Cascadence of Truth: Ships and Scars

“Go back there. Retrace your pain. Own every footstep as you face down your scars. Do it, Violet. Your orders will be waiting when you are done.”

cuttycoll

From Cascadence of Truth, book 6 of the Not the Same River series. Jet will have his own story in the No Good Comes series (Pinterest board here) and will feature in DeMobbed  (Pinterest board here).

Context: Violet is pissed off at her boss for sending her on a mission to a place she was tortured, without giving her prior warning. Jet takes her to Greenwich for more therapy.

***

We were on a dirty-grey, domed roof, ribbed stone beneath us, white pillars behind us. We were in Greenwich. I could see the rigging of the ship from our perch.

“Nobody’s going to ring that while we sit here, are they?” I said, leaning to the side when Jet turned to look at the bell caged behind us.

“No,” was all he said.

“Because I have really sensitive hearing.”

“So I heard,” he whispered.

“Are you alright out here?” I said.

“What?”

“In the sun, I mean.”

“Oh.” He laughed. “I won’t shrivel up and die, don’t worry.”

I was more worried that he’d go pink. He’d look like a skinned rabbit if he went pink. “So, is your name really Everett?”

“Does it matter?”

“No. Are you a nephilim or …?”

“Or?”

I shrugged. “Or something else?”

“I’m nephilim.”

“Whose son are you?”

“Raphael’s.” I choked, and he gave me a quizzical look. “What?”

“I dunno, that just seems so unlikely. You’re so beautiful. Really, really, ethereally beautiful. I mean you look like an actual angel. Not that he’s not good-looking. I mean, he is … but …” I burst out laughing, because Jet was laughing beside me. “Have you seen the size of his head?”

“It is quite big, isn’t it?” he said, grinning into the wind.

“It’s a boulder. And you’re so delicate.”

“I suppose my mother must’ve been an imp.”

“You don’t remember her?”

He shook his head. “I hear her sometimes. A voice in my head.”

“You know, that might not be your mother,” I said with a grin. He nudged me with his shoulder, and I toppled sideways, gripping the edge of the roof tightly. “Hey! No throwing me off the roof.”

“You can fly, can’t you?”

“I don’t fancy getting hauled in to face Raguel, thank you very much. I heard the angels aren’t very good at cover stories.”

“Raguel’s a pussy cat,” he said. “Just ask Jaz.”

“She’s one of his?”

“Yeah, that’s why she can draw blood.”

“Oh, you mean literally draw blood?” I said, remembering what she’d done to Kite in training. “I’ve seen her do that. It’s gruesome.”

“You wouldn’t think so if you’d seen Raguel do it.”

“I saw someone sentenced once. He passed out on the tube.”

“Ah, but sentencing is … legal. You should see him in battle.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll give that one a miss.”

He snorted, then his face settled. “You’re different now.”

“How do you mean?”

“Hmm, more content.”

“Content? I’m furious.”

“You might want to work on your facial expressions,” he said, “because you don’t look at all furious.”

“I’m not furious with you. Silver shouldn’t have sent me here. It was cruel.”

“What happened at Augarten?”

“I freaked out. Lost myself. It was like being back there with Fane messing with my mind. I felt like one day, I’d just disappear inside my own head. Unreachable.”

“Silver didn’t do this to be cruel.”

“It feels like she did.”

His lips thinned, but he didn’t push. He nodded into the distance. “Can you see it?”

“The ship? Yeah.” I didn’t even want to think about that ship. “So … did Raphael raise you? Uriel said he’s forgotten how to walk on land.”

He snorted. “It’s true, he’s rarely off his boat now, but … when I was young … he didn’t know about me … didn’t find me until I was seven. He put me in a house with a ridiculous number of staff. I had a governess, and saw Raphael every weekend, even after I was fully grown.”

“How old are you?”

“A hundred and ninety-one.”

“You’re looking good on it.”

He laughed. “Thank you. And you’re right, I do need to stay out of the sun to keep my complexion so glowy.”

“I really need to paint you.”

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“God, normally I have to make barbaric threats to get people to sit for me.”

He stood, and I squinted to looked up at him. His hair whipped out to the front on the other side of his face, feathering across his sharp features. Yeah, I really did need to paint him. Outside.

“Let’s get this over with then,” he said.

“I’m in uniform,” I said, looking down at myself.

“I’ll fix it,” he said, grabbing my hand.

When we landed between two buildings, I caught sight of myself in a car window at the end of the alley. I was wearing black jeans and waistcoat and a saggy-necked, oatmeal shirt.

“God,” I said. “I didn’t even feel that.”

“Better?”

“Marginally.”

He laughed, then squeezed my hand tighter. He whispered, “My real name is Jet. Raphael said I should choose my own name. Before that, I was nobody.”

