. She rested her hand over mine.

“He’s here.” she said, and when the lights turned on again, everyone had disappeared except for me and Ellie. A new figure stood in the doorway.

“Good evening.” the man, my stalker, said, making his way over to us, and I took a step back as Ellie took a step forward, standing in front of me protectively.

“Piss off, demon. You know who I am. You know what I can do to you. Leave this town.” she said, but the demon didn’t react whatsoever.

“Please, I’d prefer it if you called me by my name. I’m Dante. A demon, yes. Are your senses sensitive enough to tell what kind of demon I am, Dream Catcher?” His voice was smooth, silky, like everything else was about him.

“I don’t need to know what kind of demon you are to know that you’re not welcome here. There’s nothing here that should interest you.”

“Nothing besides that girl you’re so fiercely protecting.” He replied calmly. “And I think you would indeed like to know what kind of demon I am. Here, let me show you.”

At once, Ellie dropped to the floor, seemingly in agonizing pain and I kneeled down next to her with wide eyes.

“What the fuck are you doing to her?” I spat at Dante, who had a blank expression on his face. “What do you want?”

He spoke so slowly, or maybe it just felt like it because Ellie was clearly in pain and he was the only one who could stop it.

“I’m not causing any permanent damage, I’m just pulling on her wings.” Wings? “I’ve given you the chance to talk to me calmly. I have simple orders that I need to complete. If you refuse my polite offers, I have to take different measures.”

“Stop hurting her and I’ll talk.” I said, firmly, and with a careless flick of his wrist, Ellie disappeared.

“She’s fine.” he said before I could protest. “If I let her go, she’d kill me or at least try the first chance she got.”

I was panicking. This was everything I had tried to avoid, and now not even Ellie was here to help me. I had to do this alone. God dammit.

“Fine.” I said, eyeing him. “I’ll listen.”

He nodded, strangely well-mannered again and moved closer to me, taking a seat at Brady’s dinner table, carefully moving away a couple of red solo cups. Out of nowhere, he materialized a teapot and two cups of tea, pouring it quietly.

“Fighting is for desperate men or uneducated men, and we are neither, are we now, Luna?” He asked me, pouring the second cup of tea and sliding it across the table, where it stopped right in front of me. When he realized I wasn’t going to answer, he continued. “I was sent here to talk, miss García. I was ordered not to kill you. Now, I only need a moment to ask you some questions. If you’d be so kind to cooperate, I would appreciate that greatly.”

“Just be quick.” I said, hesitantly taking a seat at the table with him and crossing my arms. I had to do this alone, which means I had to get out of here alive or it would just be embarrassing. If there was anything I was good at, it was not letting men intimidate me.

He sipped his tea.

“Alright. Do you know what makes you special, miss García?”

I snorted, masking my confusion.

“My charming smile? I’m gonna go with the smile. My turn. What exactly are you?”

Dante seemed taken aback by the fact I was asking him questions, but answered anyway. I expected him to answer, because strangely enough he seemed like a well-mannered man, who’d probably rather die than be rude.

“I’m a demon.”

“I know that, but apparently that’s like saying you’re a fruit, or a fish. What kind of fish are you? A dangerous one? A small one?”

I watched both his eyebrows rise.

“You’re comparing me to fish? If - if that’s what you want.” I could’ve sworn I saw a small smile. “I assume you already know I’m a dangerous… fish, since I know how to control you, yes? I’m a Desanguinis, meaning I can control other beings. You don’t need another demonstration, do you?”

“No, I think I’m good.”

“Very well. Another question, then. Do you love your Dream Catcher?”

“Who’s asking?” I replied without missing a heartbeat -- even though that question did make my heart beat a little faster.

“Lucifer. Would you still like to avoid the question now that you are aware of this?”

I nervously licked my lips. “Well, gee, Dan, of course I love her. She’s my best friend. Now, do I know any other demons beside you?”

Dante gritted his teeth, but regained his calm composure quickly.

“Yes. Many. Most of us live among humans unnoticed. Miss García, are you in love with Ellie?”

“I don’t know. Why do you want to know?”

The game started to get faster and faster.

“Because Lucifer wants to know. Do you always tell the truth, miss García?”

“No. Where’s Ellie?”

“Outside. Are you human?”

“Yes, of course. What is a weakness I can use against you?”

He didn’t say anything for an excruciatingly long time, but then he suddenly answered,

“Remember this for me, miss García. ‘Do not fear mortality, because spirituality will guide you.’ I admit defeat, and I will leave you alone.”        

I was still caught up on his strange words, but snapped back to reality just in time.

“Please leave me and Ellie alone.  And I don’t know where you’ve sent those people off to, but it would be rude not to bring them back before you go.”

Dante humbly bowed his head and disappeared the moment everyone reappeared. I stared at the teacup in front of me, then pushed it away and turned around. People were just continuing their normal life as if nothing had happened and I put on my coat, pushing my way through the crowd until I was outside. I breathed in the fresh air, then turned to the silhouette sitting against the wall of the porch. A limp hand saluted me.

I smiled and sat down on the lawn next to Ellie.

“Good thing we went outside to be social, right? Staying inside would’ve been so boring.”

Ellie let out a genuine laugh as I snickered to myself. She seemed to hesitate, but then she took my hand, lacing her fingers through mine as we stared at the lonely passersby.

“I thought it’d be easy to get rid of him, but it turns out I don’t know how to protect you from him.” She said weakly after a few minutes, as the first few raindrops began to fall. “He’s too unpredictable. Everything happens inside his mind. If he doesn’t want me to get close to him, I won’t be able to. Physical barriers are much easier to break than mental ones.”

I leaned my head on her shoulder and wiped a raindrop from my nose. Thunder sounded in the background as the rush of rain grew louder.

“It’s alright. We’ll find a way.”

We waited at Brady’s house for the rain to stop, and then slowly made our way home. Ellie seemed to have recovered from the agonizing pain she had been in only an hour ago, but sometimes she still rubbed her back with a grimace.

“What happened after he… sent me off?” I could tell she felt bad about the whole situation. I shook my head and shrugged.

“Not much. He wasn’t there to fight. He just asked me questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

While this was an innocent inquiry, it made me real defensive all of a sudden.

“Just questions! What exactly do you think demons ask me?” The moment that tone and those words left my mouth I felt bad, and I quickly looked away. “Sorry. He just asked me weird questions. Also, he happened to mention that Lucifer was the one who wanted to know all those weird things about me.”

“Lucy? For real? That short-dicked stump of a man? Gosh, and I thought I had a reputation in Hell.” I glared at her, but she just laughed and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m just glad he didn’t do anything to you. Lucy I can handle, I’m not worried about him. It’s the sneaky ones you don’t see coming I don’t like -- this is taking too long.” Ellie abruptly stopped walking and I turned around to look at her.

“If you use your teleport thingy and leave me here I will not be afraid to sue you.” I said, pointing a stern finger at her. “You’re gonna get a lawsuit on your ass, Russo.”

Ellie laughed and took my hand, twirling me around before pulling me close -- and suddenly the car noises around us disappeared and were replaced by the sound of cicadas in the distance. I looked up in shock. We were on my front porch, the faint smell of grass and rain surrounding us.

I looked up at Ellie and for a moment my breath hitched. Ellie was wearing the light coming from the lanterns behind her like a halo, but she didn’t seem to notice just how pretty she looked.

“Was that sick or was that sick?” she then said, reminding me that Ellie wasn’t cool at all.

“Okay.” I admitted, laughing, “It was pretty dope.”

Ellie grinned proudly and released my hand, letting her fingertips trace my sides. This made me sober up quickly, and I became excruciatingly aware of her touch. I really shouldn’t be thinking about someone like this, but…

I jumped when out of nowhere, the door opened, and my mom appeared in the doorway, confused. At a speed I didn’t know was humanly possible, I stepped out of Ellie’s arms and assumed a natural position a few feet away from her.

The sly grin on Mom’s face told me I hadn’t been fast enough.

“How long have you guys been out here? I didn’t hear you arriving.” she asked, now fully opening the door to let us in. I quickly walked into the dimly lit room, in the hopes that it would hide my beet red face.

Mom’s bags from her trip were still in the kitchen and it looked like she had only just arrived.

I didn’t like the looks my mother was giving me while Ellie was talking. She was going to do something provoking. I could feel it. Like a dog could feel an earthquake coming.

“Ellie, I would invite you to stay over, but since it seems like you two have something going on between y’all… I think it’d be better if you slept elsewhere tonight.

“Mom!” I called out, but I seemed to be the only one who didn’t find it so funny and Ellie winked at me, before saying her goodbyes and closing the door behind her.

Almost immediately, Mom turned to me, all excited, at the same time as I let out a groan, covering my face with my hands.

“So are y’all… dating?”

Mom…” I groaned.

“I’ll take that as a no. Do you want to?”

I was about to protest wildly, but then I closed my mouth again, confused.

At this, my mother squealed in excitement.

“Whatever.” I said, a smile tugging on my lips.

Chapter 9

Could I…?

I nervously fidgeted with my fingers, grabbing my phone, staring at it, then putting it away again.

It was eleven o’clock at night. Maybe she was already asleep. Maybe I’d just be waking her up. Maybe she would just be tired of me and she would grudgingly show up with a fake smile -- I was overthinking it.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

I wish you were here so we could talk.

Slowly, I opened one eye, only to reveal an empty room.

See, I knew it, she hates me, she’s not showing up because she’s tired of me.

My phone lit up, a message popping up and I eyed it suspiciously. I picked it up.

smellie: open ur window :-)

I rushed to the window and looked down to see Ellie waving up at me with a huge grin.

I pushed the window open.

“Just teleport in or something’!” I whispered, trying not to wake up my mother.

She pouted.

“How is that fun?” In no time she had pulled herself up the conveniently placed tree next to my window, and she was currently leaning on my window sill, her head propped up on her arms, balancing herself on a branch.

“Hey.” she said, goofily beaming up at me. I stepped back as she climbed through the window.

“Did I wake you up?” I asked, closing the window before too many bugs flew in.

“You say that as if I am responsible enough to go to bed on time. What did you wanna talk about?”

“I…” I wrung my hands together as she sat down on my desk chair, spinning from side to side. “I just felt bad for not telling you what questions Dante asked me. This isn’t the time for secrecy.”

“And you missed me.” She regarded me with a lopsided grin on her face.

I glared at her. “I didn’t.”

“You so did. You could’ve waited ‘til tomorrow to tell me this -- but whatever. This is important, you’re right.”

I smiled proudly.

“Yes. Yes, it is. Alright, so, to sum it up. I didn’t get most of it, but he asked me if I knew what was special about me. That was shady. He also asked me if I was human, to which I replied ‘yes’.” I licked my lips nervously. “Did I answer truthfully?”

Ellie let out a short laugh, looking up at the ceiling.

“Demons don’t have souls, Lunalina. You have the purest soul I know.”

“I killed my father!” I retorted in genuine disbelief. It wasn’t the ‘Oh my god, stop it you!’ kind of disbelief, it was the ‘This isn’t a debate, I know for a fact that you are wrong’ kind of disbelief.

“And it still haunts you ‘til this day. That man abused you and your mother with no remorse yet somehow you still feel regret. Means you’re pure as can be. I’ve known you my whole life, Lou, believe me, you’re human.” She leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees, fingers clasped together. “They’re playing games with you. I can recognize a demon a mile away, so I think I’d recognize when they’ve been begging for my attention for six years now.”

“Shh!” I put my hand over Ellie’s mouth to shut her up, flicking the light off with the other. The moment my room went dark, a knock on the door sounded.

“Luna, it’s so late. Are you still on the phone with Ellie?”

“...Yes. I’ll hang up. Bye, Ellie.” I furrowed my brows; why would she buy that? I could feel Ellie holding in her laughter underneath my hand.

“Alright. ‘Night.” We remained silent until my mother’s footsteps died down completely.

Ellie licked my hand and I pulled it away in disgust, before wiping it off on her own face and snickering. She stuck out her tongue, then wiped it off with her sleeve and got up.

“Well,” she said, her voice hushed. “I’d better go. If that was all you had to say…” She turned to the window and on impulse I said,

“No, wait! Wait.” Why did I have to say that? I didn’t have any reason for her to stay--- “Wings! Extremely important. At the party, when you were, I don’t know, gone, Dante said you had wings, yeah? Wings, Ellie?”

A pleased smile rested on her lips as she eyed me with a kind of look that made my hands fidget. Then, the look was gone again.

“Yep.” she said, popping the ‘p’ as if it wasn’t a big deal at all. When she didn’t offer anything, I did it myself.

“Can I see?”

“I would bust out both your walls if I stretched ‘em out, babe.” She sounded like a true Texan in that moment, only instead of bragging about her truck, she was bragging about literal wings.

“So how come I can’t see them if they’re so big?”

She thought about that for a moment. “Wings are… they’re very dear to Dream Catchers. Not many people will ever get to see a Dream Catcher’s wings in their lifetime. It’s very private.”

I couldn’t help but giggle. She looked at me, confused.

“So they’re like parts of you that are private?”

She eyed me suspiciously.

“I suppose…” It dawned on her. “You’re gonna yell ‘Cover yourself!’ as soon as I show them to you, aren’t you. I’m literally going to kick your ass, García.”

“Fine! I won’t. Will you give me the honor of showing me your wings?”

She rolled her eyes and stood up. She looked around, did some calculations and then, out of nowhere, a pair of huge black wings appeared. My jaw went slack.

I stood up too, immediately wanting to touch the velvety feathers.

“Can I---?” I asked, my hand already reaching out to the wings.

Ellie dropped her head and sighed.

“Alright. But be careful. If you pluck or damage one it’ll hurt like hell, and I won’t be so nice anymore.”

“Got it.”

As soon as I touched the feathers, it felt like a whole new door of sensitivity had opened. I never knew things could be this soft. The feathers were satiny but light, and bounced back as I ran my hand across them. At the root of the wings, the feathers were short and fluffy, but as you neared the end the feathers got longer, more elegant. I saw Ellie shiver. She stood with her eyes closed, arms crossed, knees locked. Was someone touching her feathers annoying? Was it hard for her?

Well, they shouldn’t have made them so goddamn soft.

I’d abandoned the wings for her facial features. Ellie’s confession had changed something about the way I perceived her. It was like before this whole mess, whenever I saw her, I would just think she was Ellie. Now, I thought about how that exact curve of her lip had felt on my lips that day of the big baseball match, how she pulled strands from her hair to frame her face beautifully -- see, this was exactly my point.

I shook my head and turned away from her, not noticing she’d opened her eyes before I’d looked away.

“Luna.”

