As much as I wanted to see my father just then, as soon as Asenath’s truck came into sight, I stopped walking. My mouth was dry, and I could all-but hear my heart hammering within the confines of my chest. When I spoke, my voice cracked at first, forcing me to swallow. “I– I have to tell him.”
The vampire looked toward me, remaining silent for a moment until I continued. “I have to tell my Dad. It’s—it’s my mom. My mother. My—my mom is—she’s–I’m not—I can’t–” Closing my eyes, I whimpered as a full-body shudder ran through me. I was sweating, yet I also felt cold. “My mother.”
After a second of that, I felt one of her hands take my arm, while the other resting against my back. Gently, but firmly, the vampire girl eased me over to a nearby bus stop bench and sat me down before joining me. Her hand rubbed my back a little as she spoke in a gentle voice. “You can tell him. You can tell him anything you want to.” Squeezing my arm before sliding it down to take my hand, she continued with a voice of regret. “But he won’t remember. You should know how that works. If the Bystanders see or hear about something to do with Alters, they either see something normal, or completely forget it happened a moment after it’s over. You could tell your father, he could start to react to it, but before your conversation was even over, he’d forget what you told him. He can’t retain it.”
I wanted to hit her. My first impulse was to flail, to scream at the girl and hurt her. I wanted to lash out. I needed to do something to make her wrong. I wanted her to be wrong, to pay for telling the truth.
Instead, I just sat there, motionless with my eyes squeezed tightly shut. I didn’t respond to her words other than to give another weak little shiver. Sitting there on the bench, I let my mind drift back.
Hatred. I hated my mother. I’d refused to go by the name she’d given me for the past ten years solely because it was the best way I could think of to hurt her. I had thrown away every gift I remembered her giving me as a child, dumping everything that reminded me of her in the garbage to get rid of it.
Oh no. No, no. Taddy. Taddy, my stuffed raccoon. Oh god. I’d had him since I was a baby, and I remembered my mother using him to play with me. Taddy. He was the last memory of her that I’d kept, holding onto my beloved raccoon for almost two months after Mom had left. Then I’d come home from first grade one day to find my father crying in his room over one of my mother’s old sweatshirts.
Seeing that had been the last straw. In rage, grief, and confusion, I had taken a pair of scissors and hacked away at Taddy. I cut and snipped and, when my coordination fell too far, simply tore at it. I destroyed the toy, the gift I’d had since I was a baby, in a pathetic attempt to hurt my missing mother.
My eyes burned with tears, and I threw myself off of the bench that Asenath had sat me down at. Falling to my knees on the sidewalk, I threw up into the gutter. The agony of shame and humiliation, as well as utter horror at what I had done filled me, and I threw up again, heaving a little while renewed tears broke through. No. No, Taddy. Taddy. Mommy. No, please, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, please, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t know. Let me take it back. Please let me take it back. Please.
I had no idea that I was talking out loud until Asenath settled beside me and patted me softly on the back. Her voice was quiet and gentle as she tugged my loose hair out of my face. “Take what back?”
I said nothing at first, simply staring into that gutter before closing my eyes tightly. The words came in a whimper. “Hate my mom. I hate my mom. Hated. Hated my mother. My mommy. Mine. I hurt her. I wanted her to hurt. I wished she was hurt. I wished she was really hurt, and lost, and sad. I wished she was hurt and sad and she was. She was, she hurt, he took her. He took her, he took her, and she let him. She made him. She made him take her instead of me. He took her instead of me and she’s gone and she left and I hated her. I hated her, I hurt her, I broke Taddy. I cut up Taddy, I cut up my raccoon, I cut up my toy and he’s gone and I wanted him gone to hurt her because she was gone but it’s not her fault. She—she let him take her. She let him take her because it was me. She saved me. Me. Mine. My mommy.”
After that, nothing that I said resembled actual sentences. It was just words, too jumbled and chaotic to understand. My mommy. My mother. I hurt her. I had wished for so long that she was as hurt as she left Dad and me, that she was sad and crying. And now? Now I knew the truth. Now I knew what she had done, what she had sacrificed to protect me. The fate that she had accepted just to give me a chance. And in return for that, the things I had said, the things I had thought about her…
My body heaved, and I threw up yet again, spitting at the end as great rolling sobs rocked my huddled figure. There was absolutely no coordination, dignity, or charm to it. I was half-laying over the sidewalk, braced and held only by a vampire that I’d met that same night, crying and throwing up into the gutter while the horrible, agonizing guilt that came along with the truth tore its way through me.
