Deep Red: Chapter Nine
June 4, 1773: Margaret, my grandfather, Walker, and several others were murdered yesterday. Somehow the other side knows that Dorothy was not the hybrid, and the war has begun again. All my grandfather’s notes and journals from the last twenty years were burned along with his body. Victoria and the other Counsel members, which now include me and Margaret’s great-granddaughter, Mary, must move again to protect ourselves from what many now call the anti-aging curse. Though the kindred seem to be aging at a similar rate to humans (only about two or three decades behind the average, healthy, upper class Resident), we changelings age at about seventy-five percent of the rate of human Residents, and, once they reach puberty, volemics age about ten percent as quickly as human Residents, and all of this is far below the rates in the Otherworld where the average life-expectancy was about 80 years-old. We do not suffer from disease like we did in the Otherworld, either … November 1, 1773: We have chosen to let the new methods carry our messages to those still loyal to Margaret’s plan and are making arrangements to go back West. I will continue my grandfather’s work there and hope that I am able to record the missing parts of his research. Perhaps the more spread-out we become, the less interest the Residents will take in our activities.
The Notes of Jacob Shinab, 1773, ed. by Jonah Shinab, 1849
Drew escorted Marlo to the cafeteria and then said he had official Victoria business to take care of. Marlo didn’t understand why she was being left on her own, but decided not to waste or abuse the time.
Instead of eating in the cafeteria, Marlo took a few water bottles from one of the coolers and walked to a couch in the empty common room. She couldn’t remember the last time she was this thirsty or hungry, though the thought of the available food options made her stomach lurch. She laid her head back on a cushion and shut her eyes, wishing for a sketchbook and a pencil. Two and a half bottles of water later, someone sat on the couch next to her. Marlo opened her eyes and saw the red head from her memories, now grown, freckles gone.
“Hey there,” the woman said.
She was the first kindred Marlo had seen or sensed in this place. The woman’s spirit sat on her shoulder, and looked very much like a robin version of his owner, with a bright red chest. Male spirits often accompanied female kindred, a sort of yin and yang principle. Marlo’s spirit was too old to have gender.
At the sight of the familiar woman, a flood of memories rushed Marlo’s mind, which her spirit took no trouble to staunch. Recalling five years of almost inseparable contact with this stranger in mere seconds made Marlo clutch her head and stomach.
Katrina. Her name was Katrina. They shared a crib together, and later a bed and then a room. They practiced their magic together, each girl’s spirit holding up a balloon or one taking a pin to poke the other’s. Giggling. Secrets. Never-ending play and discovery. Katrina and Marlo would work together to create fire for the outdoor gatherings, and help others to find something they’d lost. Sometimes, usually at Marlo’s urging, they would play pranks on the little blonde boy who had a permanent sour look on his face.
The memories also contained five years of emotions. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, reunions, forgiveness, trust. Love. Marlo was used to the negative, but the positive took her by surprise. And no matter how much time Marlo spent trying to hide her emotions over the years, this proved too much for her, and she burst into tears.
Katrina wrapped her arms around Marlo and let her sob into her shoulder. After a few moments, the memories settled, and Marlo withdrew, wiping her eyes. She took a deep breath, and leaned her back toward the arm of the couch. Marlo looked at the woman again, this time as someone she knew deeply.
“I’m sorry,” Marlo said.
Katrina shook her head. “No need. I wanted to approach you sooner, but I didn’t have the chance. When you were in the hospital wing, I came to see you, but you weren’t awake. Drew said you would be alone this afternoon and called me in from the gym.”
“Drew called you?”
“Sure. He’s a good friend.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Katrina smiled. “It’s really good that you’re back. I can’t tell you how lonely it’s gotten being the only kindred here.” Katrina laughed at the look on Marlo’s face. “I haven’t been exactly isolated,” she added, winking at Marlo.
“Zoe?” It was more of a statement than a question. Marlo remembered Katrina’s crush on shy little Zoe, and Katrina was nothing if not constant in her devotion.
“So, you remember?”
“If I’d had time to think about it, I would have thought it was a childhood crush, but I guess not. She was so serious. She still is. Is that why you haven’t left?” Marlo asked. Katrina had been such a sweet and smart girl. Perceptive. She would have no trouble making it in the real world, unlike Zoe who would need a personality remodel to make it out the front door.
“I actually did leave,” Katrina said. “When we were all cleared seven years ago, I moved to Portland. I wanted to see what the world was like, what being in a place without constant sunshine was like. I tried relationships with other kindred, and even a changeling, but no one ever fit like Zoe, so I asked Victoria if I could come back, and she said yes.”
“Zoe wouldn’t go with you?”
“Are you kidding? This is where she was meant to be. Her destiny.”
“And yours is to be with her?” Marlo’s voice tipped toward incredulity.