I squeezed his hand back as we made our way to the ship, momentarily distracted by the sight of a Nando’s. I slowed to an almost stop. I was starved after missing whatever wonder-sandwiches Milo made for us, but Jet pulled me towards the clipper.

“Oh, I should probably tell you that I’m quite famous,” he said.

“What?”

“Yeah, I’m a model.”

“Really?” I didn’t mean to sound so surprised, but I was.

“What, you were lying when you said I was beautiful?” He mock gasped, fanning himself dramatically.

“What kind of modelling?”

“The kind that puts me on massive billboards, and above escalators in tube stations, and over there.” He pointed at a bus, where he was sprawled across an ad banner wearing not very much at all.

“Nice pants,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows. “I have my own line of underwear now.”

“That’s … nice?”

He laughed. “I’ll have to age out and retire in a few years. Get old, all that stuff. That’s the problem with living life in the public eye.”

“How young can you go?” I said, joining the queue to get into the Cutty Sark.

“Seven,” he said.

“Oh my god,” shouted an excitable man with fearlessly quiffy blonde hair and a string bag full of pineapples. “You’re Jet Lux. I wear your underwear.” His cute face went pink. “Well, not your underwear. God, obviously not your underwear. I’m not a stalker. I don’t know where you live or anything.”

I laughed.

“Good?” said Jet.

“So yeah, not your actual underwear. But you know, the … the … underwear. Sorry.”

Jet grinned. “No apologies required. What’s your name?”

“Aidan,” he said shyly, like he hadn’t just told everyone in a fifty metre radius that he wore Jet’s underwear.

“Do you have your phone on you, Aidan?”

Aidan’s eyes went wide as he held his phone out. Jet tugged him to his side and they took a selfie.

Aidan stared at it like it was gold. “My boyfriend is going to die. Actually pass out and die. Think I’ll tell him after he’s made the dinner.”

“Good idea,” said Jet. “Nice meeting you, Aidan.”

“You too,” he said, turning away and waving over his shoulder.

“Wow, now everyone is staring,” I said.

“Most of them won’t have a clue who I am, but I bet they’re wondering now,” said Jet.

I saw phones casually twisted our way, but what could I say? We were at a tourist attraction. In public. He was an underwear model. I was dressed as Han Solo. Attention was bound to happen. Aidan kept turning around and walking backwards a few steps to gaze adoringly at Jet and make heart pump gestures at us. He was adorable and ridiculous.

I followed Jet, silently contemplating what it must be like to be famous. As much as my life belonged on telly, I was sure I’d hate it. I paid more attention to the way people looked at him than I did our surroundings, until finally I gasped.

I was beneath the ship, staring along the length of it. I remembered being tied to the beams that strapped the ship to the wall, thinking the floor didn’t look that far away, but the place was vast. Vast and beautiful. It wasn’t the place to exorcise any demons. I just didn’t feel them with me while I was there.

I told Jet that what would really exorcise my demons was a Nando’s. Nobody mentioned our chilli garlic breath when we got back.

The next day, one of the red tops made its way across the channel, asking the oh so serious question, Is this mystery girl Jet’s new love? Somehow, this was news. Somehow, only I was horrified.

***

Meet Lucifer & Michael (part two)

“We manifest as men,” said Michael, “because there has never been a time when it was favourable to manifest as women.”

Ribbet collage

A scene from Moonstruck Consent, book 4 of the not*the*same*river series.

***

I was curled up in my favourite armchair by the empty fireplace in the drawing room, my back to the voices stirring me from sleep. I’d only meant to sit down for five minutes, to wait for Magnus so I could tell him Archer was awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep for—I checked my watch—nearly half an hour.

“Have you seen Uriel or Jem lately?” said Michael.

“Not since I came back up,” said Lucifer. “Why?”

“They’re not answering my echoes.”

“You could try going to a Cas—”

“Don’t say it.”

Lucifer sighed. “Jem’s probably just on the road … in deep cover somewhere. You know he never stops. And Uriel …” Apparently, Lucifer didn’t know what to say about Uriel because he was silent for a long time. I peeked around the side of the chair. Eventually, he laughed then said, “He enjoys his gallivanting lifestyle, making friends and influencing people. Gabriel’s probably got him hunting down some lost species of fur or something. Like he did with Raph. He’d just brought up a huge haul of weapons the last time I spoke to him.”

“Up?” said Michael, voice laced with panic.

“Jesus, Michael. The Pacific, not Hell.”

“The last time I saw Uriel, he was dining with Astaroth.” Michael screwed up his nose. “By candlelight.”

Lucifer’s eyes widened, and he sputtered out a laugh. “You don’t think …” Michael shrugged, and Lucifer continued. “That’s ridiculous. You know how Astaroth can’t keep physical state. They’d probably fall asleep before …” Lucifer shuddered.

Michael had a faraway look in his eyes. “But Astaroth is so … persuasive.”