She took my hand and gently turned me to her. I just caught her wings folding behind her and disappearing as she tucked a loose curl behind my ear.

“What are you doing?” I asked suspiciously, eyeing her signature brilliant grin.

“You stare, Luna.” she murmured, “Do you notice it? You kissed me once, twice, three times, had it not been for your mother. You can’t stop touching me, and anytime I speak, you find yourself leaning towards me.” I quickly straightened my back. “You haven’t stopped blushing in two weeks, mea venus. The reason I’m saying this is because I feel like you should know the truth like I do.” Her grin grew. “You’re falling for me.”

I was at a loss for words. How -- How dare she even assume -- who does she think she is. Does she just go around telling girls ‘oh hey, you’re in love with me, and you’re in love with me, and you’re all in love with me!’ like Oprah handing out gifts to her audience?

I pointed at my window and commanded: “Out.”

The arrogant grin never left her face as she walked past me -- but not before pulling me close and kissing me one last time.

Well, that was what I thought she was going to do. Instead, she stopped right before our lips touched, one hand on the back of my head, and the other supporting my lower back. She dipped me back ever so slightly, knowing I would have to hold on to her if I didn’t want to fall.

Her nose touched mine briefly, and my eyes fluttered shut. I knew what she was asking.

“No.” I whispered. I smiled, knowing I’d won. Ellie didn’t move for a few seconds, but then she released me and took a step back. She grinned lopsidedly.

“You’re so pretty, García. Stubborn, but pretty.”

I beamed up at her. “Seeya tomorrow, Ellie.”

She leaned in and kissed my cheek.

“Seeya, Lunalina.”

Chapter 10

I couldn’t be human.

Humans didn’t have tattoos randomly appearing on their skin, they didn’t have psychotic episodes like mine, and most of all, they didn’t have a Dream Catcher assigned to them.

Logically, I couldn’t be human.

From what I could remember from the book, there were a wide variety of non-human beings. There weren’t just demons and Dream Catchers, there were angels, sirens, harpies, dragons and many, many more. Promptly, I stood up, and headed to the library.

So far, I hadn’t found anything that matched my symptoms, except for ‘skin cancer patient’. Most of the mythical creatures I had found were able to perform magic. For a moment, I stared at my hands, willing something cool to happen, but nothing did, and I let out a sigh. I supposed I could be a dryad, but then again, I wasn’t particularly fond of trees, or anything. With a frustrated noise, I closed the book, tossing it on the table I was sitting at. I ran my hands through my hair and closed my eyes for a moment.

It was a cruel feat to question your humanity.

I glared at the book, then grabbed it again and opened it. Fine. Have it your way.

‘Demons. Demons are spiritual beings of angelic nature, condemned to Hell for rebelling against God.’

I let out a sigh.

My great-grandfather had been Catholic. My great-grandmother had been Catholic, too. My aunts, my uncles, basically my entire family was Catholic, except for me, my mother and my grandparents. When my grandmother met my grandfather and moved from Puerto Rico to Texas with him at a young age, she had left behind some of her customs and culture, including her dedication to God. When my mother was born, my grandmother told my grandfather she didn’t want her children to have Catholicism forced upon them. She wanted them to choose. My mother chose not to commit to Catholicism, and she had given me that same religious freedom.

However, I had always felt like I had somehow betrayed my family back in Puerto Rico by choosing not to become Catholic. So to read now that demons are creatures who rebelled against God, simply struck a little too close to my heart.

Maybe I was a demon.

After all, demons seemed to be the bad guys, and lately, I had been feeling like the bad guy. My fingers were itching for proof. Something that could confirm my suspicions, something that could ease my worried heart.

Fine. There was always science -- though I doubted if science would help in a matter like this. Nevertheless, I texted Ellie.

you: Ellie can u steal one of the microscopes from the science lab

Anxiously, I awaited her response. I checked the time. She shouldn’t have baseball practice right now, unless Coach had officially lost his mind. Then, a ping! 

smellie: uhhhh why

you: i wanna study

smellie: hahahahhaahha

              ur not fooling anyone. but alright

              i’ll be at ur place at four

              i feel like nicholas cage

At four o’clock on the dot, Ellie burst through the door to my house, triumphantly holding up a microscope, already heading to my room.

“I got it!” she called out, and I rushed after her. She set it down on my desk before turning to me, her arms crossed, clearly suspicious.

“Now what are you going to do with it?”

“Nothing that concerns you.” I raised my chin and looked right back at her.

If my suspicions were right, it meant that Ellie had either not known about my non-humanness despite having been around me for her whole life, or she had lied about it. Somehow, the latter seemed more obvious.

Now I was all for lying to protect someone, but that meant she was not going to be supportive in all of this. It would be better to do this alone.

“I think it does concern me.” she said, equally as stubborn. “Clearly, something’s up.”

“Like I said,” I stepped closer to her, poking her shoulder, articulating every word so that she couldn’t miss a syllable. “Nothing that concerns you.”

She narrowed her eyes at me.

“Are you trying to get rid of me so that you can concoct your evil plan, García?”

I grinned.

“Yes.”

I didn’t realize how close we had been until she stepped back.

“Fine. I wouldn’t want you to lose focus while forging your master plan anyway.” she said, and I put my hands on my hips, narrowing my eyes at her.

“‘Lose focus’?” I repeated, and the smile on her face grew wider.

“Yeah. You know, the way you get all fuzzy around me. Making poisons and spells requires a lot of attention, so you probably shouldn’t have me around.”

Fuzzy? I--”

“Are you saying you don’t?”

“I don’t feel anything when you’re around.” I said, a bold grin on my face.

Ellie appeared to see this as a challenge and she came closer to me.

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.” I confirmed.

She took another step and her hands brushed a few curls away from my face before tracing my jaw lightly. I couldn’t help but smile. For some completely unknown and mysterious reason, I liked all the attention she was giving me. It felt right.

“I’ve literally sat on top of you for two hours in that bus from hell, remember?”

Ellie laughed.

“Yeah, but back then… Things were different.” She watched me closely as she took my arms and placed them around her neck, one by one, allowing her to step in even closer. I let out a giggle, and Ellie smiled, reassured, ducking her head and pressing a soft kiss on the curve of my neck. Another giggle escaped my lips.

“What is it?” Ellie asked, and I felt her smile against my skin.

“Nothing. I’m just happy.”

She pressed a kiss on the crescent moon behind my ear.

“Me too.”

She pulled back a little, but seemed to get distracted by my lips, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the effect I seemed to have on her.

I stood on my tippy toes, so that we were sharing breaths, and cupped her cheeks.

“I’m not in love with you, Ellie.”  I whispered the lie with confidence, but Ellie saw right through it.

“And I’m not in love with you either.”

My eyes fluttered shut as she kissed me, softly, gently, briefly, a kiss like a question. A kiss that needed an answer.

But I needed one too.

I pulled back a little. “Am…” Another kiss. “I…” And another. “Human?”

I felt her tense underneath my hands and I looked up at her. Her eyes shot from me to the microscope on the desk behind me, before focusing on me again. She looked confused. Then, realization hit her.

“You’re going to science your way to the answer, aren’t you?” She let me go, and took a step back.

“Yes.” I said, crossing my arms. I didn’t like the fact she hadn’t told me anything yet. “So whether you tell me the truth about me or not, it doesn’t matter. I’ll find out anyway.”

“You’re human, Lou, of course you are. I’ve known you my whole life, and I’ve thought about it many, many times. But you’re not like them. You have a soul, Luna. They don’t.”

I shook my head, and sat down at my desk. I plugged the microscope in and turned back to Ellie.

“I can’t see souls. I can’t touch them, or hear them, or have any signs that they’re actually real. I need proof.”

Just when I said that, a loud slam came from outside. We frowned simultaneously, and after a moment of hesitation, I made my way down the stairs. Ellie turned off the microscope before following me.

A figure was lying on our front porch, clutching his stomach. Dark, greasy hair covered his face and immediately, I rushed to his side and called Ellie. The man was clearly in pain and he looked up at me with pleading eyes—

“Dante?” I whispered, but then Ellie stepped outside and he disappeared.

“What happened? Who was at the door?” She helped me up, and I looked up at her, frowning.

“I think Dante just— he was in pain, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks—“ I ran my hands through my hair and stared at the porch, where Dante had just been lying.

“Get inside, quickly.” She let me in and closed the door behind us. “Did you touch him?”

“No, I—“ I frowned and pursed my lips. Ellie was acting like he had been a danger. “I didn’t touch him. Would it have mattered if I did?”

Ellie looked outside through the small windows next to the door. “I don’t know. I’m trying to understand why Lucifer would send him here. He wouldn’t want us to see his demons weak. You said he looked starved?”

I nodded, wringing my hands together. “Yeah. He was dirty, too. I shouldn’t think this but — do you think he might be in danger?”

This made Ellie look at me. “Lou, I’m telling you, do not feel sorry for him, Lou.” She warned, knowing me all too well.

“But there must be something wrong! Maybe he came here for help!” I tried.

“Yeah, he probably came here for help! And you are still not going to help him, okay? It isn’t our business. He is connected to Lucy, and I don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

I put my hands on my hips and stared her down.

 “If I find out he’s a good guy but he died because you didn’t let me help him, god, I can assure you I won’t pity you.”

“Fine. Stay away from him.”

I huffed in response. She didn’t seem as intimidated as I had hoped she would be.

Day seven of suspension with no news from the principal. Ellie was at school, and I hadn’t seen Dante again either. Ellie had said that the demon wasn’t in school anymore, and that no one could remember him, but I was still suspicious.

“You alright, Luna?” Mom asked, her head appearing in the door to my room, where I was lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling.

“Yeah.” I said, waving my hand to make up for the lack of words.

“Alright. I’m going to the grocery store. Be back in a bit.” She closed the door behind her, and my hand fell to my stomach again.

I was too afraid to look at the samples I’d prepared. I had taken some cells from the inside of my cheek using a cotton bud, and Ellie had grudgingly let me do it to her too, but now I was too scared to look. My gut was telling me I wouldn’t want to.

I abruptly got up before I could change my mind and let my legs bring me to my desk. I sat down, turned on the microscope and glanced, quickly, very quickly, at Ellie’s slide.

I leaned back in my chair. It had looked a bit different than in my textbook, I pondered. The cells had been more regularly shaped, like plant cells, but no cell walls. It seemed the cells just wanted to be neatly ordered like that. All his cells had nuclei, cytoplasm, membranes, all the regular stuff, and none of the plant stuff -- I took another glance.

Right.

Some of the plant stuff.

It didn’t tell me much besides the fact that inhumans did in fact have a different cell structure than humans, but maybe if I compared it to my own cells, it would tell me something clear.

I smoothly switched the slide with my own slide, then took a moment to breathe. Then, leaning forward, I looked.

Immediately, I stood up, my chair tipping over and I staggered for a moment before my leg hit the chair and I fell back, landing on my ass with a loud thud and an equally loud curse.

I had two nuclei in every cell.

Okay. Okay. Just think. It was possible. Binucleated cells weren’t a scientific miracle. It could be failed cytokinesis, or simply mitosis, or - or cancer but I had two nuclei in every single cell in the sample. I took another cotton bud and tried it again. Same results. I tried it again. No difference.

I wasn’t human.

Chapter 11

How was this possible? Did I have ninety-six chromosomes? Did this really mean I was not human? What about all the doctor visits? Blood tests? Biology experiments? How did I not know about this?

you: Ellie

smellie: did you look at the results yet?

you: please come quickly

Only a few seconds later, a knock on my door sounded and Ellie walked in. The moment I saw the worry in her eyes, tears welled up in mine.

“I’m not human.” I whispered, and the words tasted bitter on my tongue. In no time I was wrapped in Ellie’s arms, safe from all my worries for a moment, as I cried thick tears for what felt like an eternity.

I didn’t know humanity was such a fragile thing.

“It’s okay, Luna, cara, hey, it’s okay.” She murmured after a while, stroking the back of my head with her hand. “Can you show me? How do you know?”

I let go of Ellie and ran a hand through my hair, gesturing vaguely at the microscope as I sat down on top of my desk. “All my cells are binucleated. That means I either have a tumor growing in my cheek, or I’m--” My sentence ended there. Ellie rested a hand on my thigh and sat down in front of the microscope, comparing the two prepared slides. Her warm hand was calming me a little while she was studying each slide closely.

“I-I don’t understand.” she said, genuinely confused. “I’ve known you -- it doesn’t make sense. You have a soul, and you’re not a Dream Catcher, or I would’ve known.”

The door opened and my mother walked in, freezing abruptly as she saw us. I quickly hid my teary eyes from her by suddenly being very interested in the microscope.

“When did you come here?” Mom asked Ellie. “I didn’t see your bike outside. You know, you really shouldn’t skip school.” She looked at her hand on my thigh, and I quickly moved my leg away at the same time as Ellie pulled her hand back.

“I took the bus.” she answered, and apparently that was enough, because she nodded.

“Alright. Well, I’m off to the hospital. I bought dinner, but Ellie, it’s probably best if you cook, since Luna shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an oven.” She looked pointedly at me as Ellie laughed, but I could tell her laugh was a bit absent-minded. We both had other things to worry about.

“Bye, Mom.” I said, only brave enough to say two words so she wouldn’t notice my shaky voice. She waved, then disappeared again.

I let out a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding.

“So what do we do now?” I asked Ellie, and he stood up, frowning, deep in thought.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I just -- I don’t know how I cou;d’ve missed this.” There was a moment of silence as Ellie seemed to rack her brain for the answer and I reached out, taking her hand in mine. She absent-mindedly rubbed her thumb across my knuckles.

“Maybe nothing will change.” I tried. “Maybe we can just go on with our daily lives as if nothing happened. So far, there’s nothing dangerously different about me. Maybe I’m just a binucleated human, and that’s where the differences stop.” Neither of us believed it.

“You don’t have any powers, do you?” she asked, “No magic, no speed, no teleporting, no nothing?”

“No nothing.” I confirmed.

“Then I don’t think it’ll be anything serious. Maybe you’re a dryad.” A teasing smile appeared on her lips. “Possibly an imp.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I wiped my eyes.

“I hate you. This is not funny!”

Ellie snickered, resting her hands on my inked legs.

“It kind of is. Look, we don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know what the solution is or if we even ended one, so we might as well just relax a little, no?”

I looked at her, unsure, then let out a sigh.

“Alright. Fine. I’ll relax. A little. After all, I’m still suspended until further notice.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’ve been to the principal’s office more in these last few days than I have been in total during the last two months. He’ll see that trouble still happens without you and let you off easy.

