I wanted to run. I wanted to run away, but I felt rooted to the spot. Dopplinda’s spell had pushed all of the fire to the edges of the room — in fact, the flames had mostly vanished as though they had been smothered. And I couldn’t hear anything from outside of the basement. Was her barrier against the fire warded somehow, or had she extinguished the flames everywhere? It didn’t really matter. I couldn’t run. I was trapped with this monster by my own inability to get over my emotions and control my legs.
I had never really known my grandmother from Dad’s side. She had died — no, she hadn’t had she? But she had stopped being a part of our lives when I was too young to remember her. I knew that mom had admired her. She always wanted to live up to grandma’s expectations. ‘What would your grandmother think?’ Mom had thrown that in my face whenever I was particularly troublesome; whenever I really failed to live up to mom’s standards.
And Mom hadn’t been talking about her grandma, who was still alive and well — and whom Mom never spoke to or allowed to come over. But she hadn’t been talking about my grandma either, had she? By the time she’d met ‘grandma’ she would have been meeting Dopplinda in a grandma suit, instead.
“Why,” I croaked. “Why are you telling me this?” None of it had anything to do with whatever Mister Salvatore and Director Lewellyn were up to. “We should leave,” I said dumbly. I was trying to convince myself that the director’s plotting was all that was important — that I could ignore the other stuff Dopplinda had said, because it didn’t pertain to that. That it didn’t matter that so much of my life, my mom’s life — my dad’s life — had been fucked up by lies and deceit.
It wasn’t a very successful attempt.
But we should have left the building. We were only still in this damn funeral parlor because Dopplinda had decided to sit and talk. If she’d just kept pretending to be dead, I would’ve carried her out. Sure, she’d still be stuck in that casket probably, but I wouldn’t have had to find out that a monster had been feeding on my family ever since my dad had been a kid, fucking with our lives; trying to kill me….
“Oh, Abigail. Sweetheart. Dearest.” The faerie who had stolen my real grandmother’s life pouted at me. Her voice dripped with the sympathy of someone who was about to tell someone else an unpleasant truth, and already felt sorry for them. “I still hate you, sweetie,” Dopplinda said. “You never should have been born. You only were because your mother was a faithless hussy who married for social status and financial security, and cheated on her husband despite her vows. And you’re only alive because my boy is too kindhearted of a soul, and I couldn’t bear to put him through the grief of losing a child he didn’t even know wasn’t his.”
I stared at her. No. That… that can’t be right. For some reason I couldn’t stop myself from trembling. Oh. I couldn’t put together a real protest, for some reason. But that did explain the trembling. The reason was that I couldn’t overcome the horror of what I was being told.
Dopplinda tilted her head and frowned, her bottom lip still out — the expression was a caricature of sadness. “We’re here because I want you to suffer, Abigail,” she explained. “And since I couldn’t keep pretending to be Linda with you I get to do what I want, instead. So I’m telling you these things because nothing cuts as viciously as the truth.”
My vision seemed to blur, but I couldn’t tell why. I felt dizzy; nauseous. Like I was suspended over some sort of yawning abyss — like reality had somehow started falling away, even though I was still frozen in place by my inability to get up and run away.
Dopplinda pursed her lips again in her mockery of a saddened pout. “I tried to kill you when you were born,” she explained as though to a child. “I was so outraged that your mother broke her vows and produced you that I ripped open your soul to let the essences within be consumed by the weave, so that not even a scrap of you would be able to survive. Not even as a ghost.”
She gave a long suffering sigh. “But my William was distraught when the doctors started panicking and the machines began shrieking with their beeps and tones, while they all tried to keep that last little bit of your soul in place and he was stuck watching. I just had to fix it for him. I stitched the scraps of your soul back together, to spare my son your death.” Her mockery of sadness twisted, hardening into a hateful scowl. “And I still find myself regretting being so soft hearted. Every time I see you.”
Was I breathing? I couldn’t tell. I tried to gasp for air, but it wrenched into a strangled sob.
“I used to try to kill you again, and again, and again,” Dopplinda growled at me. I could see her eyes glitter when her words struck me. Our leyline wasn’t really open: my end focused on emptiness and hers was obscured. But she didn’t need to look down it to see me flinch. “Except… Each time, after I’d pulled your aura apart and reclaimed the bits of my soul that I’d used to stitch it together, I would think about my poor boy, trying to hold back his tears while the doctors worked to keep your infant corpse’s heart beating. How would he feel when you were found on the next morning? So every time I ended up stitching your soul back together.”
“You… …every time?” I felt myself shiver uncontrollably. I had been told that being fed on by faeries excessively could scar the soul; make people paranoid and afraid and… The stitchwork of faerie essence frozen into the boundaries of my soul overwhelmed my thoughts. Stitched the scraps of your soul back together… How many times had Dopplinda come by to ‘check on’ dad after ‘dying’ as grandma? How often was ‘every time?’ “You’re the reason I’m like this?” I stammered. “You’re the faerie who fucked up my ability to be normal?”
