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   Chapter 3 Free-fall

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 12532

Updated: 2018-01-21 23:31


Sometimes, people say things so jarring their very words pluck you right out of this reality and into one where all will solve itself if you throw up your hands, shout "I quit!" and quit.

Telling someone they aren't alive has that effect. It's so ridiculous that, well, you know you're alive. That's obvious. But at the same time: what? What do you mean? Is that metaphorical? Are you saying I'm in a coma? Are you being poetic and telling me I'm dead inside and my soul is blacker than the heart of whoever thought Farmville was a good idea? Or is this the Matrix? Because if this is the Matrix, well, screw it. I'm taking the blue pill. I want to wake up in my bed so I can go to Kite's ritzy party and finish my homework. No, no iron-hard search for the truth here.

The room spins around like that cursed teacup ride at Disney World, and I squeak. "Whaaa?" The sound that comes out isn't even a word or a question. It's the sound of someone being smothered.

Jules smirks as if shutting me up is an Olympic sport and he just won himself gold. It makes sense, more sense than a guy like him would ever let on. He's an athlete: a hockey player, a runner, a soccer guy, and though he tries not to draw attention to himself, he swung himself the title of Student Council President and Debate Champion just this year. For someone who doesn't care about grades, he sure is an overachiever. He likes to win.

For a second, the room is quiet, Jules smirking, the people in black trenches looking bored like all people wearing black trenches do, and me, standing there, the links in my handcuffs dangling limply from my wrists. I hop back, breathe in, and try to form a response. "Nope." There. That's something. "I quit. I'm done. I'm sorry." I stumble back and awkwardly grope for the window. An arm of the chair pokes my back, sending a splinter of pain through my spine. I grit my teeth while the others look on. Jules tries to suppress a chuckle, but he sucks at it and sounds like he's half laughing, half choking on a furball.

"You can't quit life, Shiro. That's just not how it works."

"I can make it work. I'm good at making things work." The words come out in a jumble, mushed up in my mouth so they sound like a string of random syllables. I shove the window open again, but this time, it isn't for a peek.

I'm going to jump.

Jules grabs my arm, but I hop off on the ball of my good foot. My heart beats in my throat, and all I can think is that I have to escape these people. I have to get away. "Hey, dude!" He pulls me back, but I kick out the screen and writhe out of his grasp. I see the mesh tumble down and a glint of its white painted frame as it flutters into the dark. The folks in black trenches act. They lunge for me, Jules tugging so hard I feel a flutter of panic my arm will pop out of its socket. My legs are already out. It's a long drop, I can see that from here, but I'm not killing myself, not really.

It all kind of depends, I guess. I'm a bit more versatile than I should be. I mean, not super-hero versatile. The temperature rises too high, I'm screwed. My limbs fall asleep, I'm screwed. My hair, once pitch black, is now whiter than tissue paper. My eyes, once brown, are now a bright blue, almost electrically so. And I'm not strong either. Most of my muscle and fat has melted away. I'm mostly bones held together in a pale skin pack at this point.

My sickness, though, it just makes me a little less adverse to, I don't know, death. Bullets and poisons don't quite seem to have the desired effect. I mean, I'm pretty sure I can still die. It's just harder.

But I'm pretty alive. Even after all that's happened and what Jules says, I can't find a way to make me being undead sound plausible, metaphorically or physically or any other -lly.

I kick one more time, but Jules slings me back. I hit the floor hard, gasping, sputtering to recollect myself. The others swear and grumble softly under their breaths as if I'm causing too much trouble and they just want to get whatever it is they brought me here for over. I don't blame them. I just want to go home. I still have that drawing due in for art class, and of course, Kite won't have it if I'm not there tomorrow. Being kidnapped, ha! What an excuse. "So you're not letting me jump out the window?"

"Um, no." Jules props me up again so I'm leaned against his shoulder. "We just want some answers. Chill out."

I draw in a breath. "If you want answers or whatever, you can ask. Kidnapping and telling me I'm undead doesn't help much. I mean, I'm busy." Sort of lies. Sort of truths. I was actually just trying to buy a tin of instant coffee packets off a guy when the fanged person tried to rip out my throat. So even with school, I'm not too busy. But I want to sound cool and relaxed and casual when in all reality I'm not cool or relaxed or casual at all. On the inside, I'm trembling like a fool. On the inside, my stomach's all twisted up and my throat's tighter than Jules' black hipster jeans.

The woman flicks up her sunglasses, a trace of a smirk on her lips. She flicks her head to the man and he walks out. My fists get clammy and hot. She sits there for a second, eyeing me with the detachedness of someone looking through a store window at merchandise they don't particularly care for, and the man strolls right back in, just a little skip in his step. My stomach drops into my toes.

He has my knapsack.

The woman smiles politely. "If you cooperate, we'll replace your tablet. And no one will have to know where you were."

As if on cue, the man unzips the little gray knapsack and holds up my drawing tablet, its screen smashed in. I wince. My poor, precious baby. He also holds up a crumpled twenty from the bottom of my bag, a twenty for the coffee I meant to buy. I blush. Though it isn't the quasi-illegal thing I did that concerns me the most, it's my tablet. I'll do anything to get it back in working order. I'm really easy to bribe.

"Oh, okay." I push Jules away and plop down on the bed. He watches me, raises an eyebrow, and glances at the woman. Her smirk grows even wider. I realize it was never aimed at me in the first place.

"Soft power, Jules." She lifts her fingers in a graceful motion, like a

maestro leading an orchestra. "You see? You can stake vampires through the heart anytime, but if you're trying to negotiate with people, you have to attack psychologically, carrot and stick style."