I laughed. “Thanks. And I hope so. Graduation is almost here and it would just be exceptionally shitty to get expelled now when I’m so close.” I traced patterns on Ellie’s palm while talking and when I looked up, I saw that she was watching me thoughtfully.

She looked like she was about to say something, but then my phone went off, telling me I had an email. Frowning, I picked it up and my eyes grew wide as I scanned through the email.

“He wants to see me.” I said, looking up at Ellie, a mixture of anxiety, fear, and eagerness bubbling in my stomach.

“Who?”

“Jim! Jim says he wants to talk to me at lunch—” I checked my watch, “I’d better go.”

My leather skirt was too short for the unusually cold wind, and I hopped from one leg to the other in the hopes of avoiding hypothermia.  I glanced at my watch one more time. I was supposed to be there at 1, so I would be there at 1. I couldn’t be late, because that would be sloppy and it could possibly ruin my chances at graduating, but not a minute earlier either, because to be honest, I was pretty afraid, and I’d rather face my problems as late as possible.

Finally, the hands of the clock moved one minute to the right and I let out a relieved sigh, making my way inside and letting the heaters warm me.

I knocked on the door to the principal’s office and waited in silence.

“Come in.”

I opened the door to reveal Jim, looking at something on his computer, glasses perched on the very tip of his nose. He took them off and placed them neatly on his desk as I walked in, letting myself drop onto the chair. I realized that wasn’t very ‘please, don’t expel me’ and I quickly sat up straight, crossing my legs.

My hands. Where was I supposed to put my hands? What did I normally do with my hands? How do I stop moving my hands?  

I tucked them underneath my legs to stop them from fiddling with anything within my reach.

“Alright. You know what this is going to be about.”

I nodded, afraid to say anything.

“I feel like I’ve gotten to know you over the past six years. You’ve spent more time in this office than the entire freshman and sophomore years in total. I am willing to make a compromise with you.”

I sucked in a breath and waited for him to continue.

“You’re nearly graduating. Your grades are truly phenomenal. Trouble keeps on occurring without you there — mostly because of your mischievous friend. So how about you graduate here and then I expel you?”

All formalities forgotten, I stared at him, mouth gaping..

“Oh my god, that’s amazing. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“You sound surprised.” he noted, amused.

“No,” I said, quickly assuming a serious pose. “Absolutely not. I’d totally seen this coming.”

“Alright. You’re dismissed. Restart your classes tomorrow.”

He was already caught up in some paperwork but the corners of his mouth were still quirked up in a small smile.

I burst through the door, looked to my left, to my right, then did a victory dance. I was filled with a sudden rush of adrenalin and I let out a contained squeal of excitement. I didn’t get expelled. I was going to graduate. Everything was going right, for once.

I stood there, basking in my own success for a moment, before making my way to the cafeteria, where students were still happily enjoying their meals, and where Ellie had told me she’d go after baseball practice. I scanned the room for her face but my vision was blocked by a disrupting figure.

“Luna.” Isaac said, lightly touching my arm. I turned to him, but didn’t feel annoyed the moment my eyes landed on him, for once. I did feel a twinge of guilt as memories came rushing back to me. Was he going to yell at me? Start another fight? Behind him I could see Ellie standing up and moving closer, casually leaning against the nearest wall, but her eyes told me she was cautious.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry.” Isaac blurted out and we were equally surprised.

“You’re… sorry?” The way he pronounced it sounded unfamiliar and foreign -- maybe because he had never said it out loud before.

“Yes. I provoked you. I shouldn’t have. You got suspended because of me and I know how much your education means to you. So, I’m sorry.” I heard his words but still couldn’t believe it. Then, I smiled brightly and wrapped my hands around the straps of my backpack.

“Alright. Apology accepted. And of course, I apologize too, for hitting you. I should’ve controlled my temper.”

He smiled too. “Great.”

I waved at Isaac and brushed past him, mouthing the words ‘What the fuck just happened?’ at Ellie. I felt giddy. Today was a good day.

Ellie sent me the lopsided grin she knew I loved as she pushed herself off the wall. Her hair fell across her eye and my fingers itched to smooth it back, but she beat me to it.

I beamed up at her, taking her hands in mine, dancing carelessly to an inaudible song and Ellie laughed.  I had always been scared to do silly things at school, worried about what they might say about me but lately I had stopped caring about them.

“Looks like you got some good news.” Ellie teased, her eyebrow raised.

“I didn’t get expelled.” I said, and those words still tasted as sweet as five minutes ago. “I didn’t get expelled, Isaac didn’t kill me for hitting him, and I didn’t get expelled!”

Ellie laughed, and said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy.”

I sat down on the nearest empty table and ran a hand through my hair as Ellie took a seat opposite of me.

“Oh, man, you don’t even know just how happy I am. I’m finally going to be able to graduate, get a well-paying job and buy my mom anything she wants.” I gasped. “That’s the first thing I’m going to do. I’m going to buy my mom a new house. As soon as I have the money, I’m going to get her out of that shithole.”

Ellie rested her head on her hand and smiled lazily.

“You’re so freaking cool, Luna.”

I grinned cheekily. “I know. Oh -- we have thirty minutes of lunch left, can we go play baseball?”

This made her raise an eyebrow. “You haven’t played baseball in years, Lou.”

“Haven’t played it in years yet I can still kick your ass.”

“And Luna García hits a beautiful billion foot shot, heads for first base where lame Marcella Russo is positioned,” I said in a typical commentator’s voice. I danced around Ellie, her hand reaching out to grab my waist but I was too quick. I ran past her and teasingly waited at base for her to catch up before hitting it right before she could reach me. “Oh, looks like Russo was just a bit too slow! This did not come as a surprise to anyone in the audience.”

She pointed accusingly at me.

“Beginner’s luck. Do it again.”

I laughed, knowing fully well it was absolutely beginner’s luck. I picked up the heavy baseball bat and got back into position. Ellie pitched the ball (slower than she normally would in matches) and I hit it with a satisfying clunk, dropping the baseball bat as I watched it fly, planning on running past Ellie again but this time she got a hold of my waist and we fell to the ground, rolling once before I ended up on top of her,  straddling her, both of us laughing our lungs out.

“I’m gonna go ahead and assume that was cheating.” I said, and Ellie wheezed out a laugh.

“Yes, but I got what I wanted, so it worked, didn’t it?”

“What did you want?” I asked teasingly, grabbing the baseball above her head so my face was close to hers, “Me on top of you?”

She grinned, her eyes flickering to my lips. “Maybe.”

I pushed her chin up with my fingers, and, still high on today’s events, leaned in and kissed her. She tasted like fresh fruit and summer sunrises, her hands running up the outside of my thighs.

“Do you really want this?” she whispered between kisses, her nose brushing against mine.

“Yes.” I responded, and she smiled, sitting up, eagerly bringing my lips back to hers. She was in control now. The kiss had changed drastically, and I found myself drowning in it. I had never been kissed like this. My heart was thudding against my chest wildly, especially when she deepened the kiss and her hands tugged on the loops on my skirt, pulling me closer to her.

I heard the bell ring faintly, and Ellie leaned back a little.

“I’ve never hated baseball practice as much as I do right now.” She kissed me once more, briefly, then promptly got up, and pulled me up too.

I opened my mouth to say something but she stopped me before I could.

“Don’t say I should skip practice, because I’ll do it in a heartbeat. It isn’t good I need to go to practice.”

I smiled, and put my arms around her neck.

“Luna…” she warned.

“What if…” I started, pressing a kiss to her jaw, “You…” Another kiss. Her hands traced shapes on the skin above my skirt. “Don’t.” Another kiss, this time on her chin. “Go?”

She muttered a curse under her breath and before I knew it we were no longer on the baseball field, but rather outside on my porch. She burst through the door, kicking it shut behind her as her lips never left mine. Her insisted mouth parted mine and my hands found their way to her hair, my fingers buried in her silky locks. She nipped at my lip. My heart skipped a beat. She sat down on the sofa and pulled me with her.

At some point, maybe a few minutes later, maybe a few hours later, I reluctantly pulled back and rested my head on her chest. She seemed content enough with just being close to me.

“We’ll take it slow, alright?” I said, a little out of breath.

“Oh, so that means you won’t marry me right here right now?”

I let out a bubbly laugh.

“If it were up to me and I had no basic rational thoughts in this brain of mine we’d be on our way to Paris right now.”

“Pretty crazy how I was thinking the exact same thing.”

I snorted as she wrapped her arms around my waist.

“Could you imagine? We’d have our own luxurious mansion we acquired in a very dubious way. Drink wine until sunrise.”

She laughed giddily. “Our neighbors would rarely see us. They would think we were celebrities.”

“Or royalty.” I chipped in, and she gasped excitedly.

“Even better. You could wear feather boas.”

“Don’t limit yourself, Ellie. We could both wear feather boas.”

She burst out into goofy laughter, but then the door burst open, and we both flinched.

Isabel had just arrived in the driveway when Ellie had magically appeared on her porch. She knew of such magic, and she wanted nothing to do with it.

“Would anyone like to tell me how the fuck you just appeared out of nowhere?” My mother cursed, her face drained of blood.

Chapter 12

She wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes were focused on Ellie, who met her gaze fearlessly.

Well, almost fearlessly.

I approached my mom, hands up, palms toward her.

“It’s okay, Mom…” I tried to keep my voice as gentle as possible, so I wouldn’t scare her off. “Mom… don’t be afraid.” Not once did she make eye contact.  Not once did she make eye contact. She stood frozen, completely paralyzed.

“How do you do that?” She asked her, almost accusingly.

“It’s magic, mostly.” she said, attempting to brighten the mood. It didn’t work. “I’m—“

She raised her hand, stopping Ellie from saying anything else. Her previously shocked expression melted into a scowl. This confirmation was all she needed. “You can do magic?” She asked, almost as if disgusted. Ellie nodded dubiously, unsure where this was going. “You’re… You’re her. You’re her from that… from that rotten fucking book, aren’t you? You’re the Dream Catcher.”

I watched them talk with wide eyes. Then, Ellie nervously glanced at me before saying: “I don’t know what Dream Catchers are, Isabel, I’m sorry. I’m just… I’m more of a mutant, one might say.”

Why wasn’t she agreeing with her? Was she not supposed to know about Dream Catchers?

Oh my god.

That day, that day she told me about this whole mess, she had said that he was never supposed to talk to me. And that one night we had together, she had told me about how I kept forgetting her. What if that Lucifer guy didn’t want the Dream Catchers to become known to the human world? Or, even worse, what if Lucifer already let her off the hook once for talking to me, and now…

“I asked her that too, Mom, but she can’t even do the stuff the book describes. She just has telekinetic powers.” I chimed in, but she already started shaking her head halfway through the sentence. She barely even looked at me.

Ostende mihi tuas pennas.” Mom spoke, standing up, and even though she was smaller than Ellie, she seemed to be towering over her. Wait, did she just speak in Latin? I had no time to worry about my mom’s apparent bilingualism because as soon as she said those words, Ellie’s wings unfolded behind her back, stretching across the room, darkening it significantly.

“‘Wings as dark and as vast as the night,” My mother quoted from the book we had read so many times, “So the Dream Catchers could travel across the skies protected by the shadows.’” Ellie’s head hung low. She knew she had lost. “I want you out of my house. I do not want your magic here. I know what kills your kind, and if I see you around my daughter ever again, I won’t be afraid to use that information.” I had never seen my mother so livid. I didn’t even know she had the ability to become this angry.

“Mom, you need to calm—”

“Luna Lorelei García, I need you to be quiet.” She snapped and I instantly shut up. Then, she turned to Ellie again with the most vicious look. “Of course she trusts you. Of course she’s trying to protect you.” She spat the words as if they were insults and I could do nothing but look on. “I thought I told you to get out of my house, Dream Catcher.”

Slowly, very slowly, Ellie got on one knee, and she bowed her head. Her wings grazed the ground as she spoke: “Isabel, I want you to know that I do not bring evil, nor do any other inhumans you might meet one day. To you, Heaven may seem like paradise. To us inhumans, it is Earth that attracts us so. I hope you will, one day, realize that we don’t mean to harm anyone.”

She pointed at the door. “I said, leave.”

“Can I say goodbye?” My words tumbled out of my mouth as quickly as possible, so that she couldn’t interrupt me again.

She looked at me, hesitant. Maybe it was the look on my face that did it, maybe it was the goodness of her heart, but she replied, “Two minutes.” Mom left the room.

Immediately, Ellie stood up and enveloped me in a hug. I hugged her back in a daze. Events sure took a sharp turn today. Something clenched around my heart as I realized what was going to happen. Ellie let me go and stepped back to look at me.

“A human knowing about my existence is the one rule I was not supposed to break, and I broke it twice. As soon as I leave, you won’t be able to remember me, Luna. Your mother won’t. This entire town will forget about me.” I shook my head, my eyes wide. “Just… If you do manage to remember me, mei vita, mei Lunalina, everything you need is in the book.”

“What’s going to happen to you?”

She sent me a mirthless smile. “I’ll be alright. I’ll be okay, Luna. Oh, god, I love you so much.” She pulled me back into a hug and held me tightly, her hand on the back of my head.

“You can’t leave me.” I whispered.

“You won’t remember me leaving you, Luna. It won’t hurt. You won’t even miss me— oh, don’t cry, Lou, you’re gonna make me cry too. It’ll be alright. It’ll be alright.” She gently tucked my hair behind my ears as I stepped back to look at her, taking in every detail of her face. I wasn’t going to forget her.

Then, dogs howled in the distance and Ellie looked outside nervously. “The Hellhounds are almost here. I’d better go. Bye, Luna, donum caelorum. Smell ya later.” She said with a lopsided smile, but I saw the tears welling up in her eyes.

“Bye, Ellie.” I couldn’t get through those two, short words without my voice breaking.

She disappeared.

I sat down on the sofa when my mom came back in.

“So, how was school?”

I laughed. “Oh my god, you’re never going to believe this. We were at cheerleading practice, and Tracy has been like, flirting with this boy and when we…”

Chapter 13

I awkwardly pulled my skirt down for the hundredth time in my therapist’s waiting room. It was just an hour after the big game and I was still dressed in my ridiculous cheerleading getup, complete with cowboy boots. My red and white pom poms stuck out of my bag. I pulled down my skirt again when finally, my therapist called my name.

“Hello, Luna.” she said. She had a deep, sultry voice that had the ability to soothe me almost instantly. She told me in our first session that she was from Malaysia, but beside that, they had been fairly private about her background.

“Hi, Kalyani.” I said, sitting down on the lazy chair opposite hers. Besides the chair, there was also a couch in her office, and some standard, safe artworks on the wall. It didn’t show any sign of a personal life.

“How did the cheerleading go?”

“Great, actually. I was calm and collected, unlike previous times.”

