Deep Red, Chapter Fourteen
January 4, 1825: Rayne has determined the birth date of the hybrid. She keeps this secret between herself and one other, though I do not know who that other is. I have contributed to the cause in my own way by hypothesizing that the hybrid will be born with two souls. This, I contend, will make him very dangerous and unpredictable, especially since no one on record from the Otherworld has ever possessed two souls. Kindred–as my granfather noted–have been known to give up their souls, but that is more common in this world than the other … June 6, 1830: We have moved, hopefully for the last time, into the mountains where we will begin to construct a secret facility where we might house this hybrid. Since only the date has been determined, Otherworld children all over the world will be viable candidates, so the facility must be large enough to hold all of them. Victoria has already begun casting blood spells for miles to ensure the protection of the facility’s location … May 3, 1833: Jonah has had twins, a boy and a girl, Jacob and Margaret. His wife has not left. Sometimes patterns do change … September 30, 1840: We have found a new use for the facility once it is completed. Several letters have reached us that indicate some issues in the newest generation of Otherworld children. Rayne says that the date of the hybrid’s birth is over one hundred years out, so we have decided to begin our preparation for sheltering the hybrid by taking in these wayward children … February 19, 1848: I fear I will not live to see Haven, as Victoria has named it, completed. I have taught Jonah all I know. What more can a man do? [author’s note: Haven’s construction was complete on March 3rd, 1848, three days after the death of my father, Jacob Shinab. Since its inception, we have received two dozen children through its doors. After the first full moon, we began construction on an annex where the changelings can shift without harming others. My wife, and those still working for the Counsel remain to help these children through their changes. Since we began, we have saved two children and lost one. I fear that as times progress the number of children in our care will grow exponentially.]
excerpts from The Notes of Jacob Shinab, 1825-1848, ed. by Jonah Shinab, 1849
Marlo awoke that next morning feeling refreshed. She dreamed for the first time since leaving the hospital.
The dream was oddly sexual, because she was not a woman, or anywhere she had ever been. She was volemic and hungry. After demanding a human, she ate, much in the style of a spider. One bite anesthetized the young woman, another injected digestive juices, and after all the insides were liquid, she sucked the juices into herself until the human body was a skin husk. She never tasted anything so wonderful, and the feelings of remorse she might have felt as Marlo didn’t exist in her new body. After feeding her intense hunger, she alternated between having intense sex with both the men and the women at the brothel and thinking about Marlo, as if she was separate from herself. Her feelings toward herself were different. She was worried about how she might be coping, and whether she was in danger.
The time moved by quickly in the dream. She spent her days out by a pool, and, even though it was grey and rainy, she could still feel the sunlight filtering into her, making all she consumed that much stronger. She had never felt so powerful and fearless. The renewal she felt upon waking was slightly muted by the disappointment at being back in her body, full of regret and anger.
Once she showered, Marlo piled on her winter clothes. She almost tripped on Drew when she stepped into the hallway. She realized he must have left her door unlocked the night before. He was asleep in the chair, his head lolled against one of the chair’s wings.
She reached down to touch his shoulder, but pulled back when his eyes opened. He sat up and sucked in his breath. “What time is it?”
“It’s about eight forty-five,” Marlo said.
“Shit.” Marlo almost smiled at the unexpected curse. Drew usually maintained such a level presence.
“We still have some time,” she said. She waited as he pulled himself out of the chair and then followed him.
“I have to go to my room for some things,” Drew said. “Can you meet me down in the common room?”
Marlo shrugged. She almost hoped she could follow him all the way. For some reason, finding him so out of form made her feel more comfortable with him. Bolder. She wanted to see where he lived.
In the common room, Marlo sat on one of the couches. She realized how silly she must seem in her full gear. She was about to take her coat off when she felt the same vertigo from the previous night. She looked up and the blonde volemic, Jack, was standing above her.
“May I have a seat?” he asked.
“I’m waiting for someone.” The absurdity of this statement placed it on repeat in her mind.
“We can wait together,” he said.
Marlo shifted and let Jack sit. Before he could speak, Drew hurried into the room.
“I apologize,” he said to her. He looked at Jack and frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to help Marlo,” Jack said. He looked at his watch. “And it is now time to go.”