Lucifer smirked. “Something to share?”

“What? No. Well … no. Just worried about Uriel.”

“He can take care of himself. So can Jem.”

Michael hummed then said, “If they haven’t responded by next week, I’ll check Hell. To be on the safe side.”

“We could just summon Astaroth. Find out what’s going on.”

Michael shook his head. “It’s not time.”

“Ah, yes. A time for everything. I wish we’d never laid eyes on that book.”

“Truth is truth,” said Michael.

***

tweet3tweet2

Meet Lucifer & Michael (part one)

On religious paintings …

Lucifer: At least I’m wearing some clothes in this one.

Michael: Alas, I’m still dressed as a ballerina.

whitelucifer

A scene from Roots and Wings, book 2 of the not*the*same*river series.

***

“I thought you had horns,” said Ezra.

Lucifer looked at him, presumably assessing whether it was a serious observation. “I’m not a goat.”

“There have been sightings of you, though,” said Ben. “The New Jersey Devil, for instance.”

“Probably just a goat,” said Lucifer.

“Aren’t you eating?” I said. “Don’t you get hungry?”

His eyes widened in surprise, then crinkled at the edges when he smiled cautiously, like he wasn’t sure if he was operating his facial muscles correctly. His eyes were gold-flecked, but mostly a mossy green. If he’d been anyone else, I wouldn’t have seen the other things that lurked behind them. Lucifer wore the world’s pain in his eyes, and he let me see it.

“Actually, I’m famished, but … er,” he leaned towards me and said in a stage whisper, “have you got any Weetabix?”

“Our goats like Weetabix,” said Ezra.

I kicked him under the table, then went to get Lucifer’s cereal. It was a bit awkward with one hand. I realised how useless my left hand was. My right hand made art, my left hand made crumbs. I frowned at the state of the sideboard. I plonked the bowl of Weetabix in front of Lucifer and sat back down. I knew he wasn’t actually the devil, but it was funny how Lucifer could get in our house, when other less dangerous beings couldn’t.

“Do you ever get any visitors, Luce?” said Michael.

“I’ve been told my demeanour doesn’t inspire visitors,” he said.

“You must get bored,” said Ezra.

“Not really. People annoy me,” he said pointedly. “Actually, I did have a visitor once. The one with the funny name.”

“That really doesn’t narrow it down,” said Michael, looking at Lucifer from beneath arched eyebrows.

“He played the trumpet.”

“Malachi? Haniel? Cassiel? Fenix? Pheron? Saraph?” said Michael, shoving bacon into his face with his fingers.

Lucifer snorted. “Are they even real people? Anyway, didn’t Saraph play the lute?”

“Oh yes, he did. God, he was annoying.”

“Still, that lute kept the fire going for an extra five minutes,” said Lucifer.

“It did, indeed.” Michael laughed. “To tell the truth, I don’t remember anyone who played the trumpet.”

“Perhaps played is a bit strong,” said Lucifer, scooping his cereal onto the spoon. “He made a dreadful noise with it. Well, whoever it was, he came to see me once. Reminded me why I don’t like visitors.”

“I see what you mean about Michael,” I whispered to Eden.

“I knew that you would,” she said.

“I need to paint him.”

She laughed. “Good luck getting him to agree to that.”

Michael’s tongue came out to lick his fingers, his face smothered in meat grease.

I laughed. “I mean, he has the table manners of Henry the eighth but …”

“What about him?” said Amethyst.

“That he’s magnificent,” I whispered, faking a swoon.

Amethyst rose her eyebrows, looked at Michael, then said “Hmm.”

“Did you ditch those shares, Grandad?” said Archer.

Michael scowled. “I wish you wouldn’t call me that.”

Archer shrugged. “Did you?”

“Of course. Back in May, when you told me to. Right on time too.”

“But didn’t you tell Magnus you were at the AGM?” said Eden.

“So, I lied.”

“What were you doing?” said Eden.

Michael ignored this. “I hated those meetings,” he said instead, a disdainful look crossing his greasy face. “Why do they need to get their ducks in a row? They don’t even sell ducks. They should get their quinoa salads in a row, or their admittedly very comfortable underwear. The only thing worse than the AGM is school staff meetings. Yawn.”

“The only thing?” said Lucifer, mouth twisted into a smirk.

Michael pointed his barely used fork at Lucifer. “You’re right. Cascade meetings are the worst. But at least when Raguel says we’re singing from the same hymn sheet, we actually are.”

“Oh god, really?” said Lucifer. “He still does the hymns?”

“He thinks Azrael can hear him,” said Michael. “And God.”

“He sings to God?” said Eden.

“Oh no,” said Michael. “He sings at God.”

“What’s Cascade?” I said.