Kalyani smiled warmly. “That’s great. Now, how have you been feeling lately? Any changes?”

I instinctively shook my head, but then said,

“Well, there has been something weird.” I watched her take out her notebook. “You see, it started a couple weeks ago. Certain items, words and even numbers seem to trigger some kind of response in me. It’s completely random, too. I completely flipped out at school because we discussed mitosis.”

“Hm. I see. What else brings up these responses in you?”

I started listing things, even though every word made me more uncomfortable. I didn’t know why I was continuing.

“...Paris, yeah, Paris really upsets me now for some reason. I’ve never even been to Paris. Oh, and the number eleven, baseball and red solo cups. Not the alcohol, just the cup. That, and someone touched my waist to get by me today, and I just freaked out.” I noticed my heart beating faster, but I couldn’t stop now that I had started. “I can’t be around this one guy called Brady, I can’t even…” My voice turned to a whisper. “I can’t even look my mom in the eye anymore. It’s gotten worse, too. Like in the beginning it wasn’t intrusive or anything, but now it’s gotten so bad I can’t even go to school properly without somehow, some way getting a panic attack.” In fact, I was having one right now. Kalyani left her chair and kneeled in front of me, and only now did I realize I had never seen her before. I didn’t know this woman. She was not my therapist.

Kalyani took my hands and held them tightly.

“Let this consume you, Luna. Let it take over. Allow those emotions to drown you. Go down the rabbit hole, Luna.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” I choked out, my chest heaving up and down yet it felt like I wasn’t breathing at all.

“It’s okay. It’s okay, Luna. Trust me. Listen to my voice, Luna. Listen closely to the following words. ‘Lunalina. ‘Dante’. ‘Demon’.” I clutched my head with my hands and squeezed my eyes shut.

“Stop.” I whispered.

“‘Wings’. ‘Lucifer’. ‘Patroni Somnorum.”

“Stop!” I called out, but Kalyani only sped up.

“You once knew a woman called Ellie. She was loved by all. She protected you from danger for all your lives, Luna. Now it’s time for you to save her. So wake up, Luna.”

I gripped the armrests of the lazy chair until my knuckles turned white. I shook my head desperately.

“No, no, no, no, no…” I muttered. Kalyani had stopped talking, but her words were still echoing in my head. I was losing myself, my heart racing, until suddenly Kalyani shouted,

“Wake up, Luna!”

I watched her, frozen. Her expression was not mad. She was simply giving me an order that I was supposed to follow.

Slowly, an image started to form. First it was just a vague shape, that somehow resembled a square. As the image became clearer, the square turned into a picture frame, on a desk not too different from my own. I couldn’t recall having any pictures on my desk, though. Two blurry silhouettes were in the picture. A girl, brown eyes, dark hair. She was laughing at the camera, a baseball bat on her shoulder. I almost didn’t recognize myself. Next to her, another girl. She had a glove on, and wasn’t looking at the camera, but she was watching me with a lazy smile on her face.

Ellie.

I gasped for air and found myself alone in the room, Kalyani was nowhere to be found, but I didn’t have the time to worry about her.

I had remembered Ellie. That picture had been taken at one of our baseball games, abc when I still played, when we had completely crushed the other team.

I was dizzy when I stood up, random memories attacking me. I was pushed against the doorframe Ellie and I playing Monopoly together. I stumbled through the waiting room. Ellie and I throwing a baseball back and forth. I rushed out the door and ran into a stranger. Ellie and I reading Romeo and Juliet together. I apologized and kept on walking, my vision clouded, head throbbing. Ellie and I skipping class. Ellie and I calling each other late at night. Ellie kissing me. Ellie and I just being together. Ellie and I talking about going to Paris. Ellie and I hugging for the last time.

I promptly sat down on the sidewalk, my heart racing. A passerby tossed me some quarters.

My hands clenched into fists and I felt a tremor go through my body. People always told me I was too aggressive. They talked about my temper and my violent tendencies. My unpredictability.

I was not unpredictable. I was a simple woman. If you hurt my friends, my family, the people I love, you were bound to break your fucking neck.

Lucy, I’m coming for you.

I burst through the door to my home and stood there for a moment, breathing hard.

I took the stairs two at a time, the cowboy boots preventing me from going any faster and at the top of the stairs I kicked them off, frustrated.

I ripped the pink box from my closet and pulled out the book, no longer afraid to face the memories attached to it. I had more important things going on now. I shook my head, and opened the book, flipping through the pages until I found what I was looking for.

There it was. ‘Water to cleanse the body. Words to clean the mind. Respice me et vide.’

The moment I shut the book, the door opened downstairs. I silently put the book back in the box and sneaked downstairs.

“Luna?” My mother called out to see if I had already come back from my therapy session.

“I’m in the kitchen!”

As she walked in, I pushed a glass of water in her hands without looking at her. I took a seat at the kitchen table, studying my nails.

She took a sip of her water.

“Why--”

Respice me,” I interrupted her, and she tilted her head at the sound of the unknown yet familiar tongue, “et Vide.”

Abruptly, she put the glass down and her pupils flashed like a parrot’s. I crossed my arms and leaned back, waiting for her to come back to reality.

“Oh my god.” she whispered and I smiled bitterly.

“That’s right.” My chair scraped against the floor as I stood up. “I’m going to leave you alone with your thoughts for now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Luna, listen to me--”

“I said I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” I snapped, not looking back at her, and walking off.

I skipped breakfast and went out the back, avoiding my mother, before making my way to school.

I loved her. I did. She was my mother and she would always be my mother but even mothers could do the wrong thing. I understood that she sent Ellie away to protect me and that her current disappearance is most likely more Lucifer’s fault than it was my mother’s, but I didn’t understand how she could react so violently and aggressively to a woman she had known for so long.

I clenched my fists and took a deep breath. I needed to calm down.

“Hey, Lou.” Tracy said and I nearly jumped. “Whoa, are you okay?”

I stared at her with wide eyes. There was no gleaming row of braces glaring at me. No fear in her eyes. No bowed heads, or slumped shoulders. No flinching.

“Tracy?” I breathed, and she let out a confused and hesitant laugh.

“Yeah, it’s me? What’s wrong?”

For a moment, I let the anger, the frustration and all the regret go. I hugged her tightly.

“I’m so sorry.”

I let her go, averted my eyes to the floor and waved pathetically at her before brushing past her.

I followed the busy stream of students headed for the cafeteria but took a right, to the smokers’ alley outside school. Isaac looked up the moment I stepped outside.

Three juniors and another senior stood around him, mimicking his exact position as if they worshipped him. I raised my chin, glaring at the students surrounding him. I didn’t need to say a word, and they all headed inside. I walked up to Isaac and plucked the cigarette from his hands, tossing it to the floor and crushing it underneath my shoe.

“Smoking is bad for you.”

He scowled at me and crossed his arms.

“I don’t care. What are you doing here? You’ve always hated coming here.”

I didn’t really know why I was here, either. It was like something pulled me here, brought me here, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly. Maybe it was just a hunch.

“I’m feeling exceptionally shitty today for a reason you won’t understand. I thought maybe seeing your miserable face would make me feel better.”

Isaac let out a short laugh.

“You know, I do the same thing, actually. So. What are you gonna do about Ellie?”

I froze. Did he really just say that? Were my hallucinations acting up again?

“Pardon?”

“You heard me.” Articulating every syllable clearly, he repeated: “What are you going to do about Ellie?”

“How do you -- You shouldn’t be able to remember him. No one does.”

“Luckily, I’m not just anyone.”

“Oh?” Both my eyebrows were raised now. “Enlighten me? Please?”

Something gleamed in his eyes and I watched him take a cigarette from his pocket, put it to his lips and light it -- without a lighter.

My eyes widened. “Isaac, no.”

“Isaac, yes.”

I looked around me, paranoid, before hissing,

“You’re a Dream Catcher, too? Are you kidding me? Won’t the fact that I know now send you directly after Ellie?”

Isaac waved his hand dismissively, ashes falling from the cigarette between his fingers.

“Nah. You already knew about our existence, anyway. Isn’t this great, though? I can, like, help you two lovebirds reunite.”

Instantly, I wrapped my arms around his waist, as a thank you. He didn’t hug me back, and instead waited for me to let him go. I punched his shoulder.

“You’re such a dick. Thank you.”

Ellie

It was 1964 when I was living in the suburbs of South California. The pale-yellow walls of my home stood out starkly against the soft pink morning skies as I stepped outside to retrieve the newspaper, a cup of coffee in my hand. I nearly jumped when I saw a pitch-black cat sitting between my roses, meowing gently. I kenneled in front of the cat, and held out my hand. The stray was surprisingly kind and begged me to pet it. I did, gave it some water and fed it some leftovers before the phone rang inside. When I came back, the cat had left. I waited for it the next couple of days. I had liked its company, and it appeared to belong to no one, so I figured I could take care of it -- if it came back.

On the fourth day, I had decided to put out some food and after a short while, the cat returned, meowing at me, the food gone. I petted it again and this time it stayed for longer, but still, inevitably, left. The food I put in the bowl outside of my window kept on disappearing every day, but I’d never see the cat.

I missed the cat. It wasn’t until I was relaxing on the porch after work one day that the cat appeared by my side again. It sat a few metres away from me, watching me with big eyes and then slowly, very slowly, approached me. Carefully, it placed one soft paw on my lap, another one and then, all at once, it culled up into a little ball, and it fell asleep. It was a peaceful moment. An hour later, the cat woke up and jumped off my lap. I stood up to go inside, as I had work to do, and I could’ve sworn I felt something hurt my leg, but I shook it off. When I checked later that day, I found that there was a nasty cut across my calf.

The cat would show up at my house every morning, and I Ω≈Ωwould pet it and feed it and it would leave again.  I didn’t know where it went. That morning I reached down to pet the cat, but it wouldn’t let me. It hissed at me, tail thick, where is the food?

Helplessly, I poured the food into its bowl, it ate and the cat then walked away. I wondered if the cat had allowed me to pet it because it liked me or because it liked the food that I gave it.

I blinked once, twice, my surroundings getting less and less blurry. My arms felt tired, and as my heavy head looked around, I saw that I was tied up to a cross. Dream Catchers had very few weaknesses, but unfortunately crosses were one of the things that could bring me agonizing pain and even death.

There was a shape in front of me, distorted, and I narrowed my eyes at it. It was large, boxy and reaching for something I couldn’t quite see.

My sight instantly turned completely clear as that something stabbed me right through the stomach.

“Oh, you absolute piss tampon.” I choked out at the Culus, the huge, monstrous rhinoceros-like beast in front of me. “I ad Graecum Pi!”

The Culus pulled the spear back and I felt myself heal again, until he grabbed the axe next to me on the wall to deepen the wound.

So this was how it was going to be.

“He’s not who you think he is.” The big monster growled in English.

“Y’all learned English? Wow, Lucy must’ve been busy, huh?” I spoke, and I grinned at the Culus, blood staining my teeth and chin. It dribbled onto the floor, the dull dripping the loudest sound in the quiet room.

“He’s not who you think he is.” It repeated, its voice raspy and I had the sudden urge to cough.

“Who? You’re being very conveniently vague. It’s almost as if you’re trying to stretch---”

The Culus clapped his gigantic, almost boulder-like hands and a mirror appeared, showing me Isaac leaning against a wall -- next to Luna.

“Isaac? That moron? Who -- or what -- is he?”

Suddenly, the mirror-image of Isaac looked me straight in the eye, and he grinned.

The Culus confirmed my fears.

“Demon.”

Like I said, there were very few things that could kill a Dream Catcher, but as soon as I heard that big, ugly beast say that big, ugly word, my heart stopped.

“He’s a demon.” I whispered, and that was when I realized why they call it Hell. I had left Luna in the hands of a demon so mean that after knowing him for six years, not once had I even thought of the possibility of him being anything else but human. He had played his part so well; he had pretended to be the typical egotistic high school bully, and we had all believed him.

The mirror flickered and another image appeared, now of Luna laughing with him. She trusted so easily. She would never, ever admit it, but her fatal flaw was that she refused to see the bad in people. The cheerleading squad had been so damaging to her, but she would just tell me that they were probably just grumpy, or that they were spreading rumors because it was ‘all part of the cheerleading ritual’. It wasn’t. And Isaac, too. He would lie to her, ignore her, argue with her over nothing, blame her, tell her she was overreacting, leave her waiting, stand her up and then never even say sorry. And she’d genuinely think that was the way it was supposed to be. Now I thought of it, it seemed pretty obvious that he was a demon. No one could destroy a human like a demon could.

Another image appeared. Now the two were in Luna’s room. They were kneeling next to each other, looking at what seemed to be…

My eyes grew wide.

That was the book. My book. The book that brought along such bad energy, she’d never look at it, unless - unless she remembered me.

I glanced at the Culus, who didn’t seem to notice exactly what he was telling me. I looked to my right and saw that my entire arm was punctured by thick, rusty nails. Slowly and silently, I started pulling my arms from the cross. I clenched my teeth and managed to get most of my hand free, but the Culus noticed and the mirror disappeared as he reached for the spear and drove it all the way through my stomach, until it pinned me to the cross like a thumbtack. The Culus left it there. My breath became shallow and blood clogged my throat and mouth.

I spat at the Culus. It didn’t even bother wiping away the blood splatters on its deformed head.

“I’m going to kill you, Culus.” I threatened, still trying to break free, sweat dripping down my forehead. “I’m going to cut you cleanin half, yeah? Straight down the middle.”

The Culus laughed. “You do not scare me.” It laughed some more. “You are very funny, tiny Dream Catcher.”

Chapter 14

Luna

I had opened the door to my house silently, and I looked around, but my mother didn’t seem to be home. I let Isaac in and closed the door behind us. We spent the afternoon reading Ellie’s book, trying to figure out how to save her. I was surprised Isaac was willing to put so much effort into saving Ellie, but then again, they were both Dream Catchers. They must have some bond I didn’t know of. I shrugged off my concerns and focused on the task ahead.

“Here. It says: ‘Disloyalty is a crime. Treachery a sin. Traitors of kin will be crucified, sentenced to eternal suffering.’”

“Did you say crucified?” Were my hallucinations acting up again?

“Yup.” Isaac said. “She’s got healing powers, though. She’ll be fine. The important part here is that AK is now ruled a ‘traitor of kin’. Do you know the Divine Comedy?” I nodded. “Hell is laid out like that. We have nine layers, and each layer provides its own punishment for a specific type of sinner. We can find ‘traitors of kin’ at the very bottom.”

“Are you implying we’re going to Hell?”

Isaac grinned boyishly.

“Yes.”

