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   Chapter 12 Gone Wrong

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 17286

Updated: 2018-01-22 19:20

Scream is the wrong word for it, I think, but it's the first word that comes to mind when Ros pounces on that poor woman. A scream or a battle cry, take your pick, but both leave me with quivering gooseflesh and blood curdled like week-old chowder in my veins.

The attendees have scattered, flocking to the walls with shocked whimpers, all but a few. Those brave souls whisper and snigger, some handing out slips of paper, others passing clipped wads of cash to one man in a handsome blue suit, his white hair slick with grease. I can smell it from here, and I hate it. Not like the tang of Jules' VO5 or the spicy sweet of his shampoo. It's rancid like it came from an animal. I slip the rose out from behind my ear and stroke the petals for comfort.

Because I need the comfort. As I slide out from behind the curtains and sidestep the others for a better view, my mind pricks with recognition. The woman holding her fists out in front of her face to protect herself from Ros's pummeling has a long, crescent scar running down the side of her cheek, through her eye. And I know her. Know everything about her from Ros's grumbling as she paced my apartment and punched her own palm bloody. Vanessa Chambers. Nineteen. One of Syn's prizefighters and her biggest rival. A bitch, Ros calls her. I wouldn't say that, but I would say Ros hates throwing fights to her because of Syn's hand. This I know even though I don't keep up with the underground fights here; I just don't like them. I can't stand watching Ros get hurt. Can't stand the expression on Kite's face when Ros is slammed face-first into the rotten slats that make up the ring's floor.

But now, my heart's plunging even harder in my chest, all the blood drained from my fingers and toes. Because now I know why Ros was invited here in the first place. Not because she had uptown friends. Not because Kite charmed her way on the invite list like I thought she might.

Syn's hand. The betting slips say it all, if not for Venessa's busted in lip and the blood splattered on the floor as her ringed fists find Ros's jaw.

Ros is on top, elbowing Vanessa's heart-shaped baby face. Her opponent hooks her legs around Ros's waist, froth and blood spewing from her mouth. She squeezes Ros against her to weaken the flurry of blows, the distance too close between either of them to gain much strength in the air. Her elbows go up. She flips Ros on her side, takes dominant position. When she catches her breath she cusses Ros out, spitting blood and saliva. Ros is calm under her, protecting her face, straining with all her weight against the older fighter for the mounted position.

The purple of new bruises, the red of splattered blood, it stands out against the white floor and white walls. Yet none of the attendees rush in to stop the fight. Maybe they're too drunk, or maybe they're amused. Two downtown girls fighting, how queer, I suppose they're all like this down there, savages if you know what I mean.

Or maybe not. I could never trust uptowners, but they can't be all monsters. Surely.

I glance around. The guests I see are watching, grinning. The bookie is taking money, talking with his hands, billing a "real downtown experience, don't worry about the girls, they're trained." I make a sound under my breath, low and throaty. I wonder if Ros is getting paid for it, or whether she's totally oblivious to the man talking about her and Venessa as if they were animals, selling them as entertainment for those ooing and awwing. The man provides names and the guests are off, shouting for Ros and Vanessa both. Some are quiet, glaring with distaste, but they are too outnumbered to help. Even adults seem to like a good old schoolyard fight.

I find Kite by the butterfly clip in her hair. Her back is turned to the fight. From her trembling shoulders to her pale hands cupped over her face, I know she's crying. My fists ball up. I'm a gentleman, and gentlemen don't have to fight out their problems, but once more I want to clock everyone else in the room who's betting, cheering, even watching. And especially the bookie.

Ros has taken a beating, though she's wormed on top again. I've seen fights, though none this brutal, with no referee or someone from the sidelines to throw in the towel. When a fight goes to the ground and someone's punching, it can't stay there long without someone getting a face bashed in or teeth knocked out or bones popped out of sockets. Two Syn men slip out of the crowd, but I don't care about them. I march up to the bookie, who's busy talking to a particularly handsome couple, a woman in a veiled black hat and a man who swings a diamond crucifix in his fingers a hypnotist's toy.

"Hey!" I tap the bookie on the shoulder. He turns around, smiling this big, toothy smile. It makes me go cold all at once, and I think of Jules, threatening a Syn man with stakes in hands. That's essentially what I'm doing, isn't it? Picking a fight with someone bigger than me, stronger than me? The man narrows his eyes, so colorless they swim in his sockets, two pale chips of wood in a broad, tan face.

"What is it, little boy?" He speaks through clenched teeth, an

fear. It washes over me, a patchy quilt of images, chunks missing here and there. They're a distraction, a nuisance. I don't need to see the tears in my dad's eyes, don't need to see my mother grab a box on the mantle. The stench of blood burns my nose, and I can't tell if it's in the kitchen or in my old home, a cottage on the hills.

I blink away the shower of pictures, memories, threatening a flood. The bones pop in my wrist. I flex it. Good as new. I drop onto the floor and take Jules' wrist, two fingers on his pulse. Faint and slowing. His eyes are shut. A shiver passes through him and above him, over his still body like a gust of wind. Something shimmers, an outline, a curl of milky pale smoke. I squeeze his wrist. Slowing. One beat. Pause. Another. I shout for help, ignoring the hocus pocus of the creepy silhouette rising out of his body. His hair is going white at the roots.

The woman kicks me hard in the ribs and I go crashing into a counter with a gurgle of a scream, the edge connecting squarely with the base of my spine. I collapse against the cupboards, gasping. The thing is rising, rising, glimmering. It has a vague Jules-shape, big shoulders, tightened chest, and a sharp, hooked nose. The woman snaps her fingers and it pops like a soap bubble. She rummages through the canvas bag at her foot, picks up a glass jar. It's filled with that pale smoke from Jules. It makes a sound, a cry. My heart plunges in my chest.

What is this? Vampires I can take. But whatever this is, this magic...

The needle is on the floor, and this she covets instead. Spying Jules out of the corner of her eye, she shrugs. "For mother dearest." Then she pounces on his unconscious body, tearing away the shoulder of his tux with her long, pink nails. She sinks her teeth into his flesh while my vision stops spinning. Rips out a chunk, frosty like ice. Jules bleeds red roses onto the floor, his lips twisted in agony even in his sleep.

I struggle to my feet, my head a swimming vision of fog and double images. I lunge for her, but she tosses the jar over her shoulder to the Syn man under the window. He smiles at me. It's a quick distraction. Her clothes rustle and fall to the floor in a crumpled pile. She's gone. Only a batwing silhouetted against the starlight and the thump of leather whapping a window sill. The man moves back toward the door, crouching for my borrowed stake. I scramble for Jules. Grab his wrist again.

Tick. Tick. Tick. I can hear the clock in my head as I wait for a tell-tale thump under my skin. Nothing. His chest is still. "Jules." I grip him. His body is unresponsive. A chunk of his hair has gone white, slicked to his face with streaks of sweat. My breath catches in the back of my throat. "Jules!" I squeeze him, shake him. Lay him flat on the floor, working free the buttons of his jacket and tux shirt, the bow tie still snug on his throat. My mind is on autopilot, trying to remember how CPR works. I've seen the guys do it in the ring. One fighter had a heartache, died in front of us as a referee tried and failed to start his heart up. Tilt chin. Hands on chest, left breast. Press fast and press hard.

The man is gone. He wolf-whistles at me and pushes the door open, striding with his still soft, still menacing footsteps. He leaves me screaming for help as I give Jules compressions on the dark, cold kitchen floor.

Because on that same dark, cold kitchen floor, Jules dies.

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