Eleanor and I waited on a rusted bench outside the police office. Most of the night had passed. We were probably going to be in the headquarters of Ghoresa’s finest until morning. It’s been a while since my last visit and not much has changed. Body heat from the personnel inside wafted out into the open. How they’ve managed this long without proper ventilation was anyone’s guess. The compound we overlooked below us was empty. It was rare for the entire night shift to be on patrol.
My nerves twitched, a phantom of memory jolted the past. I saw a much younger me crouching behind the balustrades, gazing down on everyone. The little Nora who waited. I was all the more anxious to leave because of her.
“Have you always been a mute?” Eleanor suddenly asked. A tiny, green ember danced between her fingertips. She now wore my blazer rather than her wings.
“I didn’t realise you’re deaf as well, my mistake.” She then dismissed me in sign language.
I was about to retort before I realised she’d baited my initial response. I smiled, “how do you know I’m a mute?”
“What do they teach you in school…” she rolled her eyes, “history is written by the victors, I suppose.” She showed no signs of remorse nor distress. Her nails, the flame, our conversation, all of them seemed more engaging to her than what happened earlier. A soul-gem was embedded into her wrist. It glowed a darker green than the flame. Eleanor was the first daemon I’ve ever met. These days, they were far and few. Their population has been on a decline since they came into the world thousands of years ago.
“Are all succubi like you?” I needed to force a rejoinder if I wanted to win this little game.
“Am I the only one you’ve met?” She gasped mockingly. “You human-kind sure live—”
“That wasn’t what I was referring to,” I grinned.
It took her a moment. Her lips curled dastardly when she got it. “Besides the ‘S’ Word, it’s a low blow to point out my looks, fodder-kind.” There we were, two adults casually hurling racist slurs at each other in a police station.
“Only as low as it is to poke at the disabled.”
“I had a feeling your flash of wit from two weeks ago was not a coincidence. I remember it quite fondly. The night you hurt Ralph’s pride with a cigarette and a few words. Let’s, however, leave it at that. It’d be a shame if we started fishing for statements to hold against each other.”
“That’s fair, so about how you know I’m a mute.”
“Demons to magic are hummingbirds to nectar. Much more than that, they are the gaps in between each finger waiting for the hand of the sorcerer-magician.” She held out the ember in her hand. Without invocation, she turned it into an orb of light; the most basic Pallian spell. “I know restoration magic when I see it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Why, because demons only know how to wield the devil’s magic?” She sighed. I imagined she’s discussed this many times in the past. “It’s the magic we’re accustomed to. That much is true, although you have to keep in mind that was millennia ago.”
“During the War of the Realms…”
“Yes, as it was told, the rifts of heaven and hell opened and bequeathed wells of magic onto the world. That was the legend way before my time, but anyone can tell you it’s a fat lie… if they didn’t want you to believe otherwise.” She stretched her legs and propped her arms behind her head. “You seem smart. Piece things together for me.”
I took her words with a grain of salt. There were holes in what she said. Nevertheless, she did tell me to make deductions. The only clues were her ability to use more than the devil’s magic and how she knew what my arcane stone was used for. “The rifts never brought wells of magic. Magic already existed in the world. Angels and daemons introduced a different approach to it. Is that it?”
“I’m now convinced your habit of saying ‘daemon’ comes from the books you’ve read. It’s demon, minus the ‘a’ between the ‘d’ and the ‘e’. Someone should’ve written to the editors when there was a chance; that or they should just choke on their own vomit.” She shook her head before moving on. “Perhaps, but I could be lying to you. Would you really trust a succubus’ wisdom?”
“Would you really want to spoil the fun you’re weaving with this narrative?”
“Oh, what a shame it is you’re a woman. Had you been a man, I would have loved to have a taste of your soul.”
I shuddered at the thought.
“I’m not going to kill you. I’m more likely to meet aliens from outer space than to get away with breaking the law,” she giggled. “Then again, if the thought tempts you, it’d be foolish to believe I’d encourage you to go through a sex change. You’d end up leaving a bad taste in my mouth.”
I knew what she meant by that. Extreme alterations of human nature and anatomy was seen as blasphemous in the Pall. A corruption of the human soul. It didn’t surprise me that a succubus shared some relationship to the religious dogma; no matter how weird that was.
Footsteps approached us closer and closer, cutting into our conversation. He may have been late but the two of us were here because of a sudden ordeal after all. Dressed in a double-breasted suit, he was middle-aged, big as far as humans can healthily be, and balding. He brought his briefcase along as well.
