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   Chapter 22 Human

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 7769

Updated: 2018-02-10 21:57

Jules and me climb the boulders hand in hand, passing stocks of dry grass and scrabbling for handholds. The cabin's up in the mountain shelf, the wall between the city and The Outside just a little higher up behind it. A mermaid takes up several feet of wall, her face cupped in her hands, long inky hair fanning out around her. Bubbles drift lazily toward the the top. Each purple scale is shaded in and shadowed, every detail painted in excruciating detail. Jules catches me staring and smirks.

"Your little artist heart must be fluttering. You gonna faint?"

"Yup. Catch me when I fall." I press the back of my other hand to my forehead stumble back. He doesn't even attempt to catch me. Just keeps staring.

"She reminds me of Kite, " he says, and my heart plunges in my chest. The guilt rolls in. Guilt that I didn't comfort her when she was crying over Ros. Guilt that I didn't bother telling her I'm dying and that I'm on an epic journey to steal back my soul. She's the one I hung out with after school, when the sun was hot and the air was dry. She was the one who dragged me to Ros' football games. She knew I liked Jules even before I did. Thought he liked me back before he brought me roses, took me out on a date, and told me I was cute, handsome, the works. She's supposed to be my best friend.

"It's okay, " he says, "I've got my cell phone on me. You can call her, if you like."

I smile, grateful. He tugs my hand and I follow him over the rocks and onto the path carved into the ledge.

"This place is pretty hard to get to."

"You noticed." It's a log cabin. Tin cans dangle in front of the door, lace drapes futtering. "A lot of people don't even know it's here." He walks up. Lleans his shoulder against the door and the hinges make a creaky, unholy moan. Twangy music plays inside, generators thwup-thwup-thwuping away, animals bleating.

"Uh." I swallow so hard my pulpy throat rages with a new sort of pain. "What's that?"

"Goats. They sell them, Shiro. Breed 'em. You an animal person?"

"I have a cat, but that's it. Ros's dog is mean." The room is dark. I can smell the goats. Pungent and awful stinky. I crinkle my nose, eyes adjusting slowly to the soft glow of the brass chandelier swinging above my head.

It's crowded. Rows and rows of steel racks and shelves, all pushed u

ane all because he brought you to your paranoid mentors? Who saved you from experimentation? Who convinced—"

"You did all that." He blinks at me blankly. Red creeps into his face and he looks down at his hands. He cocks me a sad smile. "Jeez, I'm a pain."

I feel my usual stab of self hatred. He wanted to protect me, and it just didn't work out that way. Not his fault. I don't have the right to shove it in his face. "Never mind." I hold my hand up. "Pretend I never said anything. I—"

He slips behind me. I feel a snap against my stomach, the squeeze of a buckle, a tightness around my hips. His hands are on my waist and I'm seeing in tunnel vision. Seventh-grade-crush mode is activated. Butterfly swarms. Intense blushing. Panic.

It takes me about three seconds of dumb blinking and internal screaming to understand what happened: Jules gave me his twin belts. He's fastened them around my middle. I pat the holsters. For the first time I think in a long time, I can't find anything to say.

"You take the stakes then. Okay?" he says. "But if we're going into mountains infested with vampires, we need them."

I clench the empty holsters at my sides. The belt is weighted. It already stings my stomach and I haven't even done any climbing with it. My chest tightens."I just don't want you to kill yourself, okay?"

He rubs me on the head. "I won't, Shiro. As long as I'm human."

For a second, I can't breathe, because I'm wondering when the word 'human' become so ugly. Then I turn away and slink deeper into the labyrinth.

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