I looked at him for a moment, then sighed, giving up.

“Fine, alright. How do we get there?”

“Through the Interorbis.”

The Interorbis. I’d read about that in the book. It did say it was a way into Hell, but I had just assumed that it was a metaphor.

Isaac continued, “It won’t be quite the cakewalk, but it is the quickest way. And I’m sure you’re willing to risk your life and all that for your sweet dearest---”

Izzy.” I complained, dragging out the vowels.

He snickered.

“It’s just funny to have seen you like that. You were never that… that happy with me.”

I shook my head.

“Whatever. Just… what’s so dangerous about the Interorbis?” I was never good at subtly changing the subject. “I never read about any obstacles in the book.”

Isaac let himself fall onto my bed, tucking his hands behind his head.

“That’s because it wasn’t always like this. It used to be a mere netrance, but then came the plague, around 1350. Demons, angels, all inhumans living on Earth made their way to Hell at once, seeking help, but there were so many of them that Hell put limits on how many inhumans could enter Hell. Then, they stopped letting them in at all. People set up camps in the Interorbis, where those infected could rest, waiting for a miracle, but even though inhumans were more resistant to the plague than humans, the wait was too long. They started to drop, one by one, until no one was left. To get rid of the bodies, Lucifer collapsed the Interorbis, leaving only a narrow bridge behind.” He sighed. “Thousands died in those awful years, and their spirits are unable to leave the Interorbis. They’re angry. They know they could’ve survived if Hell had provided them with the care they needed. They envy those alive, and will not hesitate to make them join the Interorbis.”

I blinked once, twice.

“So why the fuck would we go through the Interorbis?”

He pushed himself up a little, his elbows supporting the weight of his torso.

“They’re dormant. It would be a waste of time not to choose this way.”

I sat down on my desk chair and crossed my arms.

“What are the other options?” I asked, staring him down.

He shrugged flippantly.

“I could kill you, you’d end up in the Judgement chamber along with all the other dead humans, you’d have to escape the one room that has twenty guards at every exit, then you’d have to travel down four laters of Hell, facing the dangers on each and every one of them, alone, and if you haven’t died by then, you might be able to find Ellie. Maybe. ”

Oh.

I nervously glanced at the microscope on my desk. Since I now knew I wasn’t human, maybe this whole ‘Let’s kill Luna and see what happens’ plan wouldn’t be the best idea.

Suddenly, he jumped up and he clapped his hands once.

“Do you have any weapons?”

I watched him search my room.

“No.” I said with uncertainty.

“Ellie hasn’t given you any weapons?”

“No,” I said, again with that same uncertainty. “Was she supposed to?”

“Yes. I’m sure she has given something to you at some point, you probably just don’t know it. Can I see the book?”

I handed it to him, confused, and he flipped through it, scanning each page.

“Give me a number.”

“I doubt---”

“Just tell me.”

“Eleven.” I answered, skeptical, watching him turn to page eleven. Surely Ellie wouldn’t leave something as important to this to a random number.

“There we go. ‘The oldest Dream Catcher said that every book is like a weapon, and every fact is a bullet. The younger one refused to listen. ‘If you want weapons, you can always find them in books.’  the Dream Catcher continued.” Isaac handed me back the book. “Look in the back.”

 This was ridiculous. This was basically the only book I read when I was little, and I knew this book better than the back of my hand. Isaac sent me an insistent look, and with a frown between my brows I checked the back. Lo and behold, two daggers had been placed in the lining of the cover. I took one out, inspecting it closely, and found that fit in my hand as if it was made for it. Where the hilt and the blade met, sat a dragon, so painstakingly detailed I could count each and every scale on its hide. It’s pointed, spiky tail twisted around the hilt to the very end. As I held the two daggers in my hands, I felt a buzz, as if they were responding to my touch.

I looked up at Isaac.

“I have no idea how to use these.”

He waved that comment away.

“You’ll learn as we go. The gate to the Interorbis, by the way, is--”

He abruptly stopped talking as we heard the front door open downstairs. After a moment of hesitation and a pointed look from Izzy, I ordered him to stay in my room before making my way downstairs.

Mom looked up in shock.

“You’re home already.”

“Yeah.” I responded coolly. “I am. Have you thought things over?”

She sighed and put her bag next to the door.

“Lou, I need you to listen to me. For once. Inhumans are not nice people. They can’t be nice people. They are liars, cheaters, deceivers and no one is as good at ruining humans’ lives as inhumans. They enjoy it.” I remained silent and crossed my arms to hide the fact that my hands were shaking. “Ellie was no different.” she continued, “You fell for her trap -- and that’s okay. That’s not your fault. That’s hers.”

“Ellie has never hurt anyone and you know that, Mom--”

“You don’t know that, Ellie, and you can’t know that. You’ve always trusted everyone and everything. You’ve got so much love in you and you’re always trying to share that love with everyone. But once you’re a little older, you’ll realize that sometimes, you have to take a step back. Realize who and what you’re dealing with. You were in too deep with Ellie and I get that. Everything about them is special, and different, and they know so well how to play on your emotions. You were falling for her within weeks, days! Doesn’t that sound even a bit suspicious to you? Believe me, Ellie, it’s a good thing that she’s gone.”

I stared at her incredulously, and she stared right back at me. It was the nearly arrogant conviction in her eyes, the oblivious and ignorant faith in her beliefs that made me snap.

“How can you say that? How can you say that about a nineteen year old girl you just condemned to torture? You knew her! Are you even listening to me? Mom!” I could talk and yell and shout all I wanted, but she wasn’t hearing any of it. She walked over to the kitchen to unpack the groceries, pointedly ignoring me. I snarled. “Fine.” I played my trump card. “I’m going to get her back, Mom.”

She turned on her heel to look at me, absolutely furious.

“You are not.” she commanded, staring me down.

“You know, a caring mother would be able to say that to me.” I spoke slowly. “Call me when I have one again.” I turned around to go back up the stairs.

“Luna García, if you leave this house, don’t you dare come back.” She called out after me.

I laughed humorlessly.

“Don’t worry about that.”

Walking into my room, I abruptly started packing my backpack.

“That sounded like a lovely chat,” Isaac said, scrolling through his phone. He looked up at me. “Are we leaving now?”

“Yes.” I said, taking the book from his lap and stuffing it into my backpack along with spare clothes, an old compass I didn’t know how to use and two granola bars whose expiration date had already faded. I also tossed my phone in there, in case Hell had cellular service. Isaac then handed me a bundle of brown leather straps, and I looked up at him, confused.

“It goes around your waist and legs. Came with the daggers.”

I stared at it a little longer, then wrapped the thick belt around my waist. Two straps of leather were attached to the belt and ran down the outside of my thighs. It ended in two identical sheathes, which appeared to be just the right size for my daggers. Two thinner leather straps wrapped around my thighs to hold the holsters against my leg. I tucked one dagger in each sheath.

I looked up at Isaac, and he looked back, and a moment of vulnerability passed between us.

“Promise you won’t-- you won’t leave me behind, or give up halfway through. I need you for this.”

Silence. Then, “I promise.”

I smiled. I was filled with anxiety and fear, mostly because I knew I was getting into something way out of my league, but I smiled because I believed him.

Knowing I couldn’t walk down the stairs without being stopped by my mom, I opened the window, grabbed my bag and climbed out of it, Isaac following me. Using the tree to stabilize myself, I landed on my feet just fine, brushed off my clothes and turned to Isaac.

“So where is this entrance to the Interorbis?” I asked him.

“There are several entrances, actually, but the one we’re gonna be going to is in New York. Where else would a key location in a YA fiction be?”

I snorted.

“Of course. Alright,” I held out my wrist, “Let’s go.

Isaac just stared at my wrist, before looking up at me again, his face stricken with confusion.

“What are you doing?”

I frowned. “You’re going to teleport us there, right?”

“I’m going to what?”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Teleport? Y’know? One moment you’re here, the next moment you’re there? Poof?”

He glared at me for a full five seconds.

“No, I don’t know ‘Poof’.” he spat, before abruptly whirling around, walking a few steps away from me and hissing some words to the sky.

It appeared this Dream Catcher wasn’t quite as experienced.

The first giggle escaped my lips.

“Whatcha doin’ there, Izzy?” I asked, trying to contain my grin. This was all far too amusing. “Are ya cursin’ the gods or something?”

When Isaac turned around again he seemed furious, which only caused me to laugh harder.  

“C’mon. We’ll take the plane. Like ordinary humans.” I said, taking his arm and pulling the sulking boy to the bus station.

Four hours later I suddenly found myself in the middle of New York, our cab driving away angrily because Isaac hadn’t brought enough money, and simply couldn’t pay him the right amount. Isaac waved cheerily at the middle finger pointed right at him before turning back to me.

“Right,” I said, tugging on the straps of my backpack, “Central Park. How cliché..” I let Isaac go first, following him into the grand park. I had never been outside of Texas, and this was a huge change of scenery. The accents, the roads, even the noise was different. In Texas, you could stand outside, next to a road and you’d hear nothing. Here, there wasn’t a single moment of rest. There was always something happening, it seemed.

The park was a little nicer than outside on the street. It was calmer, but there were still bikers biking and runners running everywhere.

Isaac led us to a large pond, deeper within the park. It was surrounded by picnickers, happily chatting and laughing away. A few peaceful ducks swam lazily from side to side.

“Think this is it.” Isaac said, his hands on his hips.

I looked at him.

“I’m not jumping into the water, Isaac.” I said, mimicking his pose, and we stood there for a moment, staring each other down.

Then, before I could protest, Isaac’s arm shot out and he pushed me in.

The cold hit my chest like a jackhammer as the water engulfed me. Immediately I felt the pressure trying to force the little air I had out of my lungs but I pushed on, trying to find Isaac in the freezing water. It was colder and far, far deeper than was normal — or possible. I carefully opened one eye, then the other, but my surroundings were too dark and too blurry to tell me if I was anywhere near the bottom. Anytime I thought that I was, I just sank further down the pond. I was starting to run out of air. Finally, I caught sight of Isaac’s silhouette and in two strokes, I had reached him. When he spotted me too, I flipped him off, but he just grinned at me.

He gestured that we should go deeper, and so we did, but somewhere along the way perspective seemed to change, and I found myself swimming up. My lungs were burning and practically begging me for air and then, we reached the surface.

I pulled myself up onto some riverbank, coughing wildly, arms shaking under my weight. I hung there for a moment, trying to catch my breath, before I turned and sat down, my legs hanging off the edge. I ran a hand through my hair but found I was completely dry.

Isaac pulled himself up too — though with much more grace, and sat down next to me.

We appeared to be in some kind of cave. The air was cold, but fresh, and it smelled like there had just been a storm.

“Oh!” I turned to Isaac. “Fuck you, by the way.” He laughed as I stood up, dusting off my clothes. “C’mon. We better hurry.” Isaac then proceeded to slowly sit up, taking his sweet time to stretch a bit, while I stood there, arms crossed, foot tapping. “Oh yeah, sure, just do your — yeah, no do your — do your fucking stretches. It’s fine.”

Finally standing up, he shrugged at me.

 “Don’t rush me.”

Exasperated, I threw my hands up in the air, unable to find words for the fact he literally just pushed me into this lake because I wasn’t fast enough.

We followed the light, my shoes sinking into the dewy grass with every step, until our surroundings were finally revealed to us.

I’d say I’d seen some beautiful things. I’d seen the sky painted like Monet. I’d seen the McKinney falls. I’d seen the bodies of several really, and I mean really, hot women. But nothing compared to this. This place radiated peace and serenity. Tall, proud trees protected us from the orange suns, casting shadows on more flora than you could image. A flock of small birds danced from flower to flower, chittering happily. In the distance, I could hear a creek babbling. I carefully touched the delicate petals of a pale pink flower and it was almost as if it leaned into my hand. A buzz went through me, and I felt strangely refreshed, as if I had just taken a shower. As I looked further, I saw palm trees, pine trees, forget-me-nots and — A hand on my lower back and a husky voice saying,

“Keep moving.”

Isaac then took a small sword from the sheathe resting on his hips and ruthlessly chopped his way through the thick forest. I could do nothing but follow. The mossy branches reached out to me as if asking for help, their brown and fragile leaves caressing my cheeks as I ducked underneath a particularly low limb. Isaac didn’t seem to notice their terrible state and marched on, leaving a trail of those same brown, fragile leaves that had touched me so lovingly mere moments ago behind him.

“Where are we?” I asked, and Isaac slowed down a little to explain.

“I gotta admit, I’m not entirely sure. My best guess is the garden of Eden.”

Both my eyebrows raised promptly at that name.

“Like in the…” My voice trailed off. I hadn’t been to church in years.

“Yes, like in the Bible. The trees here grow oranges, or ‘golden fruit’, or whatever you’d like to call it.”

“Does that mean we have to look out for snakes?” I asked, nervously glancing at the bushes next to me.

Isaac shrugged.

“Maybe. Probably. Just keep your eyes open for danger instead of glaring at me for wanting to get out of here as fast as possible.”

Isaac turned and continued walking. I looked up and wondered how there was even a sun, let alone three, in the sky if we had gone underground.

After a couple hours, it started to get darker, and with that, scarier. There was a silence in the air that I didn’t trust. No birds were chirping, no bushes were rustling, even the wind was quiet.

Suddenly, Isaac stopped walking, and the moment he did, we could hear a howl in the distance, resonating through the forest. It sounded as if it was coming from all around us.

My first reaction was to punch Isaac on the arm.

 “That wasn’t a fucking snake!” I hissed, freaking out.

He absent-mindedly rubbed his arm, still staring at the shrubbery around us.

“It seems we’re in the wrong garden.”

“Wrong garden? What do you mean?”

Isaac started walking again and I followed suit.

“Many religions have concepts similar to the garden of Eden. In Jewish stories there’s the lower Gan Eden, which is similar to what the garden of Eden is described as in Christianity. The Islam has the fourth layer of Islamic heaven, which is believed to be a garden as destination for the righteous. However, there is one place in mythology that matches the Garden of Eden most.” He looked at me over his shoulder, discomfort in his eyes. “The Garden of the Hesperides.”

“Are you — Are you for real?” I exclaimed, then lowering my voice, knowing very well what hid in the Garden of the Hesperides. “Oh.” I cursed myself for a moment. “They said that in the book, didn’t they. ‘A long journey through the beginning of the world’s greatest discord.’  I just assumed it was that plague story you spoke of — but it’s this, here, where Eris, the goddess of discord took the apple that would eventually start the Trojan war.” I was silent for a moment. “But that story doesn’t involve a snake — that story involves a hundred-headed dragon that never sleeps.”

We were so unprepared for this.