“Thanks for coming, Mikhail.” I stood up and shook his hand. A family friend, he was the attorney I referred to whenever I was tangled with the police. He also mentored me when I was growing up. Hang around Mikhail long enough and a person could tell he had a skill. All it took was a glance and he’d be able figure out someone’s life story better than any police psychic. His mind was a library and the librarian in charge was nothing short of a genius.
“That’s what you pay me for,” he yawned and turned to Eleanor. Extending his large hand, “Mikhail, is anyone currently representing you?”
“Eleanor, not at the moment, no.” She replied in kind, handshake and all. “Are your rates higher for harmless, little demons?”
“The rates are the same.” He took out a large envelope from his briefcase and handed it to her. Mikhail then turned to me. “I made some calls, Nora. The autopsy report hasn’t been disclosed, but the medical staff confirmed the assailant was infected by rabies. Ralph Miller wasn’t vaccinated for the disease.”
Eleanor snapped her head to me. “I told you asininity ran in his family. Except for his elder brother, Michael. He’s either the odd one out or the middle child.” She shrugged, opening the envelope. She pulled out what I imagined was her Power of Attorney form among other things.
“Even if the Millers want to challenge you in court, you already have a strong defence. I wouldn’t be worried.” He said.
“It’s great to know this should blow over easily.” I said, Mikhail’s arrival reminded me why I was here. Something was off, I was tired more than anything. Like Eleanor, I wasn’t haunted by the fact that I took a life. Maybe it hadn’t hit me yet… maybe I was used to it.
“The reading will go smoothly. They’ll only be looking at the crime scene. But as you know, your sidearm will remain with them for a while.”
I drew a deep breath. Going through a reading was the furthest feeling from ‘smooth’.
“As for you”— he turned to Eleanor again— “you’ll be here a little longer.”
“You’re Mr. Miller’s registered partner as per the contract. They’re going to look into your complete history with him to see whether there’s foul play involved.”
“That sounds reasonable, ‘tis a shame that’d I be here longer than I’d like.”
“Let me inform Commissioner Goren we’re ready.” On that note, Mikhail disappeared into the office.
“Do you have a place to stay later?” Eleanor asked me after he left. “Our homes lie in debris and ashes, after all.”
“I might have.”
Her legs dangled off the floor. “I see.”
“My friend has enough space for the both of us. If he’s cool with it, wanna come with?” A breeze swept past us. I folded my arms, shivering as the wind bit into my skin.
“How kind of you.”
Mikhail popped out from the office. He bobbed his head and motioned us to come in.
The interrogation room was small, slightly bigger than a mall’s elevator. Sound-proofed, the walls were also enchanted to prevent any interference from the outside. There were four of us; me, Mikhail, a psychic constable, and Commissioner Goren. The psychic and I sat across each other on wooden chairs in the middle of the room.
“My client,” Mikhail cleared his throat before continuing, “has given their consent. She requests that only memories after nine o’ clock P.M. can be accessed. This is in order to protect the integrity of her work which is to be kept in confidentiality. There is no relationship between memories earlier than nine prior to the memories of the crime.”
Goren, experienced with the procedure, made a lazy gesture approving the request. Along with every personnel in the building, the Commissioner was human. Pushing his fifties, he let himself go and now had a podgy appearance. Two decades ago, he had the physique of a man who wrestled with chimeras daily. Those days were gone. His moustache that was once neatly trimmed under his big nose was now grey and unkempt. That was what I noticed upon stolen glances. Goren was a man I avoided exchanging eye contact with.
“Shall we begin?” The psychic looked to both Mikhail and Goren for approval. His navy blue uniform had no creases or wrinkles. His face was clean-shaven and there were no bags under his eyes. All of them were signs that he was fresh-blood from the police academy.
“Can you lean forward, Ms. Alisa?” He asked, trying his best to sound professional.
I obliged, bringing my chair closer. I leaned forward, close enough that his arms wouldn’t have to stay stretched out throughout the process. This may not have been my first reading, but experience never made what was about to happen any easier to go through.
The psychic placed his hands on my temples. There was nothing at first as we stared into each other’s eyes. Slowly, his focus crept into my mind. He was in my head and I could feel it. He forced his way into this room of thoughts and memories built with enough space meant only for me. My vision swam, blurred and started to fade.
“Try to stay calm,” he said. His voice was an echo so far, far away now.