Michael looked at Eden, who said nothing. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

***

tweet

Paper Starlings: a scene about missing things

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person.

tree banner

Paper Starlings is the first of six books in the not*the*same*river series. They follow the life of Violet who, after a childhood in care, figures out that her birth family’s heritage is more complicated than she believed possible.

The series features vampires, angels, demons, werewolves, vaewolves and other vae breeds. It’s set mainly in Oxfordshire, England.

***

I spent an awkward couple of hours on a hilltop with Daniel, Sean, Amethyst and an axe-wielding giant. We met on the clumps in a little clearing. I’d been sitting on the mossy ground, my arms wrapped around my knees, for ten minutes before I spotted the man sitting in the tree. It was the scruffy guy, Old Bones, looking less scruffy than usual. He was still a mess. A tropical mess in a Hawaiian shirt with muscle-split sleeves, cargo shorts and muddy, brown builder’s boots. He watched me like I was an equation, giving no thought to how I might feel about being stared at.

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person, and he was easily as wide as Magnus, though not as tall. His blue tinted goggles were pushed up into his hair, and every time the sun shone through the trees even a little, Boxer’s pupils practically disappeared. He glared at Daniel like he was his mortal enemy, but he barely spared me a glance, for which I thanked a god I didn’t really believe in and the sweet baby Jesus for good measure. Amethyst spoke to him like he was her favourite pet. They sat as far away from Daniel as Amethyst could manage without being rude enough that Sean would notice.

Daniel and Sean talked about werewolves and gargoyles and demons, but it was easier to hear all the things they weren’t saying to each other. Amy wasn’t even a whisper. Sean said that Albert sent his apologies for not being with us, but I knew he hadn’t. Albert was somewhere in the trees; I felt his eyes on me. OB knew he was there too. He kept staring into the trees behind Sean. I refused to look.

I wasn’t even sure why I’d come. Daniel had arranged to meet Sean, and Amethyst said I might not get another chance to talk to him once Mara returned, so there I was, being ignored. I thought about heading into the trees to confront Albert, and snorted at myself. Why would I even want to do that? I did not need the approval of that grumpy-faced, misery-inducing, socially incompetent geriatric. He was almost enough to put me off oranges.

I shrieked and jumped when OB leapt out of the tree like a predator, landing in a crouch. He sat by me, smelling of moss and pine trees and rain.

“You have seen me in your dreams, yes?”

I nodded. “Aren’t I lucky?”

His laugh roared out of him. “Amethyst didn’t say you were funny girl. I think you are good for her. She needs female influence that is … healthy.”

“Sean said you’re not Mara’s greatest fan.”

“He talks too much. He has Irish mouth.” He made sockless sock-puppet hands. “Always flapping.”

“Heard that,” said Sean.

“Ears like elephant.” OB side-eyed Sean, to see if he’d interrupt again. “Ah, and now he pretends not to listen.”

“What do we need the mirror for?” I said.

OB choked. Sean laughed. Somewhere behind us, a twig snapped itself in half.

“Didn’t I say she’d ask you about that?” said Sean.

I shrugged. “Well?”

“Mirrors show us more than ourselves, and sometimes less,” said OB. “Not everyone knows what they’re looking for, but you will figure out what you’re supposed to see in mirror.” He ran his hand over his face. “Don’t worry about mirror. You will need it. You will use it. End of story.”

“That’s not much of a story.”

You will provide story,” he said. “I provide beginning and end.”

“Thanks for paying your respects at the cemetery.”

OB nodded. “You’re welcome.”

“What did you and Albert argue about the day of the Blackmore picnic?”

Sean made a garbled hissing sound, that turned into a full belly laugh when Daniel joined in.

“Brazen trumpet,” said OB.

“Brazen as a trumpet,” Sean corrected. “It makes no sense if you miss out half the words.”

“A?” said OB, making a short A sound. “That is just noise old people make when they try to move, and their bodies try to stay still. As sounds like insect.”

“We all know you don’t use articles out of spite for the English language.”

OB huffed. “It has more stupid rules than all world’s governments combined.”

“This is the worst distraction tactic ever,” I said. “Will you tell me what the argument was about?” A flurry of nuts hit the ground behind us, but I saw nothing when I turned. I smirked anyway. If Albert was there, I wanted him to know that I knew it.

“I’m not going to tell you what argument was about. It was private.”

“I knew you’d say that.”

“But you asked anyway.”

“You expected me to, didn’t you?”

“Yes. You are nosey, like your sister.” Before Amethyst could open her mouth, OB said, “Yes, I know you heard that. You are master eavesdropper. You forget I taught you how to be spy. You forget this when you creep around house saying I look like gnome.”

Boxer laughed, all guttural noise and teeth. Amethyst grinned sheepishly.

“Worst dressed gnome in history,” said Sean.