Marlo popped off the couch and remained close to Drew as they walked toward the back porch. The devil you know, she thought. Jack walked so close behind them that Marlo could feel his energy. It felt so familiar, yet completely unnerving. Unlike her, Drew seemed to be actively ignoring the older volemic’s presence.
“You have a good night’s rest?” Drew asked.
He never asked her that before. She wondered if he was trying to impress Jack with his concern. Did he know who Jack was? Her now-typical anger flared. “What do you care?”
“Because I do,” Drew said.
Marlo looked at his eyes. They seemed sincere. She also noticed he was not wearing his usual designer suit. Every piece of his light, fleece outfit bore the brand Northface, including the beanie on his head.
“Are you coming with me to the cabin?” she asked.
“I thought you were just an assistant.”
“There are all kinds of ways to assist,” he replied.
“So, Victoria’s ordering you to care?”
Drew looked away. “She doesn’t know.”
“You’re lying to yourself if you think that’s true.”
“Well, I didn’t ask permission,” he said. “Here.” Drew stopped and took a lime green Northface beanie out of his pocket and put it on her head.
“You are so weird today,” she said, repositioning the beanie.
“This is a rough time for most young changelings. They become moody and withdrawn…”
“They’re teenagers,” Marlo said.
“Last night, Katrina reminded me that you might have something in common with them. That your anger and moodiness might not actually belong to who you really are. And that all people change, not just me. I’ve been holding on to some stuff from when we were kids, and your crack about me being scared of leaving…all that. It’s stupid. You need to have more than one friend right now while you’re going through all of this. I’m volunteering.” He turned away from her and continued walking.
Marlo hurried after him until she matched his pace. “I…” Marlo stopped herself. She was going to defend herself by saying she was a captive, and fully within her rights to be angry and moody, and that she didn’t need him to be her friend, but it occurred to her that a murderer had no claim to righteous indignation. And now that she thought about it, she had never been this bitchy, not even when she was a teenager.
She patted the now-covered top of her head. “…I’m grateful. Thanks.”
Drew gave her a side-long smile. “I’m not all bad.”
“So Katrina keeps telling me.”
Drew opened the door to the outside, and let both Marlo and Jack pass by him before he took his place beside Marlo. A dozen others stood on the patio, shifting their feet, though, Marlo noted, not from the cold. Some of the younger changelings stood with older students, but others were standing in couplets to the side. Jack remained apart from any group. Marlo glanced at him every so often. They all seemed to be waiting for something. The longer she stood on the patio, the more she began to sweat, even though it was nearing zero degrees outside.
“I think I’m wearing too much,” Marlo said.
“Give me your coat,” Drew said. “I’ll hang on to it.”
“Who are you today?” Marlo unzipped her parka and pushed it into his arms.
“A coat rack, obviously.” He smiled again. She smiled back.
After a few minutes, the back door opened, and Alexis stepped out. She glanced at Drew. “You’re not on my list,” she said.
Drew gave her a look that seemed to exist only between the two of them, and Alexis took a pen and scribbled something on her tablet. “It’s your ass if something happens.”
Alexis held out her hand to Marlo. “Hey there. Sorry we haven’t met yet. I’m Alexis.”
A very brief memory flitted through Marlo’s thoughts, of seeing Alexis looking longingly over at Marlo, Katrina, and Adam during lunch. Young Alexis sometimes sat with Zoe and Drew, but usually sat alone. Seeing Alexis’s eyes provoked Marlo’s memory. They were the same as Adam’s eyes–huge and dark–though Alexis’s were more serious. A perfect friend for Zoe, Marlo thought. Marlo shook Alexis’s hand.
“Shall we go?” Alexis said to the group. Everyone nodded with various degrees of uncertainty weighing on their faces.
“This is going to sound weird,” Marlo whispered to Drew, “But could you stay close?”
“Of course, though I never thought I’d hear that come out of your mouth.”
“Me, neither.” Marlo continued to look over at Jack as they walked the mile to the cabin. He seemed to watch her every move, though he never looked directly at her. She shivered, but her skin continued to buzz.