Dopplinda smiled self deprecatingly. “Do you mean am I the reason you are still alive? Yes. The rest, I think, is simply karma for the fact of your disgusting existance. I eventually promised myself I would stop trying to just kill you — mending you again always ruined the satisfaction I should have felt. So instead, every time I visited my son I was forced to find other ways of punishing your mother for her broken vows.” She laughed. “And I think I did quite well at it, even without doing the obvious and removing you.” She smirked at me. “You’ve met your mother. How happy do you think she is with the life she’s made for herself?”
I stared. I stared at the faerie in front of me and listened to her start laughing again while memories washed over me unbidden. Of my mother’s constant unhappiness and pessimism. Of my constant failures to live up to being the daughter she wanted. Of the bitterness and criticism I’d lived with, and had only recently started to acknowledge was there — of the horrible person my mother was, which I had done my absolute best to ignore for all of my life, but been forced to see when my undeath stripped my emotions away and left me too objective to deny it and too self centered to be willing to put up with it.
And then I thought: My father loves her. There had to have been something about her to love, once. And this monster took that away. Ruined her life. Fucked with her emotions and mind. Did who knows what to her. And to me.
Maybe, if I hadn’t been torn apart and stitched back together; maybe if mom hadn’t been tortured my entire life by a monster none of us knew existed…
Maybe, if things had been different…
Maybe I would have grown up as someone who could have been worth a mother’s love; with a mother who could have actually loved me.
I was crying. I didn’t know when they started, but tears streaked my face. I wasn’t sobbing, though. I was good at not sobbing, and this grief was too deep for that — and more importantly, all of the rage and hurt I had ever felt at something mom said or did; that I was forced to repress and ignore because I loved my mother — had, for once, a target I could turn it all against without guilt.
So I ignored my tears. I ignored the heat and ache in my face, and the way my body trembled and the urge to crumple and vomit up grief. And instead, I screamed in the face of Dopplinda’s laughter.
“You BITCH!” I didn’t recognize my own voice. It seemed like it was amplified unnaturally in the small basement — or maybe amplified supernaturally, by whatever power it was that let me speak without breathing. I didn’t know and I cared even less.
Dopplinda was startled out of her laughter, and even tried to jerk away as I launched myself at her. I was much faster than she was, though, and I bowled her over, out of her chair and onto the floor.
“Give me one reason not to end you for everything you’ve done to my family,” I snarled. “Just one.”
Dopplinda recovered quickly, and her brief fear dissolved into a sneer. “I’m fae,” she told me derisively. “And a fae noble. Gremlins and sprites might fear your kind, but I do not. Go ahead and try to kill me, Abigail: I’ll just return.”
I bared my fangs. “I didn’t say kill,” I whispered. “I said end.” Could I? Megan wasn’t nearby for me to push essence to easily. I would have to draw from Dopplinda and then freeze time to prevent her from fighting back. I didn’t know if I could make myself do that, but the white-hot fury in me stabbed through the buffer around my curse, letting that side of me free to override my ‘normal’ lens of fear and doubt. And suddenly, I wasn’t even remotely afraid of the consequences of my actions. In fact: I realized hadn’t told Dopplinda I would spare her if she gave me that one reason.
I decided I wouldn’t. After all, she’d tried to kill me once — and I hated her for far more reason than she’d had to hate me.
Plus: fuck her. With the urges that were usually walled behind the buffer that restrained my curse now dominant, I really didn’t give a fuck what anyone other than myself thought about anything.
And I thought that I would like to make her pay in kind for the mental anguish she’d just inflicted on me — and then I’d make sure she never bothered me again.
Dopplinda paled. “You… you can’t,” she said. She sounded more like she was trying to convince herself than me. Like maybe she’d remembered Archarel. Like maybe she was realizing that I wasn’t just a little human girl anymore. “I’m your grandmother,” she protested.
“Really?” I asked. “Because it sounds to me like you rejected that idea when you tried to kill me for not being my father’s daughter. It sounds to me like you kidnapped my grandmother by tricking her in a dream. Like you stole her son along with her life. Like you murdered my grandfather.” Okay, so apparently grandpa had been an abusive asshole. The point still stood. I grabbed a handful of Dopplinda’s hair and used it to yank her head back. Her skull cracked on the exposed concrete of the basement floor, but my actual aim was to stretch out her neck. “Try again,” I hissed.
“Listen to me,” she shouted. I heard desperation in it. She wanted to regain control of the conversation — she was panicking because I wasn’t panicking. “You’re weak and cowardly, Abigail,” she snapped — as though those barbs would wound me as I was right now. Maybe when my buffer was sealed again — but that wouldn’t be until I fed. On her. “You can’t hurt me,” Dopplinda protested when I didn’t flinch. “If.. If you try, I’ll… I’ll just vanish away. I’ll take it out on someone else. Your mother.”
“I have you,” I said. I cracked her head against the floor again and gouged my fingers into her shoulder to prove my point. “Faeries can’t escape when someone has a hold of them.”