In a blink of an eye, I was back on my apartment grounds. Walking up the hill again, I had no control over myself but I felt everything; the breeze that promised rain, the screen of my phone showing an article about inland taipans, and the commotion far above me. Flames flashed, followed by the explosion that sent Ralph to me. I was living through the nightmare once again. The moment of which my face could’ve been on the obituaries of tomorrow morning’s papers. A victim of an unvaccinated, feral werewolf going through the stage of furious rabies.
A shiver ran down my spine. My heart quickened.
“Stop, please.” I thought, hoping it would reach the officer. It didn’t. They never did. The reading went on.
I reached for my gun. In retrospect, I saw Ralph a lot clearer now. Blood, drool, and exposed flesh truly made him look like a beast. I pointed the gun at him.
Bang. I heard nothing after that. Adrenaline made the recoil feel nigh unnoticeable. Instinct took the wheel and I was doing what I could to survive. Now, watching the events unfold from the backseat of my brain, it opened the door for doubt and regret to help themselves in.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have emptied the whole clip.” One such thought echoed. “You were too excessive. This is manslaughter or maybe even homicide.. Ralph’s family is going to come after you now.” These were my thoughts. Focused not on the kill, but the consequences and how I should deal with them. “Surprise, surprise, you’re used to it.”
The gun lowered and I saw his corpse. Shortly after, my legs gave up on me and I collapsed onto the road, or so I thought. I suddenly found myself back in the interrogation room.
“Ms. Alisa, are you—”
“Cigarette, outta here, get me outta here.” I cried, part of me was still on the chair and the other part in Mikhail’s arms. The world was spinning and my head felt light. My fingers tingled and my heart was drumming in my ears; all the symptoms of a panic attack.
“We’re taking a break.” Mikhail helped me to my feet and supported me out of the room. The way out was on the other end. With my arm around his neck, he walked me out. Some people glanced over to see the commotion, civilians who were at the station because of drunk driving or whatever. I couldn’t care less. I knew none of the police officers bothered, this was every other reading to them.
Outside, I sat beside Eleanor again. She was asleep with her back against the wall and her knees tucked in. Fishing out my cigarettes, the pack felt light. I gave it a shook and heard nothing but the rustling of tobacco flakes.
“Fuck.” I crushed the pack and fought the urge to throw it over the balustrade. Deciding against it, I threw it on the floor instead.
“Leave it to me.” Mikhail patted my shoulder before going back in. I heard his voice not too long later, asking people whether they had cigarettes to spare. I only heard him ask the question once.
I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want to be alone. At the same time, I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I leaned back, my teeth chattered. It was like someone’s hand was around my heart, maybe it was Ralph’s ghost. He tightened his grip and I wondered whether I’d give in this time.
“I sense… fear.” Eleanor stretched and hummed in intrigue. “What’s the matter, was it Ralph or you killing Ralph?”
“Fuck off.” I wanted to punch her pretty, white teeth in. I knew it was irrational, but I wasn’t in a sound state of mind. Forcing a deep breath, “can you let me ride this out in peace?”
“No, I don’t want you to.” There was a different look in her eyes. Beyond the sleepy daze, there was sadistic desire. Still on the bench, she got on her knees brought herself closer. “The despratio of a human…” her hand reached out to me.
I stood up. Whatever she had in mind, I didn’t want any part in it. I made the corner to go back into the office and almost bumped into Mikhail on the way in.
He didn’t even stumble back. There were a couple of cigarettes in between the cracks of his fingers.
I snatched the sticks from him and stormed off. Down the outdoor corridor, I made a left into the women’s restroom and shut myself in a cubicle meant for human-sized people. I pulled the toilet cover down and sat on it. My fingers were shaking. I had a hard time fishing out my lighter, harder still getting the damn thing to work. I brought the flame lip-level and pulled a deep drag. Smoke filled the cubicle, finding every gap and crack to escape out into the open.
“Ride this out in peace. Who am I fucking kidding?” I knew I was lying to myself. Solitude only made things worse.
“Mikhail would like you to know that he went to discuss your case with Commissioner… Something.” Eleanor’s voice travelled across restroom from its entrance.
I acknowledged her in silence. Maybe she would go away if I ignored her.
Her footsteps tapped on the floor tiles.
“Leave me alone.”
“Relax, or don’t, I’m not going to do anything. You caught me off guard.” I saw her tiny feet underneath the opening below the door. “You offered me a place to stay. The least I could is listen to you or explain myself… or both.” She said as a matter of fact.
“What happened to not fishing for statements?”
“That was more for myself than it was for you. Take your time, I understand if there’s hesitation. Otherwise, smoke away.”
She was right. Being separated by a flimsy door was encouraging, but finding solace in a demon wasn’t an easy choice to make. “It’s the reading.”
