Chapter no 1 – October, One Month Before

Hell Bent

Alex wasn’t far from Tara’s apartment. She’d driven these streets with Darlington at the start of her freshman year, walked them when she was hunting Tara’s killer. It had been winter then, the branches bare, the tiny yards crusted with dirty mounds of snow. This neighborhood looked better in the still-warm days of early October, clouds of green leaves softening the edges of the rooflines, ivy climbing over the chain-link fences, all of it made gentle and dreamy by the glint of streetlights carving golden circles into the soft hours of dusk.

She was standing in the well of shadow between two row houses, watching the street that fronted the Taurus Cafe, a windowless lump of brick decorated by signs promising keno and lotto and Corona. Alex could hear the thump of music from somewhere inside. Small rings of people smoked and chatted beneath the lights, despite the sign beside the door that read No loitering police take notice. She was glad of the noise, but less happy at the prospect of so many witnesses seeing her come and go. Better to come back in the daytime when the street would be deserted, but she didn’t have that luxury.

She knew the bar would be packed with Grays, drawn by sweat, bodies pressed together, the damp clink of beer bottles; she wanted someone closer to hand.

There—a Gray in a parka and a beanie, hovering by an arguing couple, undisturbed by the heavy heat of a too-long summer. She made eye contact with him, his baby face an uncomfortable jolt. He’d died young.

Come on along,” she sang under her breath, then gave a disgusted snort. She had that goofy song in her head. Some a cappella group had been

practicing in the courtyard when Alex was getting ready to leave the dorm. “How are they already starting that shit?” Lauren had complained,

sorting through her crates of vinyl, her blond hair even brighter after a summer spent lifeguarding.

“It’s Irving Berlin,” Mercy had noted. “I don’t care.”

“It’s also racist.”

“That shit is racist!” Lauren had called out of the window and put AC/DC on her record player, turning the volume all the way up.

Alex loved every minute of it. She’d been surprised at how much she’d missed Lauren and Mercy over the summer, their easy talk and gossip, the shared worry over classes, the arguments about music and clothes, all of it like a tether she could grasp to bring her back to the ordinary world. This is my life, she’d told herself, curled up on the couch in front of a noisy fan, watching Mercy hang a garland of stars over the fireplace in their new common room, quite a change from their cramped rooms on Old Campus. The couch and recliner had made it into their new suite, the coffee table they’d all assembled together at the start of freshman year, the toaster and its seemingly inexhaustible supply of Pop-Tarts sent courtesy of Lauren’s mom. Alex had asked Lethe for a bike and a printer and a new tutor at the end of last year. They’d been happy to agree, and she wished she’d asked for more.

Their freshman dorm on Old Campus had been the most beautiful place Alex had ever lived, but the residential college—JE proper—felt real, solid and elegant, permanent. She liked the stained glass windows, the stonework faces in every corner of the courtyard, the scuffed wood floors, the heavily carved fireplace that didn’t work but that they’d decorated with candles and a vintage globe. She even liked the little Gray in an old-fashioned dress, a child with hair done up in crisp curls who liked to linger in the branches above the tree swing.

She and Mercy were sharing a double because Lauren had won the single in their draw. Alex was sure she’d cheated, but she didn’t much mind. It would have been easier to come and go if she had a room to herself, but there was also something comforting about lying in bed at night

and hearing Mercy snore across the room. And at least they weren’t stuck in bunks anymore.

Alex had planned on hanging out with Mercy and Lauren for a few hours before she had to leave to oversee a ritual at Book and Snake, listening to records and trying to ignore the annoying mmmm ooh of a singing group punishing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

Come on along. Come on along. Let me take you by the hand.

But then the text from Eitan had appeared.

So now she was eyeing the Taurus Cafe. She was about to step out of the shadows when a black-and-white drove by, a new cruiser, sleek and quiet as a deep-sea predator. It flashed its lights and gave a brief belch of the siren, a warning that the New Haven PD did indeed take notice.

“Yeah, fuck you,” someone growled, but the crowd dispersed, drifting into the club or weaving down the sidewalk to find their cars. It wasn’t properly late yet. There was still plenty of time to find another party, another chance at something good.

Alex didn’t want to think about the cops or getting caught or what Turner might say if she got dragged in on a B&E or, worse, an assault charge. She hadn’t heard from the detective since the end of her freshman year, and she doubted he’d be glad to see her under the best of circumstances.

Once the cruiser was gone, Alex made sure the sidewalk was clear of possible witnesses and crossed the street to an ugly white duplex, just a couple doors down from the bar. Funny how all sad places looked the same. Trash cans overflowing. Weed-choked yards and junked-up porches. I’ll get around to it or I won’t. But there was a new truck in the driveway of this particular house, complete with personalized license plate: ODMNOUT. At least she knew she had the right spot.

Alex drew a mirrored compact from the pocket of her jeans. When she hadn’t been mapping New Haven’s infinite churches for Dawes, she’d spent the summer digging through the drawers of Il Bastone’s armory. She told herself it was a good way to waste time, get familiar with Lethe, maybe eye up what might be worth stealing if it came to that, but the truth was that when she was rummaging in the armory cabinets, reading the little

handwritten cards—the Carpet of OzymandiasMonsoon Rings for calling rain, incomplete setPalillos del Dios—she could feel Darlington with her, peering over her shoulder. Those castanets will banish a poltergeist, Stern, if one plays the correct rhythm. But you’ll still walk away with your fingers burned black.

It was comforting and troubling at the same time. Invariably, that steady scholar’s voice turned accusing. Where are you, Stern? Why haven’t you come?