As the conversation got lighter, Albert’s presence felt heavier. We all felt it, and we all ignored it. It was like I’d had a Sean dream, like something was creeping beneath my skin. It disappeared so suddenly, leaving me cold and hot at the same time. It was loss, which was kind of sickening, and relief.

***

The source image above is from jplenio on Pixabay

Meet Si Moore

“Do you ever feel like … life is just waiting there, behind a curtain or something, waiting for you to earn it? Sometimes I feel like there’s this whole tribe waiting. My people. But I don’t know what I need to be to make the curtain fall, you know? I’m stuck.”

si coll

Context: Violet’s crush becomes a hero when he stands up to the biology teacher. Violet’s best friend is moving to Cornwall. From Paper Starlings (book 1).

***

Si did return to school a week after his escapade, and Nicholls upgraded his disdain-o-meter to a hate-o-meter purely for his benefit. But Si smiled through every loathe-encrusted look and hateful comment because he was untouchable. He cared about Nicholls’ opinion like he cared about algae.

Leia’s last day was messy and wet. She had rarely seen me cry before, and though it didn’t happen until we got to her house, it brought out her maternal side so that she became all warm and gushy like Eden. We promised each other we’d talk or text every day. She’d made me a photo album, and I’d painted a picture of the two of us in our Stitch onesies as a going-away present. On Friday morning, my brain checked out while my class watched Life of Pi. I might as well have been in double maths.

By the end of the day, I’d solidified my plan to speak to Si. My plan was this: get changed into my art overalls so that when he invited me to the scrubs, I could say yes. It was a good plan, if I didn’t factor in the probability that he wouldn’t invite me anywhere ever again, considering I’d said no last time. Leia sent me mileage updates, accompanied by crossed boxes because my crappy phone couldn’t deal with emojis. It didn’t matter; I knew they were turds. Turds were her favourite. Leia had travelled three hundred miles away from me in the five hours it took for me to formulate a half-plan. Maths felt like my enemy.

As much as Leia would’ve hated to miss it, I geared myself up for some loitering with intent. I looked ridiculous. At art club, I forced myself to wear a chronically beige boilersuit which did an admirable job of protecting everything but my hair, and made me look like a ghostbuster that had been mugged by Jackson Pollock. I stood beneath the bald tree that had offered Si anonymity before it lost its leaves, but offered me nothing. I looked ridiculous for twenty minutes while the crowd thinned. It was much harder trying to spot Si on a non-uniform day. When everyone wore navy, his hair was a beacon. When they didn’t, his hair was just another slash of orange, because apparently people who weren’t me wore orange.

By the time Si wandered out of the foyer, I’d counted to twenty another dozen or so times, twenty being the number at which I’d give up and go home. My heartbeat slowly climbed up my oesophagus, pulsing like a beast. I watched Si’s eyebrows climb, then a slight hitch catch the corners of his mouth, but no smile. He looked around like he thought I might be waiting for someone else, so I raised my hand in a half-wave. Then he smiled.

A million useless bits of sentence fell over each other in my brain while I waited for him to get to me. Then he was standing where I had stood the day he reminded me where his face was. He was looking at my overalls, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, I’m up here, when he spoke.

“You’re in the mood to paint a masterpiece?” He sucked on his bottom lip.

I tried to avoid a full-body spasm. “No. I just didn’t want to get dirty.”

He moved closer. There was no canopy now, just spiky fingers. But it wasn’t the leaves that had made the air beneath the tree dangerous.

“Where are you going that’ll get you dirty?”

“The scrubs.”

He grinned. “Me too.”

His feet were two pairs of shoes away from mine. With each breath, I released less air, until I got to the point where breathing in became impossible. I lowered my head, then let it all go in an embarrassed gush. I didn’t know whether he heard or saw or not, but I vowed to use whatever time we spent together proving that I did actually know how to breathe.

He half-turned to the gate, waiting for me to step in beside him. The dull winter light did nothing for his complexion, but I didn’t mind his bleached face. He wasn’t cold enough yet for his cheeks and nose to turn rosy. His knuckles were pink though, and shredded.

“What happened to your hands?” I said, while we walked side by side towards the gate.

“I don’t get on with my mum’s arsehole boyfriend.”

“Shit, sorry.”

“What are you apologising for?”

“I shouldn’t have asked. It’s none of my business.”

He shrugged. “It’s nice to be worried about.”

We ate up the pavement at twice the speed I walked with Leia, who could dawdle for Britain. We were quiet for a few minutes, the only sounds our shuffling breaths and synchronised footsteps.

“Leia moved today, right?” he said, side-eyeing me cautiously.

“Yeah. How’s Lewis?”

Luckily, Si knew how to take a hint. “He’s okay. He’s been making the most of his five minutes of fame.”

“How about you? Il a un point, Jeff has become a meme. You’re a legend.”

“Today, a meme. Tomorrow, a movie.”