Eleanor stayed silent. It was a neat trick to get someone to talk more and I fell for it willingly.
“It brought me back to the apartment. Ralph was in front of me. He looked like he was straight out of a horror flick. You really fucked him up.” I dropped the cigarette butt and crushed it under the sole of my shoe.
“The reading tricked my body into thinking I’m still in danger. That’s all that happened. I…” I paused, there was that moment of hesitation. “I was wondering whether I was used to this.”
“Shaking and seeking refuge in a toilet cubicle is an odd way of being used to psychic readings.”
“No, not that. That was to get away from you.” I groaned and lit up the second stick. “When I saw myself shooting Ralph, all I could think about was whether I committed homicide or manslaughter, the last time I cleaned my gun, and how this’ll go down at work.”
“Ah, this isn’t the first time you’ve had to defend yourself then.” She slid down the door and the small of her back came to view. Either she forgot that she was wearing my blazer or didn’t care too much of it. To be fair, I didn’t as well.
“No, it’s not.” Silence filled in between us. I’ve shared more than I wanted to. “Mikhail said Ralph was your… partner?”
“That’s the term if we’re talking about the STND Contract, albeit a shallow one. I’d rather be dead than consider Ralph an acquaintance.”
“What’s the STND Contract?” I titled my head to the side.
“It’s a union of sorts legally binding a succubus or an incubus to a partner. Your attorney can tell you about nitty-bitty details better than I can. I’ve read someone describe it as a succubus signing on to be a glorified cum-dumpster. A fuck toy if we’re talking about incubi. It’s a little vulgar, but it’s apt.”
“I… was going to say you don’t seem troubled at all. I think I get where you’re coming from now.” I stood up and took a step towards the door. “Eleanor, I’m better now. Thanks.”
She backed away from the door. When I opened it, I found her sitting on the marble counter where the basins were. “Your age is telling when you referred— at least tried to refer to me as a demon.”
“Would you prefer to be called a Stranded?”
“Don’t, don’t do that,” she smirked. “I’d wrap my hands around the throat of whoever came up with that name. Angels are just as ‘stranded’ as we are and they have the gall to say we’re lost and in need of guidance. Their guidance. A poor show, they’re no different from us.” She lifted her hand off the counter and dusted her fingers. Her subtle show of strength left cracks along the marble. “I am a succubus, a demon from hell. It’s no one’s right to call me otherwise.”
I made a sound considering her words. Eleanor had a fresh perspective that went against most ‘truths’ of the world and I was curious to know more. I took off my glasses and washed my face. Blood vessels surrounded my brown pupils. The mirror in front of me told me that much.
“Nora, Eleanor?” Mikhail’s voice called from outside.
“Yes?” I replied.
“I’ve finished discussing your case with Goren, Nora. Eleanor, they’re waiting for you.”
Eleanor hopped off the counter. “If I do take up your offer, you’ll be waiting for quite a while. In the event you do, there’s something I’d like you to consider.”
“What would that be?” I arched an eyebrow.
“Among all the other demons that are still in this world, succubi and incubi hate human-kind the most.” She shot me an expression that I couldn’t capture in a single word. It was wistful, jaded, and malevolent; a numb grudge that’s lost its passion. Saying nothing more, she turned and left.
Dawn was near. It’s been two hours since Eleanor went into the interrogation room with Mikhail. As Mikhail said, her reading was going to take longer. I lied down on the bench outside the office. I rubbed my eyes, fatigue had caught up to me. I turned on my phone. It’d been switched off ever since I arrived at the station and it only occurred to me now to turn it back on. I took a deep breath, if there was one person keeping an eye on the news throughout the night, it was Nick. I was expecting some missed calls from him.
I entered my pin number and the phone loaded the home screen. Within a few seconds, it was flooded with notifications; missed calls and text messages from Nick. I read through the latter. The messages were all about my well-being. My phone rang, it was him. I accepted the call and put the phone to my ear.
“Nora, goodness. I’ve been trying to get through to you,” he blurted, “are you okay? Your apartment is all over the news right now.”
“I’m fine, but I don’t have a place to stay until the builders do their work.” I told him, resting a hand on my forehead. “You know I hate asking for favours, but can I stay with you?”
“Of course, of course, I wouldn’t be calling so many times if I didn’t have that in mind. Are you at the police station?”
“Yes, I’m waiting for Eleanor.”
“My neighbour. She was involved in this as well. We’re both in the same boat, she doesn’t have a place to stay either. Is it okay if she comes along?”