Alex rolled her shoulders, trying to shrug off her guilt. She needed to stay focused. That morning, she’d held the pocket mirror up to the TV to see if she could capture a glamour from the screen. She hadn’t been sure it would work, but it had. Now she popped it open and let the illusion fall over her. She jogged up the steps to the porch and knocked.

The man who answered the door was huge and heavily muscled, his neck thick and pink as a cartoon ham. She didn’t need to consult the image on her phone. This was Chris Owens, also known as Oddman, record as long as he was and twice as wide.

“Holy shit,” he said when he saw Alex at the door, his eyes trained on the space a foot above her head. The glamour had added twelve inches to her height.

She raised her hand and waved.

“I … Can I help you?” Oddman asked.

Alex bobbed her chin toward the apartment interior.

Oddman shook his head as if waking from a dream. “Yeah, of course.” He stepped aside, sweeping his arm out in a grand gesture of welcome.

The living room was surprisingly neat: a halogen lamp tucked into the corner, a big leather couch with a matching recliner arranged to face a massive flat-screen tuned to ESPN. “You want something to drink or…” He hesitated, and Alex knew the calculation he was making. There was only one reason a celebrity would turn up on his doorstep on a Thursday night— any night really. “You looking to score?”

Alex hadn’t really needed confirmation, but now she had it. “You owe twelve large.”

Oddman took a lurching step back as if he’d suddenly lost his balance. Because he was hearing Alex’s voice. She hadn’t bothered to try to disguise it, and the dissonance between her voice and the glamour of Tom Brady created by the mirror had caused the illusion to waver. It didn’t matter. Alex had only needed the magic to get inside Oddman’s apartment without a fuss.

“What the fuck—”

“Twelve large,” Alex repeated.

Now he saw her as she was, a tiny girl standing in his living room, black hair parted in the middle, so skinny she might slip straight through the floorboards.

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” he bellowed, “but you’re in the wrong damn house.”

He was already striding toward her, his bulk making the room shake.

Alex’s arm shot out, reaching toward the window, toward the sidewalk in front of the Taurus Cafe. She felt the Gray in the beanie rush into her, tasted green apple Jolly Ranchers, smelled the skunk smoke of weed. His spirit felt unfinished and frantic, a bird slamming itself against a windowpane again and again. But his strength was pure and ferocious. She put up her hands, and her palms struck Oddman square in the chest.

The big man went flying. His body slammed into the TV, shattering the screen and knocking it to the floor. Alex couldn’t pretend it didn’t feel good to steal the Gray’s strength, to be dangerous just for a moment.

She crossed the room and stood over Oddman, waited for his dazed eyes to clear.

“Twelve large,” she said again. “You have a week to get it or I come back and break bones.” Though it was possible she’d cracked his sternum already.

“I don’t have it,” Oddman said on a groan, his hand rubbing his chest. “My sister’s kid—”

Alex knew the excuses; she’d made them herself. My mom is in the hospital. My check is late. My car needs a new transmission and I can’t pay you if I can’t get to work. It didn’t really matter if they were true or not.

She squatted down. “I feel for you. I really do. But I have my job, you have yours. Twelve thousand dollars by next Friday or he’ll make me come back and turn you into an example for every dime bag hump in the neighborhood. And I don’t want to do that.”

She really didn’t.

Oddman seemed to believe her. “He … got something on you?”

“Enough to bring me here tonight and to bring me back again.” Alex’s temples gave a sudden throb, and the oversweet tang of apple candy burst into her mouth. “Shit, man. You look bad.”

It took Alex a second to realize she was the one speaking—with someone else’s voice.

Oddman’s eyes widened. “Derrik?”

“Yeah!” That wasn’t her voice, wasn’t her laugh.

Oddman reached out to touch her shoulder, something between wonder and fear making his hand shake. “You … I went to your wake.”

Alex stood, nearly losing her footing. She caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection from the broken TV, but the person looking back at her wasn’t a scrawny girl in a tank top and jeans. It was a boy in a beanie and a parka.

She shoved the Gray out of her. For a moment, they stared at each other

—Derrik, apparently. She didn’t know what had killed him and she didn’t want to know. He’d somehow pushed to the forefront of her consciousness, taken over her face, her voice. And she wanted none of that.

Bela Lugosi’s dead,” she snarled at him. They’d become her favorite death words over the summer. He vanished.

Oddman had pressed himself against the wall as if he could disappear into it. His eyes were full of tears. “What the fuck is happening?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Just get the money and all this goes away.”

Alex only wished she had it that easy.

Rete Mirabile

Provenance: Galway, Ireland; 18th century Donor: Book and Snake, 1962

The “wonderful net” was procured by the Lettermen c. 1922. Specific date of origin and maker are unknown, but oral histories suggest it was created through Celtic song magic or possibly seidh (see the Norse sea giantess Rán). Analysis indicates the net itself is ordinary cotton, braided with human tendon. After a loved one had been lost at sea, the net could be thrown into the ocean while attached to a stake on shore. The next morning, the body would be returned, which some found comforting and others distressing, given the possible state of remains.

Gifted by Book and Snake when their attempts to recall specific corpses failed.

— from the Lethe Armory Catalogue as revised and edited by

Pamela Dawes, Oculus

Why is it the boys at Book and Snake don’t seem to be able to cook up anything that works the way it should? First they resurrect a bunch of sailors who can only speak Irish. Next they empty their not insubstantial coffers to get their hands on an authenticated letter from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom before Wolf’s Head can drum up the cash. A letter for the resurrection of a king. But who do they get when they light that thing up in their tomb? Not Amenhotep or good ol’ Tutankhamun, not even a headless Charles I at their door, but Elvis Presley—tired, bloated, and hungry for a peanut butter and banana sandwich. They had a hell of a time getting him back to Memphis with no one the wiser.

Lethe Days Diary of Dez Carghill (Branford College ’62)

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