Marlo had imagined the cabin would look something like the ones she saw in movies, particularly The Great Outdoors, but this so-called cabin looked like an enormous cinderblock. She saw no windows and only one door. After Alexis used a key to open the lone door, Marlo filed past her, behind a girl and what appeared to be the girl’s boyfriend. He held the girl’s hand and squeezed it every so often. True to his word, Drew flanked her, and a warm trickle of hope spread through her chest as he took her hand.
The inside of the cinderblock was even less inviting, and Marlo found herself clutching Drew’s hand. What looked like empty cells lined one wall, and each had a key pad next to it. Some of the doors further down the line were closed, and at the end of the row was a single open entry. Once everyone was inside, and Alexis locked the door behind them, the group fanned out, and Alexis stepped in front. With the exception of the hand-holding couple, the nervous whispers that filled the cabin ceased.
“Welcome to your home for the next three days…” Alexis paused and gave the girl and her boyfriend a withering stare before continuing. They quieted, and the girl’s previously brimming eyes spilled over. Marlo looked around and realized that all the young teens had misting eyes or panicked looks about them. She wondered what her face looked like. She tried to keep it as stone, but doubted she was succeeding.
“I know this place does not look all that inviting, but since this is the first lunar change for all of you, we take every precaution. After your first change, they should get easier, and you should be able to have better control over your gifts. When you have learned to master your changes, you will be allowed in the woods during full moons, and soon after that, you should be able to leave Haven.” Smiles brightened the faces of all, except Jack and Drew. Marlo wondered if this meant she would not be leaving any time soon. Even so, these kids had families waiting, hoping for them to get better. Outside Haven, Marlo suspected she had nothing left that meant anything.
Alexis nodded to the open doorways behind her. “Each of you has already been assigned a room. You must remove your clothing before being sealed in the rooms, for obvious reasons.” Marlo noticed that not one of the teens looked mortified, though she felt her own face burning. The reasons did not seem obvious to her, but she resisted the impulse to raise her hand. “Your guardian will observe you from the control room through there.” Alexis used her hand to indicate to a separate cinderblock behind them that protruded from the wall about five feet. “Your guardian will feed you, and take care that you do not hurt yourself once you have changed. You will also be able to communicate with him or her throughout the three days. They will walk you through the remaining instructions and preparations once you reach your rooms.” Alexis stepped all of the way to the side. “Guardians, please escort your charges.”
The couple kissed until two older changelings pulled them apart. The other teens simply followed their guardians with tacit acceptance. Marlo realized Drew had never dropped her hand when he put a small amount of pressure on the back. Marlo looked up at him and nodded. He’d be a good dancer, Marlo thought, if he ever got the chance.
As Marlo, Drew and Jack walked toward the back of the cabin, Marlo indicated toward the closed doors. “What are those rooms for?” she asked.
Drew frowned and hesitated, which made Marlo’s stomach drop. “Some changelings never come out of their change,” he said. “If they are able to show cognizance, the Counsel puts them out into the wild and allows them to roam free. The ones in those rooms are not only unaware that they were ever people, but they’re violent.”
“Why leave them in there? Why not let them go peacefully?”
“The Counsel likes to observe them for up to a year before putting them down.” Marlo saw a microscopic strain in Drew’s lips. “Zoe studies their blood and behavior. If we can stop something like that from happening to others, it is worth the pain of a few.” Marlo didn’t think he quite believed his own words, but said nothing. She wondered how much of what she assumed about him over the previous week had come from first-impression prejudice.
Marlo chewed on her lip. When she arrived at her cell, she felt her skin go cold. She inched closer to Drew. His size became a barrier between her and the terror she felt. “If you need to throw up, do it before you go inside,” Jack said. Marlo turned to see that Jack had come up behind them.
“I’m fine,” she lied. Marlo forced herself to walk inside. The walls and floor were metal, though they conducted no heat or cold. Marlo reached up and drew the fingers of her left hand across one of the hundreds of deep claw marks that scarred the walls. “A kid created these?” she asked.
“Yes,” Drew said. “Until now, though, this room has had only one resident.”
Marlo’s breath caught in her throat. “They died?”
“Nothing like that. It’s just that rooms can sometimes retain the energy of the former occupant. This one belonged to the only other person the Counsel thought was the hybrid.”