There was a long pause. Nick was considering my request. “It’s been a long time since I’ve met a Stranded.”
“Demon, they really don’t like the new name.”
“Right. Well, Nora, I can’t say I don’t mind,” he sighed, “what kind of person is she?”
“She’s a lust demon. She’s sarcastic, aloof, and vulgar. She can be scary, but she doesn’t bear any ill-will against me. I’m sure she won’t be trouble to you either. It’s only temporarily, Nick.”
Nick drew a breath through gritted teeth on the other line. “Fine,” he said at last, “I won’t lie and say I’m open to the experience. Having a Stranded, I mean a demon, in my home is a big step for me; and I’m only acquiescing to this because it’s you.”
“I know. Thank you so much, Nick. Now, I need to tell Niharja what happened. I’ll see you later.”
“Take care, Nora. I’m going to catch some sleep. Call me when you’re on the way.”
The line clicked. I worked on sending a text message to Niharja then Carmen. Considering I’ll be away from work for up to a week, I hoped she would make my work life a little easier when I got back.
“We have a trigger!” Goren yelled from the interrogation room. After he did, the ongoing manic wailing behind him became clearer as it tore across the office. It was neither Mikhail’s nor Eleanor’s. “Stay in that room, hell-spawn!”
Seats rumbled and the floor shook as I imagined a quarter of the staff storming into the interrogation room. Not too long after that, several men brought out the constable who scrounged evidence from my head. His face was warped in an array of emotions as he spiralled deeper into delirium. That was the risk that came with being in the Violent Felony Investigations unit. It was also the reason that the veterans in the unit were rumoured to be high functioning psychopaths.
Mikhail slipped out. He made a gesture letting me know he preferred to stand rather than sit.
“Goren’s going to have a headache sorting that out,” I remarked.
Mikhail shrugged, the matter didn’t concern him. “As per usual, he slipped in a few remarks about you and your father.”
“I figured, he has a good reason to hold a grudge.”
“Though I know the answer, I want to hear it from you. Do you still visit your father’s grave?”
“I do, just not recently.” I sat up, giving some space for Mikhail to sit down even though he declined. “It gets to me some nights.”
“Yes, it would.” He nodded, sitting down. “You’ve come a long way.”
“When I saw you the first time, you were this high.” He levelled his hand to show the height of a teenage me. “You were the behind the bars in this very station. Lost, in shock, and distrustful of the very system your father worked for.”
Mikhail placed a hand on my lap. “I’m reminding you to take a look behind you. You crawled out from being a broken doll, to a delinquent, to who you are now. You’re a survivor.” He retracted his hand. “That aside, I believe you’ve had a moment with Eleanor.”
“The STND Contract is as Eleanor described it. It’s a union for the Stranded, specifically those born of lust, to register themselves with a partner. They require life essences, sperm as far as anthropologists have determined, to continue surviving,” Mikhail explained. I wouldn’t be surprised if he already mapped out my conversation with Eleanor earlier down to every word.
“Like blood-kins and their need for blood?”
“Correct, there are severe repercussions if they don’t. Their mental health will be at risk, followed by their physical health. At this point, most of the Stranded either starve to death or give in to their primal needs in order to survive. That’s why the Stranded created out of wrath, gluttony and pride are now extinct, to put it crudely.”
“At least, that’s the official theory. The Stranded do not consent to be a subject of study and their history is just as inconclusive with possible theories rather than fact. The only concrete observation is that there are different types of Stranded and they draw their life from different aspects of human-kind impulses. Our vices, to be poetic. There’s supposedly another method but no one knows.”
“After listening to Eleanor and now you, it’s bizarre how connected they are with the Pall.” I folded my arms. This was a lot to take in.
“It’s not surprising. Angels dictate the dogma of the Pall and they are the head clerics of the religion. It’s only natural for them to write about their historical enemies,” Mikhail shrugged, checking the time on his watch, he peered down the corridor.
The other police officers who brought out the psychic constable earlier returned. They passed us as they made their way into the office.
Mikhail stood up, “it’s about time I go back in.”
“Alright, thanks again, Mikhail.” I’m not sure why I stood up after him. It was a knee-jerk reaction.
“Before I go, try your best in figuring out why succubi and incubi hate human-kind the most. Either way, you will find out eventually. I see you and Eleanor as great friends by next year.”
I scoffed, “I don’t see that happening but I’ll keep that in mind.”
The sky was an array of mauve, white and blue when I waited just outside the police station. Past the front gate, cars were on the road, winged creatures were in the sky and people were already walking, hopping or slithering to work from the bus stop in front of the station. The entrance swung open, Mikhail and Eleanor had finished what business they had there.
