Dance in Shadow and Whisper
My chest tightened with a deep breath of preparation. I stared at the front door handle, simple brass and weathered from its once gossamer brilliance, the tread of my boots planted against the new carpet, the back of my neck tingling with sweat.(Continue reading by hitting "Read more"!)
This whole mission was a joke.I was the joke.There must have been so many others much more capable than me, others who could handle the foreign outside world. Damn it, I was lucky if I could handle silencing an incoming call on my brother’s cellular telephone gadget.The doorbell chimed. A disarming melody lulled throughout the house but echoed shrilly in my brain.It was too late now.My arm lifted, but my moist palm stopped just short of the sweeping grin of the handle when I saw how my fingers quivered. I hadn’t noticed until then.There was no reason to be afraid—concerned, perhaps, for my personal wellbeing, but afraid? No. Certainly not. If I had to, I could hole-punch this guy through the chest with my fist if he gave me the right justification.My fingers clamped the cool handle and twisted. The door popped open. The fresh, crisp light of early morning flooded the hallway.There he stood, the embodiment of my fear and apprehension and sweaty palms. He stood nearly half a foot over me, tall for something that had once been human, but his skin was so white that he could pass more for a glow stick than any human I’d ever seen. His eyebrows raised above the rims of his aviator sunglasses as he regarded me with eyes so sinister and evil and diabolical that I couldn’t see them behind the mirror lenses.He must have been sensitive to sunlight.Odd.“Kali?” he asked.My lungs bloated with another deep breath. “Depends. Do you have a face behind those sunglasses?”“I don’t, actually. I could draw one on, if you’d like. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done drag, after all.”I stared at him, waiting for him to further elucidate. He didn’t. I pressed my lips together and said, “What….Drag…?”“Yes, as in drag queen makeup.”“What is that?”Silence passed between us. I had a sense that this was something I needed to know if I were to pass for a human teenager. I also had a sense that, if this were a test of my studies, I had failed. Miserably.He cleared his throat and adjusted his simple three-ring binder under his arm. He wore all sorts of trendy layers that I had seen in my magazine, and his shirt pulled so tight across his chest that I was reminded of my big brother, Toivo, whose pectorals would shred the flimsy cotton if he so much as lifted a paperweight.Except this guy didn’t have pectorals like Toivo’s. Not even close.He extended a hand toward me. “You should already know I’m Yuuhi. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Kali.”I stared at his hand, waiting for it to come alive and attack me. “How am I supposed to know you’re Yuuhi if you don’t show me your face?”After heaving a great sigh of woe and suffering, he snatched the sunglasses from his nose. The sun glinted off his cheekbones and eyelashes, illuminating a pair of eyes so green it was like staring into the dense forest surrounding my house and trying to see through the darkest shadows.I swallowed. “You’re Yuufi.”“Yuuhi.”“That’s what I said.”“Well…it’s at least a step in the right direction.”“Yuufi is an Asian name.”“Japanese, specifically.”“But you’re not Asian.”Silence passed between us again. Another test I failed.So I continued. “You’re actually…quite white-looking. You have typical European features—for the most part, anyway, but you don’t look even remotely Asian.”I had to wonder if that meant his real name had been taken from him so that he could be claimed and renamed like a pet by his owners. If that was true, then he was more dangerous than I had anticipated.His lips pursed. “Are you going to make deductions like these for the rest of the day?”“You mean, am I going to note of the illogical?”I had asked a very serious question, but instead of addressing me as a serious equal like he should have, he caved into chuckles. His shoulders bounced and he shook his head, free hand pushing back his light brown hair. “Come on, let’s get going. Don’t want to be late for your first day of junior year.”My ears perked as I watched him turn away and climb down the creaky steps of the balcony. I shut the door on my heels, secured the straps of my backpack, spared one last glance at my cozy one-story house, and then tailed after him.