“I’m sure we’re almost here.” Isaac said, but I could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “If we hurry, we might make it without running into it.”

I snorted.

 “As if.”

Isaac continued walking, but faster now, and I rushed after him. It hadn’t even been half an hour before my shoe got stuck in something sticky.

“Oh, great. I bet this is dragon saliva. And if it isn’t, it’s dragon poo.” I muttered, tugging my shoe from the gooey stuff and as I did, more wetness suddenly landed on my neck. I looked up.

One hundred pairs of beady, yellow eyes stared at me, and then, what must’ve been thousands of teeth grinned at me.

Isaac looked up too and neither of us dared to move for a moment or two, until he shouted, “Run!” and we took off immediately. We wasted no time, yet I already heard the dragon roaring loudly behind us. Then, it became silent again. Our feet brushed against the wet grass as we ran. The trees above us shook greatly and suddenly one of the dragon’s heads came crashing down on us and Isaac jumped into a bush next to us. It took me a moment, but eventually I jumped into a bush opposite of Isaac, holding my breath. I froze in place as the head searched the ground for a moment before disappearing up into the trees again. I scrambled to my feet and Isaac grabbed my arm as we started running again. More heads came to visit, nipping at our ankles, pushing us to run faster and faster but I knew that we could only sprint for so long.

“We’re looking for,” Isaac said, “the yellow door — fuck — Look out!” I looked up too late and one of the heads grabbed my arm between its fangs, thankfully not piercing my flesh, and lifted me up to a great height before shaking its head like a dog, and throwing me away. I was flung through the air but my brain couldn’t quite register what was happening until I hit the ground, and all the pain came at once.

Bursts of white, hot pain shot through my arm and shoulder and I rolled over to my back, holding onto my right shoulder as if it would otherwise fall off.

It was - luckily - still attached, but something had definitely snapped when I landed.

The trees rustled again but I was somehow able to push myself up and I didn’t hesitate to run. My backpack lay on the ground a few yards away from me and I picked it up, hanging it on my left shoulder as I ran. I had no idea where I was or how I was going to find the others again, but I knew for sure that I did not want to get hurled through the air like a monkey would fling its own shit. My right arm hung onto my body like a dead weight, uselessly flailing through the air. By chance, and only that, I managed to collide with Isaac just when I thought I was never going to be able to find him again.

“Oh, thank god.” I breathed as he stabilized me, noticing my hurt arm and shoulder.

“Jesus Christ — okay, fuck, shit, your shoulder is dislocated.”

“Yeah, no shit, asshole—” I yelped as Isaac, without my permission, pushed my shoulder back into place, sending more pain down my arm and up my neck. A sickening pop told me it had worked. I carefully tried to move my arm and let out a relieved breath when it worked.

“You need to stop doing that.”

“No, what we need to do is die. There should be a door…” He pointed vaguely ahead before gently pushing my back to get me to start running.

“There.” Isaac said, and I squinted slightly until I could make out a large, yellow door in the distance. It seemed to be covered in leaves and moss, but then my view was cut off by a large, no, a gigantic claw landing in front of the door with a loud bang. The ground shook for a moment.

Then, several heads broke through the treetops and slowly traveled down. Cackling sounded from all around us. Isaac pushed me behind him and pulled out his sword, holding it as if it would protect us from those huge teeth. Helplessly, I pulled out my daggers too.

“Stop it.” A booming voice thundered from behind us. We both whirled around simultaneously, just in time to see another head appear above us, snarling angrily. This head looked older, and its blue scales weren’t as bright as the others. To my surprise, the other heads retreated quickly, and so did the laughter. This dragon head lowered itself to our level and turned to the side, one beady eye regarding us closely.

“Who are you?” I winced at the volume of his voice, but he didn’t seem to care. Isaac stepped forward, sheathing his sword, but still keeping his hand on the hilt.

“Just travellers—”

“LIES!” The dragon hollered and the trees shook in fear. A puff of steam escaped the dragon’s nostrils as he coughed. “Pardon me. I find myself unable to trust your kind. Why doesn’t the girly tell me the answer?”

I stood frozen until Isaac pushed me lightly and I stumbled forward, tripping over a protruding root of a tree. In a reflex, I balanced myself on the dragon’s scaly skin. I stared at my hand, then at the dragon’s eye, then at the larger puffs of smoke coming from his nostrils, and I abruptly pulled my hand back.

“So - So sorry about that. I’m Birdie. I’m not usually this touchy.”

The dragon huffed in response, clearly displeased. “You look familiar, Birdie.”

I frowned, confused. “I don’t think we’ve—”

“Ah, yes. Of course.” The dragon laughed, a throaty, husky, horrible sound. “Louuu-naa.” He smacked his lips, tasting every syllable. “We haven’t heard of you in a while. Most of us thought you were dead. Most of us hoped you were dead.” I sucked in a breath. “I didn’t though. You’re fun. Lots of emotions. Now, Louuu-naa, tell me what you want.”

I was taken aback a little, but I wasn’t going to let this excellent opportunity pass. “Well,” I started, “We would like to go through the door your claw has been blocking.”

At that, the dragon frowned and looked at its own paw, before bursting out into that same horrific laughter.

“Of course! Of course! How human of you not to have told me earlier! How human of me not to have noticed earlier!” It rambled on as a few toes started to wriggle before finally, with great effort, it seemed, the paw moved and we could reach the door again.

The dragon was still laughing and it didn’t seem to notice us anymore, so we started to move slowly towards the door. Isaac opened it quietly and let me in, before following and closing it behind him with a loud slam.

Chapter 15

It was too dark. Not only did the darkness mask my vision, but all sound was muffled and when I brushed my hand across the floor, I didn’t know what I was touching. My heart beat faster. My breaths became quicker. I patted my thighs to make sure my daggers were still in place, and then felt to see if my backpack was still on my back.

A groan came from my right and blindly, I turned my head towards the sound, squinting slightly but I couldn’t make out a thing. I bent my knees a little so I was ready to jump at any time.

“Why did I ever agree to go on this cursed field trip?” Isaac then said and I heard him shuffle around.

“Why is it so dark here?” I enquired. “Where are we?”

“Dark? What are you talking about?” he asked.

“I’m talking about the pitch blackness of this — are you saying you can see something? Are you kidding me?”

“Well, no. But my magic was blocked the moment I entered this realm. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“So how do we do this?” I crossed my arms. “We don’t have a torch or something to light a torch with, and I can’t just clap on,” I clapped twice, “...clap off. Why did that work?” The moment I had clapped my hands, it was as if someone had turned a light switch, and the area flooded with light. My eyes drifted from the high ceilings, to blurry shapes floating all around us, to the plunging depths underneath me and then my eyes landed on the pathway we were standing on, which could’ve been no wider than four feet. And I was standing right on the edge of it.

I yelped and jumped to the middle of the bridge, my heart nearly escaping my chest.

“Welcome,” Isaac paused dramatically, reveling in the humor of it all, “to the Interorbis. Home of the forgotten inhumans.” A cocky smile grew on his face, as if he was proud of being the one to know it all. He started to walk down the pathway, and I followed him. I stayed dead in the middle of the bridge.

“I’m confused. Ellie kept telling me about ‘lives’ and how I’ve had many, but why didn’t these people reincarnate?”

 This twisted Isaac’s face.

“It’s… a sensitive subject here in Hell. You see, humans are different from demons or angels because they have souls. Souls are passed on — well, it’s hard to explain. Imagine that in your first life, you were an alcoholic, yeah? You drank and you drank until it literally killed you. So, in your next life, when someone offers you a drink, you’ll say ‘No thanks, that’s not a good idea’. That’s your soul, acting like a - like a sponge of energy. It can absorb knowledge and all of that knowledge is conserved as it is passed on.” He paused. “The beings that died here didn’t have a soul. They get one life. Their life lasts longer than a human’s life, sure, but it is still only one life.”

“But they turned into spirits. Doesn’t that count as another life?”

Isaac shook his head, tight-lipped.

“They’re dormant most of the time. And if they do wake up, they can only feel one emotion. Whether that’s anger, or sadness, it’s not enough to call it life.”

I wanted to press on, get more information, but it seemed like he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I stayed quiet.

The end of the path was nowhere in sight. The floating bodies had seemed to increase in number. We’d been in this seemingly endless world for what felt like days, but I was pretty sure that that was just my boredom talking. Then, one of the spirits came too close to me and surprised me, causing me to jump back — but there was nothing behind me. My heel hit the side of the bridge and slid down abruptly, dragging dirt along with it and I fell back, if it hadn’t been for Isaac’s hand wrapped around my wrist.

He looked at his hand in surprise, frozen.

“What are you doing?” I yelled, no time for friendliness. My legs were dangling in the air and my palms were getting sweaty. I felt myself slipping out of his grip. “Pull me up!”

Again, he just watched me, confused and strangely vulnerable. With an annoyed groan, I realized he wasn’t going to do anything, and I used his arm to pull myself up, struggling to get my feet onto the pathway again. With a last burst of energy, I finally got myself back onto land.

Isaac let go of my wrist and shook his head.

“Sorry. Don’t know what happened. Let’s just go.” He rubbed his arms. “It sure is getting cold in here, isn’t it?”

I narrowed my eyes at him, but he turned around and walked further down the path. I didn’t curse at him. After all, he did catch me, he had just been unable to finish the job.

I watched Isaac’s back as he tread ahead, my brows furrowed. There was something off about him.

My mom had told me not to trust people that easily. She had told it in a horrible and egotistic kind of way, but I feared there was a truth in her words. After all, I was blindly following Isaac everywhere. He had just waltzed right back into my life, after I had beat him up - severely, might I add - and he offered to help? Who in their right mind would do that?

Maybe my mom had been right about Ellie too.

I mean, I didn’t believe for a second that Ellie was bad in any way, but I did agree with the speed of everything. After she admitted to me that he was a Dream Catcher and all that, everything had moved so fast. One moment, I was crying in my room over her feelings for me and the next, I was willing to give up everything just to stay with her.

Maybe I should take a step back.

“We should…” Isaac suddenly said, nervously hopping from one foot to the other, “We should probably pick up the pace.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “What did you do?” I said as I caught up to him. He wrung his hands together, then grudgingly admitted, “I just decided to remember that if you touch one of the souls, there’s a good chance they’ll wake up. Of course, I only remembered this after I poked one of them—”

“Izzy.” I groaned, running my hands through my hair and turning around, anxiously looking at the hordes of spirits floating by. “What happens when they wake up?”

“Not much if we hurry up. Please, just keep walking. Speed walking, preferably. Really flex those glutes.”

I had already stopped listening and was currently slapping Isaac’s chest repeatedly with the back of my hand as I pointed at an obscure silhouette a little ways down the path.

“Holy fuck, holy fuck, holy fuck—”

Then, it started moving.

It ran at us at a speed my eyes couldn’t quite register and Isaac pulled out his blade. I stared at the sword for a moment, before realizing that I too had weapons and I took both my daggers in my hands. I was freaking out. There was no way I could kill whatever was coming at us. This was not a situation my therapist ever spoke to me about. My hands were shaking, my breaths were shallow and what the fuck was this thing? It looked like the lovechild of coffee diarrhea and a mammoth, and by god, it smelled like it too.

The closer the mammoth came, the stronger the buzz coming from my daggers grew, and a sense of superficial confidence washed over me. My mind was clear. I knew what to do, for some reason.

I tucked one of the daggers back into its sheath, and took off my backpack. As the mammoth reached us, planning to kill us using the only tusk it had left, it bowed its head, and on an impulse, I closed the distance by taking two steps, grabbing its tusk and pulling it along with me as I jumped. For some reason, going against all laws of physics, it worked. That mammoth was about ten times my size and forty times my weight, but it worked. It turned as I wanted it to, causing Isaac to jump back before the mammoth's body could collide into him, and I pulled its tusk to the ground, where it crashed into the bridge. Then, the dagger in my right hand told me exactly what I needed to do next and I stuck the blade between the mammoth’s massive skull and its neck. I yanked it towards the spine, cutting through its spinal cord. It fell to the ground limply, revealing a bored Isaac behind it. I was breathing hard.

“Glad you helped out, you prick.” I spat at Isaac as he stepped around Honey Moo-Moo, putting on the backpack, before shrugging.

“Didn’t look like you needed help.”

I put my hands on my hips, ready to explode, but instead I let out a frustrated sigh. “Fine. Let’s just move on.”

I looked from my shaking hands, to the bloodied blade, to the dead mammoth in the pathway. Alright. That just happened. As we walked on, I took the book from the backpack and flipped through it, until I found the section about the Interorbis.

“Okay, so that’s what I thought.” I said to no one in particular, “Souls here that are awoken can like, do stuff. They’re angry because they died, so obviously they try to kill the nearest person — but that’s not all. They do horrible things to them, preferring to go for a cruel kill rather than a quick one. Nice. That’s reassuring.”

“Really wish I didn’t know that.” Isaac answered coolly.

I read on. “The souls are ever-existing, blah blah blah,” The next sentence made both my heart and my body freeze. “‘These beings cannot die a second death’.” Isaac stopped walking as well and we both whirled around to look at the dead mammoth.

It was no longer there.

“We have to run.” Isaac stated, and we promptly broke out into a run. Again. I promised myself right then and there that if I ever got out of here, I would never run, ever again.

The only sounds left were our hurried breaths and our soles against the stony bridge. “Would’ve been fucking wonderful if you could Poof right about now!” I hissed at Isaac.

“Fuck off!”

Despite the fact that he couldn’t Poof, he was still faster than me, even with the backpack, and later, the book he took from my arms. At some point my running turned into sprinting, and then my sprinting turned into falling over a very long distance. I was barely breathing and I knew that I would have to stop soon. No one could sprint this long — although the gigantic mammoth chasing us was a big motivation.

An insanely loud crash echoed through the Interorbis and I looked over my shoulder to see that the mammoth had reappeared.

Right behind us.

I was pretty sure I wasn’t even breathing anymore and that my body was solely running on fear, but somehow, some way, I managed to keep on moving. In the distance, fina-fucking-lly, a door appeared. I looked back again and that thing was literally at our fucking heels but we kept on running and I forced my legs to run faster, pump faster, please, just don’t give out just yet and then we reached the end of the Interorbis. We burst through the door and Isaac slammed it shut, that noise introducing a new kind of silence: Peace.

We were relatively safe.

Ellie had better still be alive because I would not handle going through all this and finding out it was for nothing.

Isaac took the backpack off his back and set it down next to him, laying the book on top of it. I sat down, leaning against the wall. I hissed as my hot back hit the frosty material. As I pulled away from the wall, a blob of ice fell from one of the pipes above my head and landed on my neck, sliding down my back. I yelped and got up immediately.