“Will I do this?”
Drew opened his mouth, but Jack cut him off. “There’s no way to know. We don’t even know if you’ll change, but–like Alexis said–we can’t take chances. If Drew will excuse us, we need to go over some things.”
Marlo furrowed her eyebrows. “Which one of you is my guardian?”
“Neither,” Drew said. “Only changelings can be guardians.” So, Victoria lied. Drew looked down at Jack. “I told Marlo I wouldn’t leave her.”
“First lesson in not making promises you can’t keep?” Jack asked. From Drew’s expression, it was. “Victoria will want you back in the main house. I’ll take it from here.”
Once again, Marlo wondered what her expression was, because Drew looked so very sorry. “I’ll check on you,” he said. He hugged her, and though the embrace started out extraordinarily awkward, when she relaxed and hugged him back she felt something emanating from him. It was the same thing she felt when her spirit greeted another benevolent spirit, like Katrina’s.
“It’s okay,” she whispered into his shoulder. “I’ll be all right.”
Drew glared at Jack before walking out.
“You moved fast,” Jack said.
“Excuse me?” Marlo bristled.
“I just thought you’d be a little more cautious with men by now,” Jack said.
“If you’re going to judge me for my past,” Marlo said, her pitch spiking, “Then leave now. I feel shitty enough as it is. I don’t need some stalker-slash-guardian angel to sit on my shoulder right now.” I have enough voices in my head, she thought.
“Sorry,” Jack said. Something moved out of his eyes. Anger? Not jealousy. Concern?
“And, not that I have to justify myself to you…” Then why are you? “You misread the situation. He’s just showing being kind.”
Jack smirked and Marlo just stared back at him.
“Can you turn around so I can undress?” she asked.
“You’re going to have to lose that modesty.” She could tell he was refraining from adding something rude, probably something about her past. Just because she had slept around didn’t mean she was ready for this complete stranger to see her naked.
“Fine,” she said. She grabbed as many layers as she could and pulled them over her head. She stripped off her bra, and then took off her pants and underwear in a single motion. She balled up the clothes and pushed them toward Jack. Her hands trembled, but she willed her skin not to flush.
“Thank you,” he said, tossing the clothes out the door. He punched in a code and stepped inside.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m staying in here with you,” he said.
“Like hell.” She crossed her arms over her breasts. “Then why don’t you take off your clothes?”
“You have to remove your clothes so that you don’t choke on them when you change. The first lunar change is very painful, very disorienting. There are many ways you could harm yourself.”
She shrugged. “I could choke on your clothes. Or on you.”
“I wouldn’t let you get that close,” he said.
“Clearly,” Marlo replied, easing herself onto the floor, hoping her double entendre was not lost on him.
“You think I’m cold, distant. Watching you for twenty years without you knowing it?” Marlo just stared back at him. “I have been your guardian angel, and not your stalker. I’ve saved your life half a dozen times.”
“You weren’t there when I needed you most,” Marlo whispered.
“I’ve always been present, but last week’s disaster was an anomaly. I had no way of knowing what would happen, and somehow your connection to me was cut off when you–if you–changed.”
“That’s my gift. My blood works like a two-way radio between myself and those who have ingested it, or–in your case–injected it.”
“You can read my thoughts?”
“Not really. I can go into your dreams, sometimes. I can sense your feelings. Most importantly, I know where you are at all times.”
“So, you’re more like GPS?” she said, relaxing somewhat.
“If that analogy works better for you, then yes.”
“But you said two-way.”
“You can sense me, too, right? Share my dreams?”
That was him she dreamed about the previous night. “You’ve been gone the whole time I’ve been here, haven’t you?”
Jack nodded. That was why she hadn’t dreamed or felt that old sense of vertigo. “You said ‘injected’?”
“My blood was in those injections you took every day as a child.”
“But I stopped taking those years ago.”
“After twelve years, I think it became part of you. I don’t know how, but even after you left the protection of your grandmother, you never left mine.”
“And you’ve killed people…”
“That bothers you, doesn’t it? You think your life is worth so little?”
“I feel like my life shouldn’t mean more than the lives of others.”