“Enjoy your time with Nikolas.” Mikhail smiled, “I’ll see you soon about the apartment.” Shaking my hands, he headed down the steps and towards the gate.
Eleanor sat on the steps. She was more vacant than the last time I spoke with her.
“You’re free to come with. My friend said he’s alright with it.” I informed her. At the same time, I had my eyes on my phone. Searching for a cab to bring us to Nick’s home, a name popped up. Thareni. The name sounded familiar. I kept my phone back.
“Swell news,” her eyes stayed on the road.
“I’m tired. The reading went well. Pity the officer though, my memories were too intense for him.” She shrugged, her tail waved gently in the air and came between us like a border. “Did you find a cab?”
“Yeah, it’ll be here in ten minutes. I forgot to ask you, what was that thing you tried to pull off earlier?”
“When?” She turned her head.
“When you were all weird and on your knees, mumbling something about des… I don’t know what you said, but your face was this close.” I brought up a palm near my face.
“Oh, that. Didn’t I say you caught me off guard?” She paused, eyes peering up as she tried to remember. “Ah, I forgot to tell you as you were too busy clinging onto my shoulder that time.”
“I like how you’re prone to hyperbole.”
“As human-kind do on how they’re the victims of the world, I’m only treating you as fair as the stereotype is painted about you people. I digress. It’s impossible to say really. Demons, all demons, share an attraction to human-kind despratio.” She lifted her tail over and lay it to rest on the other side.
“Demon speak,” she then scratched her chin, bemused. “The Common language doesn’t have an equivalent. The closest word is despair, but even then despratio is much wider than that and it comes in levels. I’ve only had this discussion twice in my life and both times were centuries ago. The word’s slipped my mind hitherto, so pardon how vague it sounds.” She paused again, “explaining it is going to take longer than I thought.”
“It’s not like our ride is going to come any sooner if we were to sit in silence.”
“You have a point. On the top of my head, despratio covers a range of emotions. Fear, despair, discomfort, frustration, the list could go on. At the same time, the actions you do out of those emotions is called despratio and the same goes for the moment you live through it.”
“Huh, so when I sat beside you after my reading, I was going through a moment of despratio?”
“Going through, yes, but don’t mistake it as a mere panic attack. That’s you going through a panic attack. There are a lot of nuances to it.”
I hummed, my tired brain was trying to understand the concept. “You said demons are attracted to it.”
“Yes, if you pay attention to my choice of words, you’d also grasp I’m wont to fish for it as well.”
“It makes sense. That’s very interesting,” I exclaimed. “You know, I’m surprised at how open you are about yourself and demons in general.”
“You’re in your late twenties.” Eleanor sighed, there was a change in her tone. “You’ve either settled with living out your life or you’re still considering whether immortality is worth it. My choice to give you an alternate history lesson merely passes my time. It doesn’t change my life nor would it leave a mark on the world.” She tucked her knees in and placed her arms on them. “If you choose to die, what I’ve told you will eventually follow you to your grave. If you choose to live forever, the flaws of our memories will have to stand against time to protect this… moment we share. One or the other, it’s a question of when you’ll become someone I used to know. Like Ralph.”
“That’s… depressing,” I murmured, not loud enough for Eleanor to hear.
“To your credit, you’re willing to listen.”
I shrugged and leaned back. Our ride came around the corner. Entering the building, the car stopped underneath the veranda of the station. A luxurious, white sedan. That’s how I remembered Thareni. It was strange that he charged the same rates as a normal ride during rush hour. “That’s our ride,” I said as I stood up.
Eleanor followed along, having kept her tail the moment the car entered through the gate.
Opening the back door, we got into the backseat of the car.
“Nora, what a coincidence, it’s nice to see you again.” Thareni turned his head to the back. “You look like you’ve had a long night.”
“Yes, it is a coincidence. It has been a long night. I would like to get to my friend’s home as fast as I can.” I said nothing after that.
“Alright,” Thareni read the situation. Turning around, he kept quiet and drove on.
Head against the window, I closed my eyes only to open them again minutes later after I felt a thud on my lap. Peering down, Eleanor was resting her head on my lap.
“I’m small enough so I might as well help myself.” She shifted herself onto her side, finding a comfortable spot. “You are fitter than I thought.”
I ignored what she said and closed my eyes again. “Oh, that’s right. To answer your question, yes, I’ve always been a mute.” I told her.
She made a sound acknowledging me before she dozed off.