Eventually, a passing car, out in the middle of the night, drew my attention. Through bleary eyes, I watched as the sedan slowed just long enough to see two girls in the gutter, then pulled away quickly. The driver shouted something about stupid drunk teenagers and blared his horn on the way past.
“If you like,” Asenath spoke quietly, “I will hunt him down and scare the piss out of him.” She was smiling gently when I looked up, finally releasing my hair as I straightened. Her voice was as gentle as ever, the maturity in her eyes at odds with the youth of her face. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I did. As we sat there in the dark, I spoke to this girl I had just barely met. I told her about my mother’s disappearance and what we had thought happened. I told her about the intervening ten years and how much I had distanced myself from my own mother. I even told her about Crossroads and everything I’d found out there, including all the unanswered questions. I told her about everything all the way up to what Ammon’s father had said and done. I spoke every word, as awful as it made me feel, until it was all out. When I was done, I finished with a weak, “And now I can’t tell my dad. I could tell him, I could let him know, but he’d feel as bad as I do. He’d only feel the guilt, then he’d forget about it before he could feel any relief or… or try to help find her, or anything. I can tell him over and over again, and every time I do, he’ll only just start to realize what Mom’s gone through, then he’ll forget again.”
Raising my fist, I punched down against the cement, ignoring the pain that shot through my knuckles. “It’s not fair!” I lamented, closing my eyes while punching the cement one more time. “It’s not fair! He deserves to know! He should—I have to—there has to be—I-I…” Shivering, I managed one last, weak little whisper, “I have to bring her back. I have to save my mom. I have to. Th-there has to be a way.”
“Hey, look here.” Senny brought her hand down to my chin, tilting it up to look at her. “There’s a way. There’s always a way. These types, they always think they’re untouchable, unbeatable. They think they can do anything they want, that they can hurt anyone. But no one is completely invincible. No one. So it might be hard, you might lose a lot, you might get hurt, you might even think it’s impossible. But that doesn’t mean you give up, not if it’s something you really want. Not if it’s that important to you. ”
“She’s my mother,” I said quietly. “I have to help her. I have to find a way. I can’t just leave her there. Not now. Not after all this—everything–I will help her.” Letting out a long, low sigh then, I added, “Not that I could give up anyway. He’s coming back in a year to try to take me when I’m eighteen.”
For a few seconds, the vampire said nothing. She was silent, clearly thinking it through before finally speaking. “Maybe you should just tell the rest of the Heretics everything. Tell them what he said, what he’s planning to do. Tell them everything so that they can take steps to protect you from him.”
I considered it, I thought about the suggestion seriously for a few moments before shaking my head with a frown. “No.” Letting out a long sigh, I added, “From everything I know, it’s their fault my mother was in that situation. They took her memories, or someone there did. I don’t know who made the decision or what their reasoning was. Until I know all of it, or at least more than I do, then I don’t know who to trust. Someone thought keeping their secrets was worth putting my mother at risk, and they might just do the same for me. Hell, they had a tied vote about whether to let me in the school at all or not until the Headmistress broke it. How do I know they won’t just wipe out my memory of everything I’ve already found out? They sure seem pretty trigger-happy with the memory wipes. So no, I can’t tell them yet. I’m going to find out who it was and what my mother was doing. I’m going to find out the truth before I tell them any of it. I have to figure out who I can trust and who I can’t.”
Finally, I let out another long, worried sigh while glancing briefly to the nearby truck. “But my dad… I can’t just leave him. What if Ammon comes back? What if that… that monster sends someone else? What if something happens to him?” My voice was getting more agitated with each word. “What if–”
“I’ll stay with him,” Asenath interrupted, drawing my stare. “I’ll stick around and make sure he’s safe. If anything happens, I can let you know. Hell, I’ve got enough of Ammon’s scent now that I could smell him coming from a block away. If he comes anywhere near your dad, I’ll know before he gets there.”
“You’d do that?” I asked a little weakly, opening my mouth and then shutting it. “Why?”