Jules snorts. "Shiro isn't a person." But he pulls a pen from his back pocket and scribbles everything she said on his arm in thick black ink. The muscles in my jaw throb from staying clenched for so long, and they only hurt more the harder I bite down. Stake vampires through the heart. Shiro isn't a person. I'm not high, I tell myself, I'm not high. Though I'm starting not to believe even that.

"What is it you dragged me into?" The words come out in more of a strained, tired growl than a question because if I speak any clearer I think the lump in the back of my throat will bring tears to my eyes. And wouldn't that make me look intimidating? I'm already a scrawny, barely five-foot-four fourteen-year-old.I look weak enough without adding sobbing my guts out to the list.

The woman flashes me a toothy smile, slapping the lenses of her sunglasses against her open hand. "I'm sorry. I'm Kath, and the grumpy kid is Jules, my apprentice. The guy over there with your bag is Sirius, and he's just so cool he won't sit and speaking cramps his style." She leans in and drops her voice to a whisper. "He even refuses to wear a shirt."

I glance at the guy just to confirm he isn't wearing a shirt. She may be a kidnapper, but at least Kath is honest. I let out a shaky laugh. "Okay. Who are you guys?"

The woman, Kath, plops down beside me. "Credem." She doesn't add anything to that at all, just yanks out my left hand, flips a small red cardboard box from her belt, and dumps its contents into my palm. Little white crystals. Salt. A whole pile of it, gleaming under the gold light. "How much?"

"Huh?"

"How many grains?"

I look at her and blink slowly. Her face is serious. I have to try. "Uh, like, a couple thousand? I don't know."

Jules huffs, crossing his arms over his chest all haughty-like. I feel myself go stiff. I'd like to see him try to count out salt. Kath grins a little at him and wipes all the salt away, onto the sheets. I watch her grace. It's eerie how flowy she moves, like she's underwater, but look at all the same.

She holds up a thin gold cross necklace from around her neck. "Are you averse to this?"

"I'm Catholic." Which is sort of true. My mom's Catholic. My dad's Presbyterian. I go to Sunday sermons and Sunday mass. It gets a little crazy sometimes, but it's worth it.

"Oh." She drops the cross back under her shirt. "Well, do you sparkle?"

It's so unexpected I laugh. My face burns and I kick and howl and hiccup so hard my insides feel like they'll split in two. Jules hisses, scowling at me so hard you'd think I murdered his father. "P-Pardon?"

"Do you sparkle in the sun?"

"I don't think so, though I wish I did." I perk up a little. I'm brimming with curiosity at this point. What does she think I am? Why is she asking me these questions in the first place? "Do you?" I ask. "Because that's really cool."

"Disrespectful, " Jules mutters. "Disrespectful, insolent—"

I hobble into a weak standing position and look back at Jules. He seems to hate me. So suddenly, too. "What's your problem? You were fine a few minutes ago." My mind is spinning, and all I want, other than to go home, is to understand what they're doing and why I'm here. "Or are you just so moody—"

"Vampire, " he seethes, his earlier apathy sapped. "I know you're a vampire."

"Jules, " Kath starts.

"And I know you're crazy!" The zingers are flying now, as terrible as they are. I really need to read up on witticism. It seems I'm better at word vomit at this point.

"Kids have gone missing." Jules steps to me. "It isn't funny, I'm not crazy, and if you're feeding off them I'll—"

"Are you delusional?" I drag myself toward him so we're toe to toe. "What proof do you have? What have I ever done to deserve this, Jules! Tell me. I'd like to know. Besides." I spit. "What proof do you have that vampires are even real?"

I mean, sure, a fanged dude attacked me and tried to drink my blood. But still.

Jules flicks his flashlight out from the holster on his belt, a sharp object in his hand. Kath stands up. "Proof, " he says with a humorless laugh. "You want proof." He aims it at my face and pushes the button like a gunman pulls a trigger. I don't feel much of an effect, not at first.

But then I do.

A pang stabs through my chest, ripping it in half it feels. The pain tears up my face and down my back. I bite back a scream and stumble back. It intensifies. Suddenly. Out of nothingthens. Pains in my legs, arms, fingers, toes. Aches that bring vile to the back of my throat and dizziness to the back of my head. And it just gets worse.

And worse.

And worse.

Bursts of black and red spiral in front of my eyes. Crack, crack, crack... I hear the sounds between my ears, from inside myself. Spasms race up and down my body. "Stop, stop, stop!" I hold up my hands. Liquid cold flows through my veins. I feel like, like I'm melting.

Like I'm melting from the inside.

Thoughts come in violent, fragmented jolts. UV light. The sun. Melting.

I vomit in the back of my mouth. Melting in the sun. There's only one creature I can think of that melts in the sun.

And I can't be one of them.

"Proof, " Jules says. The long thing in his hand glints. I drop like a weight and hit the ground in a trembling ball, my entire body so cold I'll freeze. My joints are being torn apart, ripped in two like a wishbone. I swallow.

He thinks I'm a vampire.

He thinks I killed people.

He's going to stake me through the heart.

I roll on my back, clamp my mouth closed to keep from screaming, and lunge for the window.

Jules, Kath, and Sirius grab for me, but they're a second too late. My fingers find the edge. I scrabble over the sill, queasy, few thoughts in my head except, 'Well, crap, now I can't get my drawing tablet back.' And of course, the usual:

So this is how I'll die. From a fall, from my organs melting into ice water, from light poisoning, if that's a thing.

Well, what can you do?

I tumble out the window and fall into the empty sky.

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