*The morning mist clinging to the wet soil and dense canopy of trees mingled with the early September heat of the young sunlight. Leaves fluttered with the tickle of a breeze. Birds tackled branches and sang a hundred different songs. I’d been taught to always be aware of my surroundings, but the morning was just as average as any morning, and that left me somehow twice as anxious.We marched together on the residential sidewalk as people packed into cars and glided off to work or school or wherever else.Well, I marched.Yuuhi sauntered.I stole sideways glimpses of him, unsure of what to make of his general lack of concern for all the quick ways I could reduce him to the consistency of blended brain matter. Tires of a large SUV crunched the asphalt beside us before rounding the bend and disappearing beyond a wall of second growth trees, which was when he said, “I do have one very serious question.”“No, I don’t know what drag is.”“You’ve made that clear already. Actually,” he peered down at me through his obnoxious sunglasses, brow crinkled, “I was wondering why you chose pigtails, of all things.”The toe of my boot caught on a crack in the concrete and I stumbled. “What? What’s wrong with my hair?”“Nothing’s wrong with your hair. It’s quite beautiful, actually, with its fullness, and that shade of brown—honey, I’m going to call it, especially in the sunlight. You don’t color, do you?”“Color what?”“That’s what I thought. You’ve got lovely hair, so why put it up in pigtails?”My cheeks burned, but I wasn’t upset, so I couldn’t figure out why I felt steam in my face. Who described hair like that, anyway? “Aren’t pigtails ‘in’? Aren’t they ‘trendy’?”“Are you mocking those words or do you actually mean them?”To answer, I reached into the back pocket of my jeans and retrieved a cut-out from a magazine. I unfolded the tiny square into a larger square that I unfolded again, and then I handed the wrinkled mess to him. “See? It’s ‘trendy’.”He stared down at the picture. His lips rolled in. “You were keeping this in your back pocket?”“Yes, just in case I needed to pull it out, and I did.”He half shrugged. “Fair enough. Where did you get this?”“My Sixteen magazine.”“Seventeen, you mean—the age you’re supposed to portray and doing a very poor job of it so far.”I ignored that. “I was told that the stuff in there is what teens are interested in today. Was I told wrong?”He pressed his index and middle finger to his forehead as if to subdue an oncoming migraine. “Kali, I don’t know how to tell you this, but…this is avante garde.”I tripped again. “I thought the makeup and clothing was a bit excessive, but you don’t need to call her names.”Again, I expected him to take me seriously. Again, he defied my expectations and a few laughs escaped his tight lips. “Today is going to be a day of learning for you, Tails.”“Tails? Did you just call me—?”We walked on through the quiet neighborhood as he continued to tease me. A few dogs snarled at us from behind a fence with a sign that read ‘Beware of Dog’, but I addressed the familiar animals by their names and ordered them to shut their faces. They obeyed. It must have been Yuuhi that bothered them, and I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Animals had mixed feelings about the dead.We rounded the corner and the triple-floor high school building came into view. My steps slowed. I wasn’t often out in public places during daylight hours, and to see the wasp nest buzzing and pulsing with life took a rock and lodged it in my esophagus. Cars clogged the intersection outside the school, packed with fat SUVs and wide trucks slathered in mud from the recent late summer rain. The school itself was overflowing with young humans, filing in through the doors to disappear between the walls. A group of them waited at the crosswalk we headed toward, where one of the boys stabbed the pedestrian button over and over and over again, overly eager to join the flood and become submerged.When Yuuhi realized I was no longer following at his side, he stopped and peered back at me, a good twenty feet away. The lights switched and the walking man illuminated, signaling the horde to proceed. Yuuhi headed back to me, sauntering as he’d had all the way here. “Kali, what’s going on? We can’t exactly fulfill our mission from outside the school.”My lips turned down. “Obviously.” He gave me a meaningful look that I could feel through his sunglasses. My head lowered. “I’m just—It’s not that I—I mean….I’m not really…”“Eloquent?”I glared at him, but he was immune to