Then, a hand wrapped around my throat, pressing me against the wall. My eyes met Isaac’s cold glare.

“Hello?” was the first thing that escaped my lips in shock, my voice distorted because of the pressure on my throat. Then, the absurdity of the situation kicked in, and I started to claw at his hands. “What the fuck are you doing?” I rasped, my nails making marks on his hand.

A simple flick of Isaac’s free hand forced my hands to the wall as well. The same happened to my legs and I was left completely vulnerable. I tried with all my might to break free, tugging on my paralyzed hands and legs, the hand still tightening around my throat, and it got harder to breathe with every passing second. My vision started to seep away as I started yelling, shouting, screaming at Isaac, but he didn’t even flinch.

Then, the unmistakable sound of a blade being drawn.

My thoughts were confirmed as the cold steel pressed against the tender skin underneath my jaw and I whimpered. All else faded away. No more cold. No more fear. No more pain. Just that blade against my throat.

“I should kill you.” Isaac spoke in a hoarse whisper, forcing me to look at him by angling his knife. I couldn’t hear him, the soft badump badump of my heart pumping blood through the very artery he was holding the blade against drowning all else out. “I should slit your throat.” My wide eyes locked with his cold ones as his words finally hit me. I didn’t think I was hallucinating anymore.

“I should slit your throat, right here, right now.”

Chapter 16

I felt the completely inappropriate urge to laugh.

The girl who trusted all.

It was too perfect, too ironic, too predictable. Of course Isaac wasn’t who I thought he was. He was the ex-boyfriend. The bully. The Dream Catcher who, for some mysterious and unknown reason, couldn’t Poof.

“Do it then, pussy.” I spat.

“You know,” he mused, completely ignoring me, “It was surprisingly easy to deceive the oldest Dream Catcher alive. Of course it was nothing - as in, literally nothing - to mislead you, but Ellie… It should’ve been harder to trick her. She was distracted.”

“Go to Hell. Fuck you, Isaac. What are you? A demon, is that it? You tricked---”

He pushed the blade into my skin, drawing hot blood that trickled down my freezing neck.

“Don’t talk to me -- God, I cannot stand the sound of your voice. I can’t stand the look of you. You are so… So disgusting to me, do you know that? I had to -- Look at me!” I had been watching the book behind him, knowing that it would contain the answers, when he grabbed my chin and forced me to look him in the eyes, the blade now pressed against my ear, not doing me any harm. “I had to endure you for six years, Luna García, do you know how hard that was? I hate you. God, it feels so good to say that. Now, demons don’t feel much, but can you imagine the joy, the pure, immense bliss that went through me when Lucifer ordered me to kill you?”

At those words, my blood ran cold, but I wasn’t just going to show him that.

“So why not kill me the moment we met? Why am I still alive?”

This seemed to offend him greatly as his grip faltered, until he suddenly forced the blade into the wall right next to my head.

“I don’t know!” He shouted and I flinched, shrinking away from him as he slammed his hand against the wall. He breathed hard, his eyes like tunnels, and pulled the blade from the wall, toying with it in his hands. He seemed distracted and I stole a glance at the door next to me. “Lucifer wants you to die. So you are to die.”

Without warning, he forced the blade into the wall again, this time missing my face by a hair, and hitting my ear instead. Tears welled up in my eyes as I bit my lip to hold in a yelp. He watched the blade in complete frustration.

“Why can’t I kill you, Luna?” He pulled back the blade, and drove it through my paralyzed hand. This time I couldn’t stop the scream from escaping my throat and my tears flowed freely, as did the blood from my hands as he took back his blade. “Why won’t you die?” he demanded. He turned around, hands in his hair and at that moment, I opened the door back to the Interorbis, running out and touching the first spirits within my reach. When I reached for the fourth one, I was shoved to the floor and I slid across the bridge, nearly falling over the edge. I managed to come to a halt just in time and I scrambled to my feet as Isaac glared at me, fuming, sword in hand.

I met his glare, then touched another spirit.

“NO!” he shouted, lunging for me but I rolled away, and slid past a materializing spirit, back through the door, slamming it shut before I grabbed the book, flipping through it before Isaac could get rid of the spirits. My hands were shaking heavily and blood was getting everywhere, and I couldn’t find the page, I couldn’t find anything -- a loud thud against the door told me I didn’t have much time left. The pages were sticking together from the blood from my hands as a sob escaped my lips. There didn’t seem to be a way to survive this. I wiped my nose with a bloody hand. I was going to die.

The door burst open and the demon stood in the doorway, breathing hard. He snarled and with a great force, threw his blade at me. It landed in the wall behind me. Had he missed? He stalked over to me as I tried to scurry away, but I was too slow. He picked me up and threw me to the other end of the hallway. A flick of his wrist and his blade came flying to his hands. He caught it, pulled me up by my collar and pierced my heart.

I had never felt pain like this. I screamed without inhibition, the wound burning me from the inside out. I gasped in pain but my lungs weren’t working, and it felt like I wasn’t getting any air in. My legs gave in and now I was held up only by Isaac.

“What’s your secret, Luna? Why won’t you die?”

I drifted in and out of consciousness, and I knew I didn’t have any other choice. He had, against all odds, become my friend, and now--

“Please, I-- I don’t want to--”

“You don’t want to what?”

With the last bit of energy I had, I pulled my dagger from its sheath and plunged it into his stomach.

He disappeared.

I fell to the ground like a ragdoll, clutching my chest.

I breathed in silence for a moment, waiting, watching, expecting the demon to come back any moment now. He didn’t.

I dropped the dagger and it clattered on the floor. I looked at my hands, shaking heavily, covered in my blood, then looked back up, around me. No one was here. I was alone.

I wrapped my arms around my stomach as heaving sobs wrecked through me, echoing through the empty hallway.

I was alone.

I crawled over to the other side of the room, my left hand applying pressure to the wound on my chest. I took the backpack and the book, now tainted with red. I felt myself grow weaker and weaker as I was bleeding out. God, I was going to die before I could get to Ellie. She was gonna be here for eternity because I had trusted too easily once again.

I laid my head down on my backpack. My breaths rattled in my chest.

I closed my eyes.

The next day, or week, or year, I woke up in pain.

I woke up. I woke up?

I pushed myself up with weak arms. My shirt was brown with old blood, but when I felt for the wound underneath, there was barely a scar. My entire body hurt, but I didn’t think I was dead.

How in the fuck did I survive this?

In confusion, I sat up completely. I reached for my backpack, running mostly on autopilot, rummaging through my bag before taking out one of the granola bars. If I was still alive, I should probably eat.

Silently, I chewed on the sticky bar, and for the first time since I came here, I had the time to look around me.

I appeared to be in a hallway, the walls littered with different kinds of doors, all different shapes and sizes. Running along the ceilings were endless pipes that dripped icy water and occasionally released an avalanche of wet snow onto the slippery floor. It looked as if no one had been here in eons.

I swallowed the last bite and wiped my hands, before slowly standing up. My legs were aching to give out already. I stowed the book in the backpack and slung the backpack over my shoulders.

I took a step.

Immediately, pain shot through my entire body, and I gritted my teeth to stop myself from crying out. This wasn’t pleasant. I resisted the urge to sit down and wait it out, and took another step, but as I did, I was already dreading the next one.

“Don’t be a pussy, Lou.” I told myself, the sound of a voice, any voice, already comforting. “You can’t turn back now. That would be exceptionally shitty.”

Yes. Giving up would just be a crappy thing to do. I had given up on school, yelled at my mother, bargained with a dragon and battled spirits and demons so to give up now would just be a waste of time, really. Oh, and Ellie was, of course, suffering greatly, which probably needed to stop soon.  

I pressed my palms against my eyes, trying to get rid of the exhaustion that was weighing my eyelids down, and shook myself awake.

“Right. It’s simple. I’m doing this for Ellie. I survived for a reason and I’m gonna go ahead and assume that reason is to make sure Ellie is safe. I’m not alone at all. She’s probably not dead already. That’s highly unlikely.”

What would I even do if she was dead? Would I go back home, apologize to my mom and just keep on doing my thing as if nothing happened? No one in Magnolia could remember her. There wouldn’t even be a funeral.

I swallowed hard and shook my head. She wasn’t dead. She was sentenced to eternal suffering on a cross and that was that.

I dodged the icy waterfall clattering from a low hanging pipe and tugged on the straps of my backpack.

In a really short time, I had learned to trust Isaac and I had even considered the thought that maybe he wasn’t all bad.

In a month, I had developed feelings for Ellie.

What if she was just as bad as Isaac? What if she was just another demon pretending to be a Dream Catcher? Since Lucifer seemed to hate me so much, I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to send a demon here just so that demon could break my heart.

“Yeah, well,” I said, trying to get rid of the silence looming over me, “I’ll just get her back, and then we’ll see where we stand, but right now, there are more important things to worry about. I’ll just take a step back. From her. If she is, indeed, still alive.”

That sounded right. Of course I was going to get her back. She was my best friend. But maybe it had to stop there.

A door opened next to me, and Ellie walked through.

I froze.

“Ellie? What--”  She’s walked straight past me, opened another door and closed it behind her. I rushed to the door and opened it too, but only found a brick wall. A little further ahead, another door opened, but now my mother walked through and waved at me, a kind smile on her face. I ran towards her, ignoring the pain in my legs, but she had already gone through another door. More doors started to open and the hallway became crowded with people I knew. I saw my English teacher, beckoning me, and next to him, one of Isaac’s smoker friends, telling me to come with him. A hand touched my shoulder and I whirled around with wide eyes to a smiling Dante.

I shook my head. None of this was real. I shrugged the hand off my shoulder and as I did, another Ellie grabbed my hand and grinned at me. “You’re so pretty, García. Come with me.”

I pulled my hand away from her and lowered my eyes, holding onto the straps of my backpack as I moved on.

The words they spoke became more familiar with every door that opened.

“Luna,” my mother said with pleading eyes, “Please, please forgive me for what I said, and come back home.” For some reason, my pace faltered a little and the illusion picked up on that. “What I said was stupid. I was angry. I feel so bad for what I did. Please come, come back home with me, it’s - it’s right through there—” Right. An illusion.

I brushed past her.

They became more persistent, and touchier until suddenly, an Isaac appeared, pressing a blade against my throat.

He drew blood.

My eyes shot up to his face and he was grinning menacingly, saying things I couldn’t hear over the tumult of all the other illusions.

But they weren’t just illusions, were they?

They could touch me, talk to me, and even hurt me. This was far, far worse than just an illusion.

I sucked in a breath and elbowed Isaac in the nose. The moment I did that, the whole hallway grew silent.

And then, they attacked.

From all sides, my loved ones, my enemies, mere strangers I had locked eyes with on the street jumped on me, trying to hurt me, pulling my hair, scratching my skin. And I could do nothing but stop them.

First, I tried to just knock them out or disable them, using quick jabs to the nose, ears, neck and groin, but there were too many of them. My hands lingered over the daggers on my thighs.

My mother, her face contorted with anger, lunged at me then, a kitchen knife in her hands and I closed my eyes as I pulled out my dagger. In one, fluid motion, I slit her throat. I heard her drop to the floor.

I swallowed hard but didn’t have time for any emotion. Next up was a rabid Isaac, then a pyro boy I had met in juvie, paired up with a Walmart cashier who had accidentally given me an eighty percent discount.  The daggers led me through the motions and I felt myself distance from my body, for the better, knowing very well that I wouldn’t be able to handle this.

I had killed my mother fourteen times now.

The crowd seemed to thin out. I didn’t know whether it was my imagination or not, but it felt as if I had a little more time to breathe in between attacks. I closed my eyes for most of the fighting, trusting my daggers more than I trusted myself and it was easier that way. Sweat was dripping down my back and I was breathing hard, but then everything just stopped.

I opened my eyes. One last figure had remained alive in these cursed hallways and amber eyes looked up at mine.

“Please, Lunalina. It’s me. It’s Ellie. It’s really, really me, please, just don’t — don’t kill me.” I hesitated. “I love you.” Ellie sobbed, seeming genuinely afraid. “Please, it’s me, it’s me, Luna, please.” I reached out, almost instinctively, to touch her cheek, but at the last moment, changed my mind and abruptly pulled my hand back.

Immediately, Ellie’s previously loving gaze turned into hatred and she no longer looked like the Ellie I knew. She took a dagger from my sheath but it was already too late. She fell to the floor, eyes glazed over, only a hilt protruding from her chest.

I squeezed my eyes shut and just stood there for a moment, pretending I wasn’t surrounded by the corpses of those I loved.

I pulled my dagger from Ellie’s chest. It made a sickening sound, and I pressed a hand tightly against my mouth. Then, I had to lean down and peel my other dagger from her cold hands. I did it quickly, avoiding looking at her eyes. I stood up and moved on, without looking back.

I stepped across the body of one of the Magnolia High cheerleaders and looked further down the hallway. The bodies never seemed to stop. It wasn’t that I had killed that many, but it appeared that this hallway used magic of some sorts, simply to make me suffer more.

I wiped my runny nose and walked on at a steady pace, pretending like everything was alright.

It felt like I had been walking for ages. My fingers were nearly freezing off and it didn’t help that the pipes above me were always threatening to drop an avalanche of watery ice on me. I wiped my nose on the back of my hand again and tugged on the straps of my backpack, stubbornly moving on. The cold soothed my blistered feet and numbed the ache in my back, allowing me to put one foot in front of the other over and over again.

And then, I started to notice the increased number of puddles in the hallway. No longer were the walls frozen and covered ice. More water started to drip from the pipes above, but no longer was it freezing cold. I could feel my toes again and my fingertips started to tingle.

My heart skipped a beat. Did this mean I was getting close? Would I finally reach the end of this hellhole?

I started to walk faster and as I did, the bodies around me were disappearing. I walked faster and faster until I was full on running, not caring about my aching thighs or my exhaustion anymore.

Then, a yellow door. It was placed in the middle of the hallway, and I didn’t even bother to check if it was the right door. I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting out of here.

I burst through the yellow door, and was greeted with warmth.

It was a complete change of scenery. My shoes were now buried in soft, red dirt, that formed little dust clouds as I walked. The walls around me were made of rock, occasionally decorated with diamond or gold ores and torches and -you guessed it- more doors. The ceilings were tall and the paths were wide, but there wasn’t anyone in sight. I frowned, but didn’t complain.

I walked carefully, looking around every corner to see if anyone was there (every time, even though no one ever was) and every now and then, I would walk back to create confusing tracks. Then, I arrived at a crossroads.

I stood there for a moment, thinking. One of these would take me to Ellie, probably.