“Exactly. You can’t buy that sort of notoriety.”

We were laughing when an obnoxiously toxic car pulled up alongside us, something dangerously black seeping from its rear-end. The window hummed down, and the driver leant across a huge plant taking up most of the passenger seat. Si groaned.

“Hey, boy. This your wifey? She’s fi-iii-ine.” I wasn’t sure where this London boy thought he was from, or why he thought fine had eighteen syllables.

“She also has ears, and class, and she isn’t my wifey.”

“Bet she knows her way around a car.”

That was an inexplicable sentence. Was it a euphemism? What the hell was he talking about? And also, Si thought I had class.

“What the hell are you talking about?” said Si.

“She’s a mechanic, right?” I laughed at his earnest expression, until it gave way to sleaze. “You can fondle my gearstick whenever you like, baby.”

“No, she’s not a fucking mechanic.” Si was no longer winter-white.

“I’m a ghostbuster,” I shouted.

Si laughed, then dropped all humour. “What do you want, Ryan?”

“Just checking in, bruv. You want a ride someplace?”

“No. And stay away from the flat. The new one’s huge.”

Ryan tipped his head dismissively, then roared away leaving a black fog behind.

“The new one’s huge?” I said, flapping my arm across my face to avoid choking.

“My mum’s boyfriend.”

My eyes were in danger of drying out, they’d gone so wide. “He’ll hurt you.”

He smiled gently. “He’s not that big. I just said that so Ryan wouldn’t turn up at the flat.”

“Right.” I laughed. “Did he really have a seatbelt on a marijuana plant?”

Si didn’t laugh. “There’s probably worse in his glove box.”

“So, how do you know him?”

“I don’t. Not really. He’s just a twat my mum knows. I’m sorry he said those things about you.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ve heard worse, and I definitely do not know my way around a car.”

By the time we got to the scrubs, I remembered the other reason I didn’t go there. An eight-foot chicken wire fence.

“Shit,” I said.

“I can give you a leg-up.”

“Your hands are already broken.”

“I can take your weight.” He leant close to my ear, and said, “I already did, remember?”

I shuddered. “You mean I didn’t dream that particular humiliation?”

He shook his head. “Totally real.”

“So you give me a leg-up, then what? I face-plant into the chicken wire, and go home looking like I’ve been griddled?”

He laughed. “Fine. There’s a weaker spot in the fence we can crawl through, but it’s around the other side.”

“You just wanted to see me get scuffed up. That’s evil.”

***

Roots and Wings: Being Human

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

From the second book in the not*the*same*river series. When you find out you’re powerful and have a real-life nemesis, and all you want is to be normal, to be human. Violet goes out with neighbourhood bad boy, Jed, earning herself a hangover.

The series features angels, demons, vampires, vaewolves and a mesmerising nipple ring.

This isn’t one scene, but snippets of a few.

***

I didn’t remember much of what came next. We spilled out of a kebab shop, throwing salad at the gutter, leaving just greasy meat and pitta bread behind in the paper. I couldn’t even eat mine, because, a) who the hell thought greasy meat was good drunk food? And, b) I was assaulted with brain pictures of Leia’s will-somebody-think-of-the-animals face. Jordan’s Scottish friend, who was called Shelley, even though he was at least six-four, and built like Archer, kindly offered to take the unwanted kebab off my hands.

I fell over a hedge into someone’s garden, then insisted Jed count all the scratches on my arms while the rest of us tried to make him lose count. I sang an Elvis song that I knew almost none of the words to, from a horizontal position in the middle of a grassy roundabout. I told a knock-knock joke using Ollie’s nipple ring as a door-knocker. Then I listened to him waffle on about job opportunities in London, and watched him get dragged into an alley by Jordan’s enormous Scottish friend, where they kissed the life out of each other. And I got pissed on. Violently and inadvertently—when I leant against a wall that wasn’t there and landed on my butt in a shop doorway—but pissed on nonetheless. I would like to claim the urinator wasn’t human. I can’t claim that. Me and alcohol are not friends. The less said about it, the better.

***

Eden and Daniel looked at me in a way I should’ve recognised but didn’t. At least I didn’t smell like I’d slept in a skip anymore. I tried to remember the night before, but my head was a noisy room. My ears buzzed, some synapses died, the backs of my eyeballs got pins and needles. My stomach felt like it had been taken out and rolled in salt and vinegar. It shrivelled and spat and itched.

I was vaguely aware of shouting voices when Jed carried me into the house, but I didn’t remember the drive home. I only had snatches of memory—Jed arguing with Daniel, Jed sticking up for me, Daniel asking why the hell I smelled like piss, and did Jed know that I was only sixteen, Eden and Glenda making clucking sounds, and threatening Daniel and Jed with something unrepeatable if they didn’t keep the noise down. Not unrepeatable because it was too rude to repeat, though it could’ve been—Eden did a fine line in Shakespearian put-downs—but because I couldn’t remember the actual words. It may have involved genitals. I was pretty sure something unsavoury was peeled off my face at one point.

