“Fuck off and die.” Katherine’s parting words rang in my ears, but the images that swam in front of my eyes had nothing to do with her. Usually when I think about violent murder I picture it happening to me. Those are the fantasies that make sense when I’m in them. Now I just saw Fumiko’s body crumpled against a wall. Her mouth open in surprise; her eyes sightlessly staring; her throat torn out. And blood: Fumiko’s blood, everywhere, because Mr. Salvatore didn’t want it. He wanted Megan’s.
I couldn’t see what he’d do to Megan. In my waking nightmare, they never found her body.
I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. It would be my fault. Katherine was right about that. I couldn’t let it happen. Hadn’t I sworn to myself that I would keep Megan safe from Mr. Salvatore? I would. I had to.
But what could I do?
What could I ever do?
Fuck off and die.
I stumbled past Bob and into the club. Megan had too much of a headstart. There was no way I could get to the office before her, not with the way I drive. I wouldn’t even be able to outrace Katherine.
I got to the bar and waved to Mark. “Keys,” I said, and he passed them over without comment.
I paid the guard at the parking lot on my way to the car. I didn’t say anything to him. I felt too guilty. He’d told us to be safe, but now Megan was fleeing into danger and I….
…I was going to do what I always did in a crisis.
Something crazy and stupid.
Funnily enough, my mind wasn’t whirling in anxious circles. I was too depressed to freak out like that. And that made my course of action… obvious.
Fuck off and die.
I called Fumiko from the car. I didn’t even care that I was on the phone while driving. For once I didn’t care that I was playing fast and loose with my life like that.
I didn’t expect to make it through the evening.
“Fumiko?” I asked when she picked up. “Change of plans. You need to leave.”
“Why, what happened?” Fumiko asked. “Did you get ahold of Megan?”
I swallowed. “I talked to Katherine,” I said instead of answering. “I mentioned what you’d said about Mr. Salvatore acting creepy, and Katherine said Mr. Salvatore’s illness has nothing to do with his physical health, but when she went to see him at lunch he looked like he was off his meds.” If I were in any condition to feel amazement, I probably would have. In the absence of neurotic fear to drive me or shut me down, I was lying like a pro. “Fumiko, he’s obsessed with Megan and he might go after her friends if he realizes she’s not going to show. Promise me you’ll go someplace safe – crash with a friend or get a hotel. Whatever. Just get out of there now.”
Fumiko swore softly. “Seriously? That’s…. shit,” she said. “Okay. You really don’t need me to keep an eye out for Megan?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t worry about it and don’t hang around. Just get out of there. I have to call Hans and let him know about Mr. Salvatore’s meds. Maybe he can do something about it.”
“Okay,” Fumiko said. I hung up before she could ask any more questions.
Then I pulled over at an intersection. I took a deep breath. My nerves were winding up again. What if I hadn’t managed to convince Fumiko? My skin crawled. I felt like the world was watching me, waiting for me to fuck up.
Fuck off and die, I reminded myself. I clung to the depression. I was going to need to lie.
I turned on the car’s blinkers and got out. The intersection was dark. The street lights seemed sparse, and there was no one else around. I hadn’t wanted to stop too close to the club, in case Megan decided to go back there instead of to the office.
I called Hans.
“Hello, this is Hans,” he said when he picked up. His accent sent a thrill down my spine; I forced it down with shame. This wasn’t the time – especially since I didn’t know if I could trust him. I wanted to – I could really have used a giant, brawny Viking at my side. But I couldn’t risk finding out he was Mr. Salvatore’s henchman the hard way.
“Hans?” My voice cracked. It wasn’t entirely an act: My depression was rapidly giving way to fear, and I was cold and alone and I hurt.
“Abigail! What’s wrong?” Hans’ concern was immediate and felt genuine – but I still couldn’t trust him. What if it was all an act? I mean… look at how well I’d lied to Fumiko. And she was my friend.
“Our car broke down. We were coming to the office, but… And the tow place closed for the holiday evening and I can’t get ahold of anyone else and I’m scared.”
I started to pace. It was becoming less of an act by the second. My ankle protested, but not painfully enough to stop my growing case of nerves. “It’s dark and I can’t stop thinking about goblins and monsters and I’m scared – and I know I shouldn’t be because Megan doesn’t believe in them but she’s drunk and drunk people will believe in anything and I didn’t know who else to call and I don’t know what to do.” I gasped for breath. I was going to start hyperventilating. What the hell was wrong with me? What was I doing?