Her gaze didn’t break from mine. “I don’t stand by while other people are hurt, and I’m sure as hell not going to walk away from this and leave your dad defenseless. Besides,” she added with a shrug, “You’re already helping me look up information about what Ammon is in that Heretical library. You know more about him now, but you still don’t know what he is, or who his father is. You’re gonna be looking for all those answers, and I want to be there to help take this fucker when you find them.”
“Right,” I started slowly. “We have to figure out what the hell he is, who he is if there’s gonna be any chance of stopping him. I didn’t even get a name. But I guess ‘guy who steps on the ashes of his own summoned ghosts’ has to narrow the Google Heretic search results a bit. Him and his son, my–” I felt bile coming back up in my throat, and had to heave a little before controlling myself. “My brother.”
“Half-brother,” she reminded me gently. “Are you okay with that? With me sticking around, I mean. Most Heretics, even partially-trained ones like you, wouldn’t let that happen. Hell, even most normal people wouldn’t want a vampire staying with their father, if they remembered long enough.”
My head shook firmly. “I don’t care what you are. You helped me. The way I see it, what you do matters a hell of a lot more than how evil some book or teacher says you have to be. If you want to stay with my dad, if you want to protect him, I’d… I’d be really grateful.” The words sounded lame and inadequate even as I said them. “I really would. I can’t really pay you anything, I don’t have–”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Asenath coughed. “You think I’ve been around for a couple hundred years without having a pretty damn sizable savings account or two? I don’t need money. Just find out what you can about Ammon and his father, and keep me in the loop so I can help when the time comes.”
I bit my lip, the thought of lying yet again to my father repugnant to me. Still, if it was the only way to protect him… “I’ll tell my dad you’re a friend from online, and that you’re taking some time off college and need a room to rent, so I thought we’d see if he’d let you use mine since I’m not there.”
“I’ll be a journalism student,” Senny replied. “One that would love the experience of shadowing Lincoln Chambers through his job while I decide what sort of journalist I want to be.”
Raising an eyebrow, I asked, “Can you fake something like that? Dad knows an awful lot about what they teach in those courses. He’s been through them, and he’s sat in on a few as an expert.”
The vampire chuckled. “Fake? Who said anything about faking it? I’ve graduated from three different universities with journalism degrees in the past century. After all, you have to keep up with the times and techniques if you’re going to be an effective detective. And I am very effective.”
Before I could say anything else, the sound of a thump drew both of our attention to the truck. It came again a second later. My father was kicking against the door, clearly trying to work his way out of the bondage that we’d left him in.
Wincing, I looked to Asenath. “What do we tell him about all this?” Even as I asked, the sound of police sirens abruptly came to life. From the sheriff’s office down the street, I watched as a half dozen cars went tearing out, lights on and sirens blaring as they split up. Clearly Ammon’s effect had worn off, and they’d figured out at least some of what was happening out in the city, that people were dead and their own deputies had been tied up in their cruisers.
How they would reconcile everything that happened and figure out why they lost so much of their own time and memories I had no clue. The explanation of the Bystander-effect seemed pretty vague on that front, saying only that ordinary human brains tended to ‘fill in the gaps’ with information they could accept.
The sound of the sirens had made my father’s own struggles grow louder, and I quickly stood up. “He was drugged by whoever was responsible for all this,” I said quietly. “We don’t know who they were or what they wanted, only that he was on his way to the police station. We found him on the side of the road and put him in your truck, then the sirens went off and distracted us before we could untie him.”
Senny nodded back at me. “Sounds fine to me. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.”
Giving her a grateful look, I hesitated before stepping over to hug the vampire briefly. “Thank you,” I said quietly. “For everything. I’d be… a lot worse off if it wasn’t for you.”
With that said, I stepped over to the truck and opened the door. “Dad!” I quickly reached over to start untying the phone cord, while my father stared at me in surprise.
“Flick?” He managed after a moment once his wrists were free. “What—what are you doing here? What happened? Where are we? What–”
I interrupted by throwing myself at him. Restraining a sob, I clutched onto my father as tightly as I could, hugging myself to his chest while inhaling his scent.
As confused as he obviously was, Dad returned the hug just as firmly. “Oh, oh. Flick, are you okay, baby? Are you all right?”
I opened my mouth to answer, then hesitated. “I’m not sure. I think it’s a really long, confusing story. But…” Another hesitation, and I clung tighter while pressing my face against his shoulder as I continued.
“Could you call me Felicity?”