Darry had missed classes for over a week; she’d left him message after message on his cell phone and hadn’t gotten so much as a text in return. Winnie was just about to contact the police to make a missing person’s report—something she knew she should have done from the beginning—when, amazingly… he returned.
She caught sight of him from across the student union—he was sitting in the teal nylon sofa chair he always sat in, waiting for her as if he’d never left. A rush of sudden excitement filled her and she picked up her pace to join him, practically dropping her tray of food as she did; as she got closer, though, she realized how strange… how incredibly different… he looked.
Like an addict, was her first thought, as she saw the first hunched, slightly swayed set of his posture. He was wearing the same faded jeans and gray T-shirt he’d had on when she last saw him. He certainly seemed hung over, or something like it… but as long as she’d known him, Darry had never been that wasted.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly, her worry and anger at him forgotten for the moment.
“Yeah,” he answered, his voice wasted and tired. “I got a nasty case of food poisoning from the egg soufflé at the coffee shop. Kept me down for days.”
For a moment, she wanted to be relieved. He’d gotten sick, just like she had: that was why he’d suddenly disappeared, and why he hadn’t called her.
But that brief hope died quickly. Darry looked skinny, pale and dazed—his eyes had a strange glaze to them, like he was still sick. But he smelled like sweat… and under that, sex.
Winnie felt a lurch in her gut.
“What happened to you?” she asked. Her voice was so low, she wasn’t entirely sure she’d really spoken at all.
He looked up at her, and his eyes seemed strangely pale.
“What do you mean?”
“You left the poetry night with that girl… Genesis. You went home with her and left me there… and you’ve been gone for days!”
He blinked; she wondered if her words were making it through to his brain.
“Darry, what happened to you?” she asked. “You’ve never acted like this before.”
Now he snorted.
“What’s wrong, Winnie?” he asked. “Are you jealous?”
“What? No!” she insisted. “But… you left. I was about to send the cops after you! You go missing for days and you come back smelling like you didn’t even change the clothes you… you…”
She didn’t know how to end that sentence—the smell of Genesis on him was making her dizzy, and the feeling of nausea that came over her at the coffee shop was starting to swirl in her stomach again.
“The clothes I what?” Darry snapped. “What were you going to say?”
“I can smell her all over you,” she muttered, shifting her eyes away from him.
“So what?” he said. “So you are jealous. Bravo for you, Winnie.”
“I’m not jealous! You walked out on me while I was hunched over the toilet puking, so you could go get laid with some crazy slut you just met!”
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Darry only raised an eyebrow, but she knew without looking that all around them the other students had stopped, pausing in their own conversations to stare at them, watching the drama unfold. After a moment—in true college frat-boy fashion—several of the groups closest to them started clapping and cheering. Winnie groaned and buried her face in her hand.
Darry turned away from her, standing up as if he was going to leave.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered. He grunted, non-committal.
“Please, Darry… you look like you haven’t eaten in months. Doesn’t any of this seem strange to you?”
“Not really,” he said. “I think you’re overreacting.”
For some reason, the word dug into her, sharp and mean. Why would he—he, Darry, a boy she’d grown up with, her first boyfriend, her first lover—how could he just dismiss her concerns with a word like that, a word he was only using because it so easily turned the blame back on her?”
“Listen to me,” she tried again. “Something is wrong with that girl! Didn’t you see her—”
She stopped. See her what? She couldn’t remember what it was she had been about to say.
Her eyes? Her teeth? What was it?
Darry grabbed for his bag of books—as he flipped the main pocket closed, she caught sight of a heavy volume, his anthology of British Literature, and when she saw it the image of a tiger flashed for some reason across her mind.
“Let it go,” he said under his breath. “For ten years we’ve been friends, Winnie. Ten years. If you wanted to get back together you had your chance, any time you wanted, and I probably would have been thrilled if you did. But now, I’ve met someone else, and I really like her. If you can’t handle that, don’t make it my fault.”
“It isn’t about that,” she muttered feebly. “I… I just think she’s going to hurt you.”
“Don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt.”
With that—giving her no explanation—he walked past her, and headed for his class.
She was sleeping, and she knew that. She was dreaming, and she knew that, too… but somewhere between sleeping and dreaming, she knew something else.
She was seeing.
She was standing in a graveyard, the creeping mists of early morning curling around her ankles. Ahead of her, there was a girl waiting: a girl with shockingly white hair down to her waist, with a delicate chain wrapped around her hips and eyes like a smoldering spark burning somewhere in the distant darkness. She was watching Winnie from a gap in the graves, wearing a flowing, fancy kimono, a robe the color of red sangria, open in front to show off a pair of lovely white breasts and dark, pert nipples.