The car stopped. We had arrived at Nick’s home; a terrace house fit for a simple author. The gate and his front door was left open. I saw Nick standing behind the window overlooking the small front yard. Despite the sunscreen, the sun of a high noon was still a blood-kin’s greatest fear.
Eleanor squinted her eyes, trying to recognise his face under the heat of the sun. “Oh, your friend’s Nikolas Bibikov. How envious.”
“I’m his agent,” I let out a deep breath. It wasn’t the sheer heat that was a bother, it was the humidity.
We walked past the gate and I turned around to lock it. Eleanor went on ahead and stopped right by the front door, followed by me not too long after.
“I’m glad you’re alright, Nora.” Nick said, making way for us to enter. He was in his home clothes, t-shirt and shorts.
“I’m glad I’m alright too.” I yawned, envious at how fresh and awake he looked. “Nick, this is Eleanor. She’s my neighbour.”
“Nice to meet you.” Nick smiled, bowing slightly.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Bibikov. I’m a fan of your work.” Eleanor smiled, she had a case of bed-hair from the car ride. “I do have some thoughts, however, on how you write erotic scenes.”
“I would love to hear them.” He maintained the smile. “I’m flattered that a demon would be a fan of my work. Please, call me Nick.” He motioned us to follow him. “I’m sure you two would love to get settled into bed. Come, I have a guestroom prepared.”
We followed Nick down the stairs. Nick’s house and the other houses on this row was built on a steep slope. Seeing at how the stories of the house were built downwards rather than upwards, it made sense that the first room we’d pass as we walked down the stairs was the living room. In my dreary state, I only noticed the set of glass doors at the other end of the room. It was covered by curtains and the lights were left on.
“Do you live alone?” Eleanor asked Nick for the sake of small talk. It was obvious she was just as tired as I was and had resigned to engage with him after she had some sleep.
“Yes, but I do have the occasional part-time maid come around to do cleaning and laundry.” Nick replied. Following him further down, we passed by the door that led to his study. It was left open and I saw a fancy bottle of blood on his study table. Our guestroom was the floor below the study.
“This is the room.” He said, cracking the door open. Nick showed us in but didn’t follow. The window opposite us was left uncovered by the curtains. It had a view overlooking the freeway. The bed was beside the door. It was queen-sized, fit for two human-sized people, with a bedside table at each side. Towels, two pouches and some of Nick’s t-shirts were left on the sheets. Judging from the homey appearance, it looked like the room had belonged to the previous owners and was left untouched.
“Nick, what’s that room?” I pointed to the closed door beside the window.
“That’s the bathroom. The light and water heater switches are beside the door.” He said, looking past me to check whether he was right. “Make yourselves at home and let me know if either of you need anything. I don’t have a kitchen, so if you’d like to eat, I’ll place an order for delivery.”
“Got it,” I said.
“You can leave your dirty laundry here in this basket by the door. I’ll have the maid wash them for you.” He then clapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Alright, please excuse me then. I need to go over my manuscript again.”
“Thanks again, Nick.” I mustered a smile.
“Not a problem at all, Nora. You get good sleep now.” He climbed up the stairs, heading to his study.
“I’m guessing his bedroom is downstairs.” Eleanor said, tiptoeing to see if she could get a look.
“I guess so,” I shrugged. “Do you want to shower first?”
“I’m not opposed to showering together.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “You’d be saving water that way.”
“Let’s take this relationship slowly.” I joked, before remembering Mikhail’s prediction. “I… prefer my privacy.”
“Your wish, go on ahead then.”
I picked up the towel and headed into the bathroom. The basin counter had everything a person needed. Soap, toothpaste and all. Nick was even considerate enough to make last minute purchases for pads, tampons and panty liners.
“I wonder whether he bought these in panic…” I thought aloud, taking off my clothes. I reached into the shower and turned the dial. As the water poured out, I judged its temperature before stepping in. As I showered, my eyes would close and I would drift off into short episodes of sleep. Minutes later, I was out of the shower and back in the guestroom. Wrapped with a towel, I shivered. In the time I was away, Eleanor helped herself to turning on the air-conditioning and the ceiling fan.
The demon inspected the wardrobe beside the bed. She found a hangar for my blazer and now wore her towel over her shoulders like a poncho. Without speaking, she entered the bathroom around the same time I slipped into one of Nick’s t-shirts. It was just big enough for the lower hem to cover the places I hoped it would.
I tossed my clothes into the basket Nick specified and went back into the room. Taking off my glasses and my choker, I set them down on the bedside table alongside my phone. I slid under the comforter of the bed, laid my head on the pillow and closed my eyes.