“Tell me where you are and I’ll come get you,” Hans said immediately.
I swallowed back my fears. Oh, yeah – that was what I was doing. “But you can’t!” I cried. “You have to stay with Mr. Salvatore. What if there’s an emergency? What if he goes berserk like last year? I don’t know why I called you. I must be stupid. I’m so sorry. I’m just so afraid….”
“My car can seat four,” Hans said soothingly. “I’ll explain it’s an emergency and bring Salvatore along. Alright? You don’t have to worry. Just tell me where you are.”
Yes! If Mr. Salvatore left the party before Megan showed up, it would give Katherine the time she needed to get Megan and get her away from there. My voice trembled as I gave Hans the intersection I’d stopped at.
Hans repeated it back and waited for me to confirm. “Okay,” he said. “Stay with Megan. Stay somewhere lit. Salvatore and I will be there before you know it.”
“Okay,” I said weakly. I swallowed and hung up. I was trembling. The depression had been replaced with my usual neurosis – Fumiko was safe, and Megan would be. I looked up at the street signs. I’d stopped so I could give real directions when Hans asked for them. I didn’t know my way around well enough to make up something plausible that would show up if he tried to search a map with his phone. By all reasonable logic, I should get back in the car now and run.
But I couldn’t do that. Running would just be thinking about my safety. I’d been selfish enough already. I’d endangered Fumiko and Megan. What if Katherine didn’t find Megan and Mr. Salvatore decided not to leave tomorrow? What would one night’s safety mean then, for any of us?
Besides, since when have I bowed to logical reason?
I shivered and clutched my arms around myself while I paced. I wasn’t a good friend. I knew that. But I had chocolate in my purse for Megan, and I was ready to do whatever it took to keep her safe.
Maybe I’d be lucky, and Hans wasn’t a part of Mr. Salvatore’s machinations. But if it came down to it, I was willing to trade my life for Megan’s. If I provoked Mr. Salvatore into feeding – if he couldn’t stop himself – his humanity would assert itself. The guilt that had saved Katherine and made Mr. Salvatore institutionalize himself would come back. With a year to do it in and without me accidentally standing in her way Katherine could sweep Megan off her feet and carry her off to somewhere they could be happy together. Maybe California. I tried to think about the two of them kissing at their wedding, but it wasn’t a cheerful thought. It wasn’t even hot – sure, they were both beautiful in their dresses, but I’d be too dead to attend the ceremony.
That was just depressing.
Then my heel struck an uneven bit of sidewalk and my abused ankle gave out with a final spike of pain. I caught myself, but my knees and palm scraped against the concrete of the sidewalk. I started to cry. I couldn’t even walk right. This wasn’t going to work. Hans wasn’t going to be on my side. I hardly even knew him. And how was I going to provoke Mr. Salvatore into feeding on me and crippling himself with guilt? I couldn’t even provoke Hans into ravaging me, and he actually was a wolf.
I choked on a sob. That’s how it would go down, wasn’t it? Megan was the girl everyone wanted. I was the one they used as a convenient meal for the guard dog.
I sat down and stared at my hands. My knees and palm were bleeding where I’d scraped them in my fall. The night air stung them. I giggled. I couldn’t help myself. Hans was Mr. Salvatore’s guard dog. Who would have thought I really would get torn apart by a wolf? I started to laugh.
I was cold, and lonely, and it was dark. Shadows lurked in the alleys, around the buildings – even under Megan’s car. I wondered idly what might be lurking in them. Maybe I’d get knifed by homeless cannibals or carried off by goblins instead of eaten by Hans.
I froze. I’d stopped laughing. That might actually… No. What was I thinking? Sure, if I vanished they’d think Megan had vanished with me, but… No. Maybe?
I looked around myself. It was dark, and I was alone – and I still felt like there were things hiding out in the shadows, waiting to grab me.
It was just the same as I’ve felt my whole life.
A life spent in paranoid fear.
Fear that Hans said the bad fae used to sustain themselves.
Was it really paranoia if sinister supernatural forces actually are lurking in the shadows, feeding on your terror?
“Okay,” I called out to the darkness. “You’ve been getting a free meal off of me my whole damn life.” My voice seemed to echo in the alleys. “And you know what? I’m not even going to hold that against you. Because now I seriously need some help, and you owe me. So get out here where we can talk. I want to make a deal.”
For a moment the night was still. My voice faded, leaving only shocked silence. And then….
Then the shadows started to move.