Maybe this was my second shot at being ordinary. I got drunk and stayed out late when I shouldn’t have gone out at all. Shouldn’t I get grounded for that? Or have my cracked phone taken away? Or my laptop? I shuffled in my chair. Apparently neither of them planned to say anything.

“I’m sorry. I drank shots. I stayed out late. I came home reeking of unholiness.”

***

Jed: How are you feeling?

I dragged my scaly tongue around my rancid, dry mouth, wishing I’d brushed my teeth before leaving the house. Magnus’ hangover cure was grim with a furry residue.

Me: Like I licked my way home.

Jed: Shit! I should’ve stopped you. I thought you just liked the taste of pavement.

Me: Funny boy. Hope Daniel didn’t give you too much grief.

Jed: Not really. Eden called me a vexatious skank-maggot. I felt kinda proud to be worthy of one of her insults.

Me: She’s Queen Shakespeare.

Jed: Grandad writes them down. What are you up to?

Me: Right now? Multi-tasking. Dying, hating myself, praying for clarity, wondering if birds have always been this loud, and exploring the feasibility of a brightness slider for the sky.

Jed: You’re not dying. Please don’t hate yourself. Clarity might just be wishful thinking. That’s what earplugs are for. And sunglasses.

Me: You can’t see me right now. Let me wallow. Clarity will be mine. Nobody likes a smartarse x2.

I rolled onto my back, feeling a bit less on the verge of death. Someone had turned the brightness down, or maybe the sun had taken pity on me.

I marvelled at the size of the sky. It felt different here. When I lived in London, there were buildings crammed in everywhere, making the sky smaller and further away. Even the parks had trees shielding the sky. People who planned cities made it that way to hole us in. There was too much freedom in the sky. It made us think of escape. But lying on my back in the north field, arms stretched out in the grass above my head, the sky reached from the tips of my fingers to the toes of my boots. I stretched my body, butt and shoulder-blades connected to the earth, to its heat, and all around me, sky. Thick, rolling waves of it. Tickling, whispering puffs of it.

Jed: I kind of want to see you right now. I want us to be proper friends. Are you busy?

Me: Yeah, picking Leia up from Heathrow. I should go actually. But I can’t get a signal indoors, so don’t think I’m ignoring you.

Jed: OK, some other time then.

Me: Sure. And thanks for being there last night.

Jed: No probs.

Me: I don’t hate you.

Jed: I know.

Big-headed arse. I hate you.

***

Picture by Prawny on Pixabay.

Moonstruck Consent: Costumes and Cascade

catwoman-3227950_1280

Excerpt from book four of the not*the*same*river series. After Violet escapes her captors, she strives to get back to normal. Note: Leia is Violet’s best friend. Seth (and the other boys spoken about—Ezra, Ben & Archer) are her brothers. Amethyst is Violet’s twin. Sean is the man who brought her up. Cascade is an un/holy organisation protecting humanity from those seeking to destroy it. Asgaut Scarth is a two hundred year-old vaewolf.

***

“Leia, I need your help,” I said, staring at the horrific costume that Seth was currently assembling on my body.

“She’s exaggerating,” Seth bellowed.

Leia huffed. “I’ve only been back home for two days.”

“I know, and I’m sorry, but I need a costume for the party. Even if I wanted to wear this, which I don’t,” I added for Seth’s benefit, “my dad would freak out.”

“Not as much as Mum did when she found Ezra going through her underwear looking for a corset,” said Seth.

Leia laughed. “What does he want a corset for?”

“Frank … N … Furter,” said Seth.

She snorted down the phone and kept crying out, “oh god.”

Ezra put on his fiercest pout yet when Eden declared her wardrobe off-limits. He threatened to buy a corset of his own, and there was a massive argument about how going through your parents’ clothes was a rite of passage, and how Magnus’ wardrobe was too pedestrian—if pedestrians were giants—and that she wouldn’t have any objection if he was a girl, and she said he was too young regardless of gender to prance about in sexy underwear, and he accused her of not seeing how fitting it was for him to go to the party as a cross-dressing scientist. The whole thing fizzled out with lipstick bribery and Ben using diplomatic skills I didn’t know he had.

Then there’d been an argument about my hair and, for once, Amethyst was completely on my side. Seth was sitting in his empty bath while Kite perched on the edge, buzzing his hair off at the back, when Seth suggested I try to straighten mine, and my mouth was so full of what-the-hell that Amethyst jumped in on my behalf. She told us how she tried to straighten her hair a few years ago, and how everyone told her not to—like she was going to listen to a bunch of old white people. She said it looked like shredded wheat afterwards, and Sean bought her some hair clips with little birds on to put in her nest. And apparently Boxer had laughed so hard he fell off a ladder into a rain barrel and killed it. Then Sean had spent thirty-six hours trying to fix Amethyst’s hair but ended up taking her to one of Tabby’s friends to sort it out because it still looked twiglety. Nobody mentioned straightening my hair again.