Winnie brought her hands up and rubbed at her eyes, trying to force herself to wake up, or to at least slip out of this dream and into another one.
Then, faintly, she heard the sound of someone calling her. The thick mists distorted the sound, but she thought it was Darry, shouting for help.
The girl with the white hair turned her head at the sound, a grin like the slice of a blade splitting her features. Her teeth were pointed, like a cat’s: eyeteeth and canines, bracketing each other in a smug, unnatural set. And before Winnie could reach out, the girl flickered and was gone, moving too quickly to be seen.
“Wait!” Winnie called. She scrambled up a grassy embankment, following the sound of her best friend’s cries. Laughter swirled all around her, fading and then growing louder, and snippets of words teasing her as she ran. Darry’s voice was coming from all around her, and mixed in with the sounds of his terror were sounds low and secretive, forbidden, shadowy sounds of a lover whispering gently into her ear.
Come and see the moon with me…
Come, Winnie… come and see the moon.
She tripped, stumbled, and when her knees met hard, scraping rock she felt it even through the dream. She brought her hands up and saw blood on them.
When she looked up, the painted face of a porcelain mask met her eye-to-eye. It tilted to the side, making the black ribbons tied to it dance, as if curious, and its red, red lips quirked into a grin, showing off the tips of four fangs.
“Fallen ones cannot lie,” it said, its mouth never moving. It had Genesis’s voice, breathy and silvery, like smoke.
“Fallen ones cannot lie. We only speak in code.”
The mask bounced and danced in the darkness, while peals of girlish, licentious giggles rode past them on the breeze. Then it spun in place, ribbons whirling, and stopped, facing her.
Long, white fingers came up and drew the mask away. Behind it stood Genesis, in the red kimono, with small, serpent-like scales peppering her hairline and her slender, tender neck.
As Winnie lay there on the ground, looking up in an awed stupor, the pale, frosty girl knelt down in front of her. With a sparkling grin on her face, she took Winnie’s bloodied hands and pressed them to her own face, rubbing her face gently against Winnie’s palms, tracking red streaks across her own white skin. Winnie tried to jerk out of her grasp but with a laugh the sly creature guided her hands next to the cool flesh of naked breasts, the hard nubs of stiffened, excited nipples.
“Do you understand?” she asked, not a hint of humor in her words. “Winnie… do you understand?”
“No!” she shouted. “What are you doing to Darry?”
Genesis closed her eyes, long lashes hiding the glowing sparks.
“He isn’t far from you,” she whispered breathily. “Wake up. Wake up and find him, before there is nothing left of him to find.”
She came awake with a startled cry; snickers danced outside her window, from below. The bedside clock read 9:37—she’d fallen asleep almost immediately after coming back to her dorm. The day had been gloomy and restless, and she’d tripped into bed, slinging her backpack to the floor and kicking off her sneakers as the heavy exhaustion rolled over her.
And then she’d dreamed.
“Come on, Winnie… what’s wrong with you?”
It was Darry. Outside, calling up at her window in a hushed conspirator’s voice.
With someone else.
For a long moment, Winnie debated ignoring them. The thought of Genesis standing down there, looking up into the room where Winnie slept, was almost too much to bear. She’d be grinning. Her fangs would be small, and sharp, and excited, like—Winnie felt a shiver go down her spine—like pert little sexual alerts, like nipples poking through a thin shirt. And Darry… would he be worse? Skinnier, like a skeleton in his skin, basking in Genesis’s twisted glow?
She listened to the sounds of her room, to the sound of the filter in her fish tank buzzing and the hum of her computer, thinking that maybe, if she stayed quiet… if she left the light off… they would somehow believe she wasn’t there, and go away.
He isn’t far from you, whispered the memory of the dream. He isn’t far.
No, he certainly isn’t! she thought back.
“Just a second,” she hissed back.
The fish in her tank were dead—she could see them bobbing along the surface of the water, like little sleeping buoys.
What is going on here?
She closed her eyes. Took a deep breath.
Don’t go with them. Let him go… let him go to whatever fate he wants. Let him let her suck him dry, let him kill himself over a pretty girl. That’s what he wanted, right? For some pretty enchantress to sweep down from the world of fantasy and give him the cure for all the mundane little boredoms of everyday life. So this is his princess… let him have her. Ignore them and go back to sleep.
But don’t go near her. Not that one…
That one’s poison.
She exhaled. Her heartbeat seemed to be slowing down now.
Let Darry die, if that’s what he wants.
And that made up her mind.