it. “Listen, alright? I’m not used to large crowds. I’m also not used to acting like another species, so gods forbid I’m a little nervous about this whole ordeal and trying to perform well when the eyes of both our higher powers are boring down upon us and waiting for the worst to happen so that we can both be ripped to pieces, if we’re so lucky, got it?”I had to catch my breath, and as I did, I realized my cheeks were burning again.Emotional outbursts. I wasn’t used to them.Of all things, the corner of his mouth twisted into a lopsided smirk. “Good. I’m finally glad to hear you utter some sense about this, because I was beginning to get the feeling that you didn’t have an appropriate grasp of the situation. I’m glad you do. Unfortunately, Tails,” his smirk faded and his posture shifted, “I don’t think you were chosen correctly for this. Quite honestly, I’m starting to think that I was recruited for a practical joke now that I see you’re lacking in all the skills you need for this.”More rocks lodged into my esophagus, but none of them stopped me from blurting, “I don’t think I was the right choice either.”There.It was out in the open.We both knew I was a mistake, that this mission was completely over my head, that I couldn’t handle the pressure or the stress of acting like something I was hardly familiar with.“But,” I interjected before he could speak again, “I’m not useless, and I refuse to be taken as anything but seriously, especially by you.”Startled, his spine straightened and he considered me. That moment didn’t last very long when he shook his head and turned away. “Go home, Kali.”I knew that I didn’t have the appropriate training for something of this magnitude, that I could barely comprehend how deep into the water I was sinking, but the one thing he had yet to learn was to never turn his back on me.Never.My hand sliced the air, less than a blur to the normal eye, and I seized his wrist and twisted. It took half a second to pin his arm behind his back. His spine arched to keep me from popping the joint out of its shoulder socket or crushing every muscle and tendon and bone in his fragile wrist. A grunt escaped him, letting me know that I had made my point. But I hadn’t. Not yet. I wanted him to dangle at my mercy until I made my point most effectively, and I could take my time when the cars and other teens that passed would think us nothing more than a pair caught in an intimate gesture.Like hugging, or something. That was fairly intimate.From between my teeth I hissed, “I am not a joke. And I won’t be treated like one. I might not understand drag or Sixteen magazine or ‘trendy’ things, but if I really wanted you to tell me, I know a hundred ways to force you to talk, and then you wouldn’t think my hair so pretty anymore.”At first his response was silence, and I approved of that. It meant I’d made him reconsider me as a threat, and he needed to know that I was a threat, because I most certainly was a threat—“How many of us have you actually killed, Kali?” he asked.Killed?He wanted to know how many I’d…?I cleared my throat and lifted my chin. “Countless of you have strayed onto my property, and I’ve—”“How many?”“None, because I haven’t had to, because I scare them away when I grab their arms and twist.” I clamped tighter on his wrist, earning another mangled sound from deep in his throat. “Maybe you shouldn’t be asking me how many I’ve killed. Maybe you should be asking how many I’ve generously let go, because for all you know, today could be the day that I break that streak.”Once he’d recovered, a couple strained chuckles escaped his throat. “I suppose it could be.”When he said nothing else, I eased off of him. He faced me, gingerly rolling the shoulder joint and flexing the fingers in his hand.And then he adjusted his collar and the lopsided smirk returned. “Although, I assume if you were actually ready to kill someone, you wouldn’t make the effort to threaten them as many times as you’ve threatened me already. Real killers don’t threaten.”Wh—What?I made to count on my fingers how many times I’d threatened him so far this morning, but then he turned on his heel and continued to the crosswalk just in time for the illuminated walking man to signal a new onrush. I stammered and stuttered and staggered after him, feet clumsier than ever. He didn’t attempt to stop me this time.I glanced the surrounding teenagers who gossiped loudly with friends as they walked, or had noisy plugs in their ears, or had their noses against their cellular telephone screens. I dropped my voice to a murmur. “Then you have, haven’t you? You’ve killed people?”His head rolled to give me a meaningful look, but I wasn’t sure why. Not one of the humans had heard me, or even so much as noticed I existed. “You need to talk about what’s relevant today, Kali. You know the unspoken rule that you don’t simply ask someone what species they are, right? There’s also this nice unspoken rule that you don’t go around asking people if they’ve killed.”