I closed my eyes as anxiety washed over me. If I made the wrong choice, I would wander through these halls possibly forever.

I chose left.

Somehow, closing my eyes gave me a clearer idea of where I needed to go. I wasn’t being influenced by sight, something that had deceived me too often lately. With my eyes closed, I could see this place for what it really was: a trap. The vast number of doors had irked me from the beginning, but I realized now that that was what they were trying to do. They were trying to give me so many options that I couldn’t choose. My feet came to a halt in front of an empty patch of wall. No doors.

Hesitantly, I placed my hand on the dirt wall, and pushed it open.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of complete and utter relief. Joy, even, although this situation was so bittersweet. The hidden door had revealed a large room to me, with more doors, and at the far end, a cross hung on the wall.

Ellie was suspended from it.

Her head hung limply to the side and the joy abruptly disappeared as fear shot through my veins. They wouldn’t kill her. Would they? She did have a knack for annoying people to the very edge. I rushed to her side and the closer I got, the more bruises I saw, gaping gashes staring at me, puncture wounds oozing blood.

Suddenly, I heard a noise coming from my right and I lunged for the nearest door I could find. It seemed to be empty and I pulled the door towards me, leaving a gap so whoever was coming couldn’t hear me shutting it.

Ellie jerked awake as a huge, monstrous creature covered in warts and hair appeared. I saw the fear in her eyes as the creature approached her, and then the disgusting sloshing sound of a weapon entering someone’s flesh. Ellie screamed in pain, and the spear was pulled back, allowing the wound to heal, but only partly before the spear was buried deep inside her stomach again.

They had broken Ellie completely. There was no light in her eyes, not even a glint of hope. It was a strange and foreign sight, and it managed to anger me to my very bones.

The huge monster paced in front of him, a grin that revealed many layers of teeth on its face. It pulled his arm back and at that moment, I kicked the door open.

At the same time, I pulled a dagger from my sheath and threw it with all of my strength, lodging it in the side of the monster’s neck. As fast as the heavy monster could, it turned around, spear still in its hand. It took the dagger from its throat, barely fazed, as if it was only a satay skewer to him. It flicked my dagger to the ground. I swallowed hard.

“Get away from her.”

“Luna--?” Ellie exclaimed, but the beast shut her up by throwing the spear at her. She let out a groan.

The creature turned back to me, regarding me with a curious look.

“Why should I get away from her, small lady?” It spoke with a thick unfamiliar accent.

“I’ll tell you why. I just walked my way through the Interorbis, got chased by a freaking ghost, literally got stabbed in the heart by a demon and then I had to walk, by myself, through this previously metaphorical hell hole for a fucking eon, and now, you’re the only thing standing between me and my nap. That’s not a position you want to be in.” I took my dagger and spun it between my fingers. “So leave. Fuck right off.”

It didn’t move.

“Fine. Fuck right off, please.” I nervously licked my lips as a silence hung over us, before, with a mighty roar, the beast charged at me, head down, ready to crush me between the wall and it’s skull. I slipped away just in time and stumbled to the floor to get my second dagger. It buzzed cheerfully in response to my touch as I picked it up. I jumped up and whirled around.

The beast had already started its next attack and I had just enough time to look at Ellie and judge her situation. She seemed to be nailed to the cross, the thick iron going right through her hands and arms. She couldn’t pull her hands from the cross because the nails had been turned at the end.

I barely got away in time and the monster’s rough hide ripped the skin off my upper arm. I hissed, jabbing at the gian with a dagger in response. Though it was too slow to dodge the blow, I couldn’t hurt it seriously enough. The daggers also seemed to have no idea as to what to do.

The giant was getting faster and it started to predict my moves. The third time it charged at me, he managed to get me, the force of his blow pushing me against the wall. He must’ve crushed several ribs and white-hot pain shot through my shoulders and arms. Little did he know I had just survived a literal knife to the heart, so even though I was in tremendous pain and literally stuck between a rock and a hard place, I wasn’t anywhere near giving up. The monster pushed harder, squeezing my lungs shut and I was struggling for air. Right. Think. Who can defeat this dick? A magical Dream Catcher. What is stopping him from defeating this monster? Those nails.

“Sorry!” I yelled before pulling my arm back and throwing the dagger, hoping for the best. If I missed, I would cut her arm off.

The dagger swerved from its original destination to cut right through the iron and immediately, Ellie pulled her hand free, using it to tug the other nails from her right hand. She jumped off the cross and landed on the floor. She was quite wobbly, but she would have to get over that since this thing was literally crushing me. If she waited any longer I would be nothing but mush.

“Remember what I told you when I first got here, Culus?” Ellie said, laughing humorlessly, and the Culus immediately let me go, whirling around. I fell to the ground.

No.” it growled in fear.

Not so funny now, huh?”

I looked away as Ellie reached for a gigantic axe the Culus had probably used to torture her at some point, but I could clearly hear Ellie cutting its head clean off. When I looked again, I just caught it disappearing in a flurry of dark mist.

I stood up and rested a hand on the wall to keep myself from falling. The wounds on my hand and chest had reopened somewhere during the fight, and my knees were shaking. I looked up at Ellie and saw that she too was having trouble standing up. The situation was stupid, but humorous in a very fucked up way.

“Next time you’re banished to this shit hole I’m not getting you back, buddy.” I said.

Ellie tossed the axe aside and she smiled lopsidedly at me.

“Next time I’m banished I’m asking someone else to get me back. Was that the best you could do just now?”

“Oh, fuck off.” I laughed shakily, not realizing just how relieved I was until now. I had found her. Finally. In a moment of weakness, I pushed myself off of the wall and wrapped my arms tightly around Ellie’s neck. She seemed surprised but then hugged me back, resting her chin against my head. She let out a deep breath.

Then the world folded in on itself, and I no longer felt safe.

 Chapter 17

“Jesus Christ, what the fuck just…” My voice died off as I looked around me. I appeared to be in some kind of hangar, with people in uniform scattered throughout, carrying boxes from one place to another.

“Hello, Luna.”

I whirled around at the sound of the familiar voice. In front of me stood a man dressed in a completely black suit. He looked out of place, too neat and too well-dressed.

Dante.

Before I could run away, two men had taken both my arms, but I tore away from them, and they let go of me. Freed, I looked for another way to escape, but Dante raised his hand.

“Please, Luna, don’t be scared. I am not here to harm you.” He spoke as if he was talking to a frightened deer. “I am not here to kill you. I just need you to listen to me.” I tilted my head to the side in confusion. Why wasn’t he doing anything evil? Wasn’t he part of Lucifer’s crew, like Isaac was? Didn’t Lucifer have plans to kill me? “You’ve seen it, haven’t you? Things that don’t match up. Come with me. Allow me to explain to you everything you have been worried about for the past months.”

I shook my head, slowly at first, then speeding up.

“No. I don’t trust you.”

He clasped his hands together and sighed.

“Alright. We’ll do it here. Please excuse me… abruptness, Luna, but your father isn’t dead at all.”

Oh.

“I actually have to correct you right there, Danny,” I spoke quickly, before I could let any of this affect me. “You see, I killed my father. Hit him right on the medulla oblongata with a baseball bat. I’m pretty sure he’s dead, because I was there when it happened.”

Dante wrung his hands together, almost nervously.

“Please allow me to take you to my office, Luna. I don’t want to talk to you about this out here. I think you might appreciate the privacy as well.”

I eyed him suspiciously, but then gave in. He had information I wanted. He offered me his arm but I ignored it, choosing to stay a safe distance away from him.

“Where are we? Where’s Ellie?” I asked him.

“This is where us Antartes live. Your Dream Catcher is also here, safe, but she would probably kill me if she knew I was anywhere near you.” She pushed open a door to reveal a small office. There was no desk, just a sofa, two leather seats and a lot of books. Dante politely gestured to one of the chairs and waited until I had sat down before he took a seat as well.

I was uncomfortable. This wasn’t normal.

“See, Luna, think of the story as a jigsaw puzzle. You have some of the puzzle pieces, and I can tell you how they fit together. Just… let me speak, and it will all make sense, yes?”

I nodded, unsure of what exactly I was agreeing to.

“Very well. When you killed your father, or thought you did, you simply sent him back to Hell. Your father is very much alive right now, and he is very present in our world. I guess you could even say he rules over us. You might call him Satan. We call him Lucifer.” Before I could even try to understand, he continued. “He has been in charge of Hell - and Earth, too - since the beginning of time. But, he is a terrible dictator, who enslaves innocent inhumans to do his dirty work. He uses Desanguines like me to control inhumans, and spread misery across Hell.”

My fingers were pressed against my temples as I tried to keep up with his words. Strangely, it made sense. My father had been a terrible person, an abusive lying piece of shit, and to be honest, ‘Satan’ did hit the spot.

“At the party---”

“I was being controlled by Lucifer. I do not remember being in that house. In fact, my friends had to tell me I ever left Hell in the first place. That was when I decided to join the Antartes, a group of people who managed to escape Lucifer’s cruel clutches.”

I clasped a hand over my mouth.

 “You told me a phrase, when we were in the bar. ‘Do not fear mortality, because spirituality will guide you.’. I thought it was strange, but—”

“Morse code. Do-not-fear. S. Mortality-because-spirituality. O. Will-guide-you. S.”

“You were signaling me that you needed help. And then, a little while later, when you were on my doorstep?”

“Lucifer was done with me. I had done what he wanted me to do, and so he found no more use for me. He decided to kill me. He put me in the dungeon where he keeps all his enemies. You were the only person I knew - the only person I had left and I didn’t know who else to turn to when I escaped. However, Ellie frightens me, to be honest, and so I came here.” A sad smile. “Look, Luna, if all this doesn’t prove my sincerity, I don’t know what does.”

I swallowed hard. I had only just told myself not to trust anyone ever again, yet here I was, already willing to catch a bullet for this miserable man.

“What do you need me for? Why did you Poof me here?”

“That’s a whole new story. You see, since you are indeed the daughter of Lucifer, a demon and your mother, a human, you are quite a remarkable being. Demon-human relationships don’t happen. Not only do demons and humans despise each other by nature, but it is also forbidden as we know the potential of that child. The offspring of a demon and a human will be the most powerful inhuman in all of history. Inhumans are ranked by weaknesses. The less weaknesses, the higher the rank. Hibridae, monstrous beasts without a proper brain used to be number one. With you here, they’re second best. We’ve come to the conclusion that you are the only person powerful enough to kill Lucifer.”

“So it’s true.” I said.

“I’m sorry, what is?”

“I’m not human.” I frowned. I knew this, of course, but hearing him say it still felt unreal. I wasn’t anywhere near a dryad, or even an imp.

“Yes, that is true.”

Silence.

“Luna, are you alright?”

“Where’s my backpack?”

“I don’t know how—”

“Where is my backpack?” I demanded.

“Outside my office.” He watched me with a curious look, then averted his eyes and nodded. “Take all the time you need.”

I promptly stood up and left the office, leaving my manners behind for a moment. I looked left, then right, where my backpack was placed against the wall. When I looked inside, all my spare clothes had been folded neatly, and I narrowed my eyes, but didn’t complain.

I held up a crew-necked, long-sleeved jumper with ‘MAGNOLIA HIGH BASEBALL TEAM’ written on it, and realized it was Ellie’s. I took off my sweaty, bloody shirt and put the warm jumper on.

I now understood my mother’s mistakes. I didn’t condone them or accept them at all, I simply understood them.

She’d known my father was Lucifer.

Of course she would have an aversion against inhumans; she’d met the worst of all. I rummaged through my bag and fished out my phone.

Twenty-one missed calls from my mother. I sat down, my back against the wall. Tears of relief welled up in my eyes as I listened to her first voicemail.

Luna, I--”  A long silence. “What I did… I regret it, and I’m sorry. I don’t know where you are, but I wish you’d come back. Please, Luna. We’ll work it out together. I’m sorry.”

She had left a second voicemail an hour later, saying the same thing, but the voicemails got more desperate with each day.

Luna, baby, I”m so---”  She let out a sob just as I did. “She was only a girl -- I’ve read that book a million times, and - and I wasn’t supposed to find out about what she was, right? God, I’ve - I was - this is - it’s all my fault. I’m so, so sorry, Luna. You were right to go after her. I never should’ve even tried to stop you.”

Her voicemails had turned from apologies to diary entries.

I won’t forgive myself if you or Ellie die because of my own ignorance.”

“I know you’ll be able to get her back. You’ve always managed to surprise me. You were always so much smarter and better than I already thought you were.” A teary laugh. “I don’t know what to do without you. If you ever find a reason to forgive me, Luna, please, please come back. I miss you. So, so much.”

“I was wrong. About everything. Ellie is not a bad person. Not all inhumans are bad, I just- I just didn’t want you to end up like I did. Do not let what I said influence you. I was wrong.”

Without hesitation, I dialed her number. She picked up almost instantly.

“Mom?”

“Luna? Luna  - oh my God, Luna, are you okay? Where are you? Is Ellie with you?”

“Yeah, I---” I wiped my eyes and let out a laugh, to my own surprise. “I’m okay, I think. I got Ellie. She’s… somewhere. I don’t really know where we are, but I think we’re safe for now.” I paused, playing with the hem of Ellie’s jumper. It smelled like her. “I know about Dad.”

She was silent.

“I’m sorry, Luna. I should’ve told you, I should’ve---”

“No, Mom, I understand. I do, but God, Mom, you did some really stupid things.”

“I know. I know, and I-- I am so, so sorry. I cannot -- I wish I could do more than apologize.”

“I don’t need any more apologies, Mom. I just need you to do what you’re promising to do. I’m not tolerating any of this. If I catch even so much as a glimpse of any kind of uncalled for hatred against Ellie when we come back, I won’t hesitate to leave. Do you hear me, Mom?” Speaking to her like this with such a stern voice felt wrong, but my heart told me it had to be done.

When my mom answered, her voice was soft.

“Alright, Luna.”

I hesitated for a moment.

“I miss you.”

I heard her sniffle over the phone.

“I miss you too. Come back soon.”

“I will. I’ve got to go now. Bye, Mom.”

“Bye, Luna. Love you.” she hung up before I could answer.

I sat in silence for a moment as a small portion of the weight on my shoulders was lifted off me. Only a small portion, though.

I flinched as something pounded against a door on my other side, the sudden image of Isaac, bloody, murder in his eyes, flashing through my mind. My lungs closed up in fear for a moment and I had to convince myself it wasn’t him in order to breathe again. Another loud bang sounded, but now the door opened and Ellie burst through, to my relief. She turned around to someone in the room she had just exploded from, not seeing me on the floor. She was wearing what seemed to be the uniform here, pointing accusingly at whoever was still in the room.

“Where is she?”