“Sweetheart, if you’re the hybrid, your life will mean more than you could ever imagine.” His tone was half admiring and half concerned, like Garrett’s used to be. Like a father’s.
In spite of this new valuation of Jack, Marlo rankled at his words. “You may have watched me or sensed me,” she said, “but don’t think you understand who I am. I’m more than just my gifts, whatever those may be.”
Jack’s face softened. “I know you, Marlo. But what I think, what I’ve seen, doesn’t matter. You’ve had your life torn down so many times and then you made something out of the ashes. You have a strong mind. But that’s not only going to strengthen you as an asset to the Counsel. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.” Jack paused. “Do you know anything about the prophesy?”
“Enough to know it’s probably bullshit.”
“You know what the Counsel has in mind for you if it’s true?” Marlo looked away. “Didn’t think so. The Counsel means to turn the hybrid into a weapon. They plan for you to facilitate a second crossing.”
“What kind of weapon acts as a facilitator?”
“A smart one.”
“And the mirrors?” Marlo asked. “If the number of Otherworlders increases, won’t they just grow in number? What will happen to the human population?”
“You mean the billions of freeloaders who take this planet and its beauty for granted?”
“That’s not for me to decide,” Marlo said. “Or you.”
“It’s someone else’s, many someone else’s. They have already decided for you, and me. Your whole ancestral line came to this reality with one goal in mind: to make this our new home.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The first group that crossed were kindred, thousands of years ago. Part of that group was Cayce men and women. The next group, about four hundred years ago, were all changelings, except for one man and a Cayce woman. The official crossing two hundred and twenty-nine years ago was led by the woman whose spirit you carry around inside you.”
“She believed that this planet could benefit from Otherworld strength and knowledge. She and Victoria, along with one other volemic, one dragon and one changeling, formed the counsel.”
“Then they’ve strayed from her dream. She wanted something better for the humans.” Is that what you believe or what you want to be true?
“A second crossing could accomplish that, and if you are a hybrid between two Otherworld species, then this world might be able to support more hybrids–with the humans.”
“Isn’t that what the mirrors are?”
“They are abominations.”
“So, you’re saying that the creators of this world screwed up in their creations. All of them, essentially.”
“How old are you, Jack?”
“Just tell me.”
“I’m three hundred and thirty-seven.”
“Which means you’ve been here longer than you were in the Otherworld, and you’ve spent the last twenty of the past three hundred and something years observing me.”
“What’s your point?”
“What was it about the Otherworld that was so wrong? I mean, you all wanted to leave, so there must have been something wrong.”
“The governing faction in the Otherworld was such that it fostered a rebellion.”
“And instead of staying in your own reality and fighting, you came here.”
“We did fight. We lost. Those of us who survived crossed over.”
“How do you know there’s anyone left in the Otherworld who wants to cross, especially since this world is so imperfect?”
“Because we aren’t secluded or shut off from them. You were at the chasm. It’s like a stream between our worlds, and people can communicate through the vibrations. They are begging to come here. You and your brother and his friends had no idea what would await you on the other side. The government in the Otherworld has gotten worse, more destructive.”
“So, you’ve decided to appropriate this reality for your own?”
“Don’t you see? If we can make humans stronger, and smarter, build them to last longer, there won’t be as much breeding. We only have about a hundred thousand Otherworlders here now. A few more hundred would be welcome, but with the exponential growth of the humans, they will kill themselves. We aren’t trying to rule them. We are trying to save them.”
Marlo realized he really believed what he was saying. He didn’t trust the humans to come to build a positive future without help. He didn’t see them, he didn’t know what they were capable of. He didn’t believe as she did. He will try to win you to his cause, and he will let Them destroy us. Marlo realized she didn’t want to believe that about this man.
“If you are really trying to save them, then I will help,” she lied. “They are worth saving.”
Jack’s frenzy while he was describing his goals, the Counsel’s goals, abated. He sat down next to her. “Then as soon as you change, if you change, we’ll start your training.”
“What if I don’t change?”
“If you aren’t the hybrid, then all is lost. I want to believe that the end of Margaret’s line will be the one to deliver us.”
What Jack wanted to believe seemed to be his guiding light.