“I’m sure it’s more than that, but we’ve been through a lot since you left. Not just her and me, but do you remember Adam?”
“Did he used to read next to me on the couch?”
Katrina revealed a sly smile. “I think I’ll let you remember him on your own, if that’s all you remember. But you remember me?”
“I think you might be the only real friend I’ve ever had.” Katrina remained silent. “Wow, that sounded pretty pathetic.”
“Not really,” Katrina said. “Not surprising, I guess. I’m not really sure how to catch up, though. There’s so much.”
“Ask me anything you want.”
“What was it like living as a human?”
Marlo smiled. “You always did get straight to a point.“ She sighed. “I guess it was difficult, but I being a real human, without any overt magical abilities, is worse. I had to take these shots every day when I was a kid. They looked like blood. No one ever told me what they were, but they hid my true lineage somehow. My brother even had to lie about who I was. Lucy told most of the people in the counsel that I was my grandfather’s great niece so no one could leak my identity. I could only perform full-strength magic at Lucy’s house or at Victoria’s estate in Chicago. They told me I was too powerful to be someone of my grandfather’s line, so when I did any spells among the Otherworld community, I had to hold back.”
Marlo realized that Katrina was actually listening to everything she said, so she continued. “Then, when I spent time with humans, I had to hide who I was all together. I started spending time with humans more than anyone else after a while. It just became easier, you know? Hiding my whole nature is easier than trying to reign in a typhoon, especially since Victoria and Lucy had pretty high expectations of my performance during my ‘real’ training.’ I guess I should have worked harder at practicing holding back. Maybe none of this would have happened.”
“I’m not sure it would matter, not if you are the hybrid.”
“But what if I’m not? What if I’m just a murderer, and so many other things? I spent most of my early twenties just screwing humans and getting lit.”
“Wow, really? I’ve never had sex with a human. What’s that like?”
“I have nothing to compare it to.”
Katrina looked mystified. “I wouldn’t advertise all that around the people here.” She looked around and lowered her voice, as if anyone else in the house who wanted to couldn’t hear her whisper. Kindred were the only Otherworld species without enhanced hearing. “Sleeping with humans is not so bad for kindred,” Katrina whispered. “We’ve been on this plane the longest, and we’re the most like humans. But, if you are the hybrid, a changeling sleeping with a human is pretty gross. To them. Sort of like how humans see bestiality.”
“But it’s not that bad to you?”
Katrina shrugged. “Up until now, you’ve been working inside this human-box that Victoria and your grandmother put you in. You’ve just been reacting–”
“–to what you were dealt. You can start again here, maybe try something new. I know that sounds really trite, and slightly…”
Katrina nodded. “But it’s true. I would hate to see either Lucy or Victoria, or anyone else, define you. When you were young, the light in you was so immense. Your spirit is the only one I’ve met, or that has met mine. No matter what they determine about your physical nature, your spiritual nature cannot change.”
“You don’t know that.”
“But your spirit is still with you?”
“Oh my god, I can’t imagine what I’d do if it wasn’t.”
Katrina beamed. “It’s just so wonderful being around someone who understands. I mean, if Zoe didn’t have her blood power, she would still have her enormous brain, and changelings are so much more in-tuned with their animal nature. I know that if something happened to Nester, if he became a part of my physical nature, I would be lost.” Katrina hugged Marlo again. “I know we still have so much to talk about…”
“Definitely too much to cover in an afternoon.” Marlo looked at her watch. “Especially since I need to get back to the lab. You’ve made Zoe seem a little more like a person, though, so I appreciate it.”
“How did I do that?” Katrina asked.
Marlo smiled. “By loving her.”
Katrina laughed. “I still love you, too.”
Of course she did. Marlo fought back another tear. “Thanks.”
Katrina walked Marlo back to the lab and left before Marlo headed to the far back rooms where they would record her PFTs, EKGs and EEGs. When Marlo saw Zoe again, her memories began to fill in. Zoe was always looking at groups of other students with envy, especially theirs. She only really ever talked to the blonde boy that Marlo would tease. Marlo mostly remembered how much Katrina used to talk about her. “She’s so pretty and smart,” Katrina would say. “I should ask her to play with us. Do you think she would play with us?” She never got up the guts to ask while Marlo knew her.
Katrina saw something in Zoe, and Katrina’s instincts had kept Marlo from getting into several deadly scrapes in the basement and back woods, not to mention that she stopped Marlo from bullying the blonde boy. Marlo’s memories were not vague, so she tried to look for more in Zoe than she saw before.
Every time Zoe said, “What?” Marlo looked away, but she resumed her staring soon after. About twenty “whats?” later, Marlo’s tests were done. Marlo met Drew outside of the wing, and he took her back to her room. For a day that began fairly bleak, at least she had something to look forward to now. She now had proof of what she had lost when she left Haven, and she meant to get it back.