“So, what do you need?” said Leia.

“Something that covers my whole butt,” I said, glaring at Seth, “and that won’t give my dad a coronary.”

“The jacket covers your whole butt,” said Seth.

“But I’m melting, and I’ve only been wearing it for five minutes. There’s no way I can keep this on all night.” I sort of liked the tattooed t-shirt and the purple glove, but … “All these chains are heavy. I feel like Mr Harvey.”

“Who’s Mr Harvey?” said Leia.

“Just … you know, never mind. Point is, I feel horrible in this, and I really need you to make me something nice, and not something that makes me look like an extra in GTA.”

“The party’s in three days, Vi, and I haven’t finished my costume yet.” She was silent for a few seconds, then said, “But I’ve still got—”

“What? Still got what?”

“You remember when I made my phoenix costume,” she said, and I could practically feel the heat of her blushes bouncing off the satellite. “And remember I was going to make you one, but you told me not to because you’d look like a black pudding in a catsuit?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly.

“Well, I ignored you and made it anyway,” she said.

“A catsuit?” said Seth, bouncing around my room. “Yes. Yes. That’s perfect.”

“I’m not going to the party dressed as a black pudding.”

“No, I have the goggles already,” he said. “They’re purple, it’s perfect. All we’ll need is the headpiece. And best of all, we’ll still match.”

I huffed. “Now say it again in words I can understand.”

“Catwoman,” he said.

“I’ll be even hotter in a catsuit,” I said.

“Yeah, you will,” said Leia, “but not in the way you mean.”

“Your man will love it,” said Seth.

I bit my lip, then against my better judgement, I said, “Sold.”

“I’ll only need to make minor adjustments, I never got around to putting the V on it anyway, and the headpiece shouldn’t take long at all. I’ll make it so you can still wear a ponytail.”

“Thanks, hobbit. You’re the best.”

“Do you know who Archer’s going as?” she said. “He won’t tell me, wouldn’t let me help with the costume, nothing.”

“Not a clue,” I said.

“He won’t tell me either,” said Seth, raising his voice so Leia could hear him from across the room. “He hinted that Violet was his primary motivation though.” He looked at me in an Alberty-x-ray way. “He wants to make you laugh. Someone with a beard, that’s all I know.” He ran his hand across his own chin. “Time to get rid of mine. It’s not really having the intended effect anyway.”

“What intended effect?” I said.

“If we’re done, I need to go,” said Leia.

“Okay, we’ll see you on Saturday.” I hung up and turned to Seth. “What intended effect?”

He chewed his nail until I batted his hand away from his mouth. “I thought it might put off a certain person.”

“The postman?” I said excitedly.

“No, not the postman,” said Seth, frowning at me like I was an idiot. “Though Archer was right about that.”

“You found out who sent the scarf?” I said, trying to pull the chains off without getting any caught in my hair.

He went red, then gathered up the chains so I had two hands to hold my hair out of the way while he slipped them off me. “Yeah, but there’s nothing to tell there, and I’d rather spare them the embarrassment, especially since they’ll probably be at the party, and I’d rather you didn’t flap your mouth.”

“Oh, oh, is it one of the Blackmores? Oh god, is it a woman like you thought? It’s not Sarah Tully, is it?”

“Please drop it,” he said. “I know you want to get back to normal, but this isn’t something I want people gossiping about, okay?”

I nodded. “Sorry. Just … yeah, you’re right. I’m trying too hard to find normal things to get excited about.”

“You’re not excited about the party on its own?”

“I’m not feeling too into people right now,” I said, shrugging off the thick purple coat. “I … haven’t told anyone this yet, but I have to make a drawing of Asgaut Scarth for Cascade.”

If he’d been drinking tea, he would’ve spat it. “Cascade came to you? And Dad let them in the house?”

“No, we were at Tabby’s, and they were subtle. I met Daniel’s sister and one of Uriel’s line and one of Lucifer’s line. They said they were there to check her security, but they didn’t all need to be there for that. And apparently, nobody has ever seen his face. Not even Albert, and he tried to kill him once.”

“Albert tried to kill him?”

“Other way round.”

“How come you saw his face?”

“You can’t tell anyone.”

When he nodded, I told him everything. With each memory revealed, he held me tighter. I let him have my tears, crying until I ran dry, and letting myself believe they’d be the last. Just like I let myself believe the nightmare was over every morning when I woke up soaked in my own sweat with leeches and needles and wolves disintegrating in the light.

***

Source image above is from James_Jester on Pixabay.