The toilet flushed, the shower ran and the blades of the fan sliced the air. Outside, I heard cars going past. The occasional horn shot my eyes open, it was probably directed at a driver who cut into a lane without using their blinkers. My feet tingled, they felt light and numb. Now that I was in bed, my mind was exhausted but not sleepy. Not just yet anyway. I took deep breaths and wondered what time I’d wake up.
My dreams were always an incoherent mess; jumping from place, time and people. They were keyholes into other parts of the world and even other worlds on occasion. Most times, they’d go by and I’d forget them upon waking. However, there were some moments that’d make their home in memory and stay. As I slept, I dreamt I was in someone’s living room, sitting on an armchair adjacent to three familiar faces on a sofa. Separated by a coffee table, my father sat on an armchair just like mine on the other end.
“You had to protect yourself, you don’t have to answer to them.” He said to me. His face was a blur but I knew it was him.
“She had to protect herself from me?” A woman on the sofa spoke. Dressed in a floral dress, she kept her eyes on me. “I wanted to live.”
“Mom, I…” my dream-self stammered. What I was even saying? How was this stranger even my mother?
“You took my life from me,” she hissed.
“From us two as well.” The man beside her spoke up. Polo shirt and khaki, I recognised that shape and voice to be Ralph’s. “Do you enjoy hurting other people?”
“My father does, he wanted hurt you so bad in that jail cell.” The last of the three spoke, a teenager I recognised. It was Laqaya, Goren’s eldest son. “He still wants you, Nora. He’ll get you. He’s commissioner now.”
None of this was making any sense. It was rare for dreams to do so anyway.
“By the way, sorry about your dad. It was an accident.” He then burst into sick laughter.
“You murdered him,” I gritted my teeth. Glancing back to father, he was bleeding. There was a gash from his shoulder down to his waist.
“Don’t blame yourself, Nora.” My father said. “It was my job to protect you, not the other way around. Not at the time.” His voice rang in my ears like an echo.
“These people are dead because of me.”
I opened my eyes to find myself in the guestroom. It was dark and I had no idea what time it was. I ran a hand through my face. That was a nightmare that was going to stay for a while. My throat felt dry, the air-con’s been running ever since I fell asleep. The curtains had been drawn, sunlight was still slipping through the cracks. However, they were dim enough to give me the impression it was already late in the evening.
There was a bottle of water beside my things. I didn’t want to think too much on where it came from. I was more grateful that it was there to begin with. I took off the cap and helped myself to some water.
Turning my head over, Eleanor was sleeping on her side, facing me. Her body was covered by the comforter and it was too dark to make out the details of her face from this distance.
She then made a sound, too faint for me to hear. I may have misheard it as a moan.
“Eleanor?” I whispered.
No response, she was still asleep.
I lied down on the bed again. Yawning, I decided to go back to sleep. The nightmare was unsettling but not dreadful enough to the point that it’d keep me awake.
Eleanor made another sound and this time I heard it. She sniffed and she was sobbing.
“Eleanor?” I whispered again.
Like the first time, there was no response.
I shifted onto my side and brought my face closer to hers. It was dark, but I was close enough to make out the tears rolling down the side of her face. She was crying.
Not thinking too much into it, this whole situation would have been more awkward if I wasn’t so sleep-deprived and if I wasn’t on my way back to sleep. I’d say it was because I was in that state that I didn’t fight the idea of wrapping my arm around her.
Eleanor reacted by snuggling closer, burying her head into my chest. It didn’t stop her from weeping, not for a while at least. When she did, I felt her clutching the fabric of the t-shirt I wore.
It’s been a crazy night. A werewolf tried to kill me because he was infected by rabies. That happened only because he wasn’t vaccinated. And right now, I was cuddling with his partner, a succubus. A demon from hell. Stealing a glance onto Eleanor, I only then connected the implications behind some of her words at the police station earlier. Like Nick, Eleanor has been around for a long time. She could easily be older than Nick even.
As I drifted off to sleep again, I imagined she lived in a time where it was easier for her to prey upon men’s lust and reap their souls. Her golden years before the world became more connected; before people became smarter. Now she lives in a period that aimed to strip her away from who she was, whether she liked it or not.
I smirked at a passing thought. As a human being, it occurred to me that I could never empathise with even fraction of what Eleanor’s been through. Despite that, she provided me with a word that ironically she craved for as a demon. There we were, two people under the shelter of a blood-kin, living through our own moments of despratio.