Dopplinda laughed. It was equal parts spiteful and afraid. “I’m no ancient to put such stupid restrictions on herself,” she sneered. “Like some leprechaun who gambles their powers away for the fun of taking risks.” She turned cruel as she contradicted me, growing haughty as her confidence returned. “And your family will pay for this.” She started to fade away, pulling herself into that in between reality.
But I had already extended my awareness into that place. Extended myself into that level of reality. She couldn’t pull away from me. Her eyes started to widen in shock, only to go dazed when I smacked her head into the floor again. Despite herself, she turned solid again. It was my turn to smile: she was a product of our world, so it took effort for her to pull away from it. As long as I didn’t let her, she wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“I’m not a child, Dopplinda,” I told her when she started to regain her focus. “I’m not that infant you tried to kill, or the little girl who couldn’t even see you, that you tormented for no fault of her own.” I smiled. Really, it was an excuse to brandish my fangs at her again. I couldn’t wait to taste how terrified she had to be now that I’d shown her escape was impossible. “I am a monster. Just. Like. You. Except that when I kill, I don’t fucking go halfway. I end it.”
I could see the terror in her eyes. It felt good. Dopplinda knew she was prey, and she was the one trembling, now. “I… I can tell you where your grandmother is,” she said. “Who your father really is!”
I snapped forward, sinking my fangs into her neck. It was a quick bite, though: just enough for me to tear out a chunk of essence along with a chunk of flesh. I spat the scrap of skin back in Dopplinda’s face and fed the bit of essence directly into my curse. I even shifted my end of our leyline back so that she could see the way the vamparism ripped her soul into formless pieces that were spat back out into my aura — and then I shifted the ley line off to emptiness again.
Dopplinda screamed in pain, and then started to sob. She fucking deserved it.
“My father,” I said, “is named William. He’s at home now, working to get it warded against faeries like you, bitch. You will never see him again without us allowing it. And once I tell him that you exist; what you’ve done… Well, you know how he is. He’ll kill you himself if you come after us. Any of us. Even mom.”
Dopplinda’s jaw worked silently until a soft wail freed itself. Her eyes were giant circles of fear, and tears ran freely down from them.
“As for grandma?” I asked. “I never knew her. And I don’t really give a shit about someone who sold their kid to a monster like you.”
I pushed myself up slightly and shifted my grip on Dopplinda. Dammit. I shouldn’t have taken that bite. Faerie blood was the most potent — with the fire pushed back and not draining me, feeding that scrap of Dopplinda to my curse had restored a part of my soul. It conflicted with my ruthless self interest; my killer instinct. My thoughts whirled as disparate parts of me struggled against each other.
“But she was dad’s mom,” I finally admitted. “So I’ll let him decide if he wants to know anything about where she is now.”
Dopplinda gasped — I had no idea what she was thinking or feeling, but she relaxed slightly. Maybe she’d just realized that I couldn’t destroy her and let dad decide if he wanted to find out about his mother from her.
But just because I couldn’t destroy her, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t kill her.
With a snarl I wrenched, twisting her head until her neck snapped audibly. Her body spasmed once, simultaneous with the attack, and went still. I didn’t let her go, though. She hadn’t disappeared — she was a part of this world, after all. But at least she’d shut up. And her spell collapsed.
Suddenly, I could hear the crackle and roar of the fire again — Dopplinda had smothered it here in the basement, but it still raged above us. The ruthless part of me was glad I’d ended our conversation: I wanted to get out of this fucking burning building before it collapsed and I was stuck in the basement forever with a bitchy psychopathic changeling.
I dragged Dopplinda back to the casket — the warded casket — by her hair. Then I stuffed her into it and closed the lids. Fucking bitch. Daniel had been right: faeries that can’t be trusted not to mistreat humans needed to be jailed. I was going to have to talk to Kallaher’s ghost. For some reason, the thought of sticking faeries in warded caskets, buried on hallowed ground, made me smile. Let them try to free themselves! I bet if I explained to Benny what kind of monsters they were, his church wards would rip them to unidentifiable shreds.
I turned to the metal table that had been used to support the casket over it’s pyre. The metal was still hot, and it twisted apart easily under the influence of my superhuman strength. I used the legs and support pieces to secure the casket’s lid once more, wrapping them around it and tying them together like giant twisty ties.
Then I hefted the casket up. It was awkward, but the weight was no problem for my vampiric strength. I could manage.
And then — still angry, still hurt; still a jumble of vampire and human emotions — I walked out of the funeral home to look for Elaine. I hadn’t found Linda’s corpse or her ghost, but in the end I supposed this was still a success after all. I mean: Linda was alive, and Dopplinda could lead us to her, too. The human portions of my emotions looked forward to being able to tell Elaine that.
I smiled to myself. The vampire portions of my soul hoped that Elaine’s hunt had gone equally well — or perhaps just well enough that there was someone left over for me to rip into teeny, tiny pieces, too.