“What do I talk about, then?”“You really have no clue?”I fanned my face as the exhaust and rippling heat from the waiting line of cars stung my sinuses. “The Sixteen magazine talked a lot about hair, and skin, and ‘back-to-school’ fashion ideas, and looking nice.”“What else did you read about?”“I only looked at the headlines and the pictures. There were some people too, some ‘celebrities’, but there were way too many for me to even begin to remember.”We crossed to the sidewalk, joining another crowd of students migrating up the concrete path, toward the school. I inched closer to him, wet palms wrapping around my backpack straps as I observed the many faces pressing closer. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed, and he passed me a sideways glance. “Then, Tails, listen to what they have to say.”As I hugged to his side, I diverted my attention to the pair of girls beside me. One of them walked with her telephone in hand as her friend asked her, “You gonna try out for the musical this year?”“Yeah, but I better get a fucking lead this time. I’m sick and tired of waiting for the upperclassmen to graduate so that I can be deemed ‘worthy’ of a real part.”“It’s such bullshit. You sing a hundred times better than what’s-her-face, but her mom totally bought her the part with how much cash she belched in donations.”“Seriously, right? Though, if Rosie decides to go for a part this year, honestly, I’m totally fucked.”“Yeah, well—”A heatless arm caught my shoulders and yanked me back just in time for skateboard wheels to grind past. A pair of boys laughed and called out an insincere ‘Shit, sorry!’ mostly to the two ruffled girls I’d been eavesdropping on. An adult human in a polo shirt with the word ‘proctor’ across the back signaled out the two boys with an easily ignored index finger waving in the air.My fur stood on end when I glanced up at Yuuhi. His arm had slithered around my frame so fast that it reminded me how old he actually was.And how dangerous.I tried to swallow again. The lump got stuck.He coaxed me on with a casual tick of his head. His arm fell away from me, but his fingers left an impression in my flesh like ice on glass.We passed a pair of armed security guards, their eyes scanning the crowds for people exactly like us, and then we crammed through the front doors. I leaned into him, afraid to so much as brush the other humans. The slightest skin contact with other supernatural beings before had blown their cover instantaneously—for me. Humans didn’t seem to have these senses, as if they had built up some sort of strange tolerance against sensing other species. Some might be particularly sensitive to ghosts, especially the more virulent ones, but there was a vast difference between the powers of the living and the influence of the spiritual.I glanced up at Yuuhi as we maneuvered through the cacophonous hallway. So many voices buzzed in my brain at once that I didn’t understand how any one human could understand another. But Yuuhi was ever calm, more so than I expected for what he was. Bodies brushed past him, intense heat and pungent hormones clouded us, eclipsed only by the acrid chemicals of hairspray and clothing detergent and perfumes and colognes and deodorants. My sinuses burned and my nose tingled. He showed no sign of anything affecting him.We reached a wall of lockers. He stopped between two separate steel doors, pulled his sunglasses from his face, and nodded to the identical padlocked panels. “You know how these work, don’t you?” He perched his sunglasses on his head like a tiara.Right.I faced the locker and stared at the knob of a padlock, the paint faded and the numbers hardly visible. The padlock stared back at me. I gnawed on my bottom lip, tapped my fingers against my thighs, bobbed on the toes of my boots, hummed a single note to myself—“Kali.”“Sorry, I’m just trying to remember my combination.”Again, he tried not to laugh. To distract himself and that defiant smile, his hand caught the knob of his own locker, and in a blur, he popped it open and shut it. Then he turned away.I juggled with a handful of words—and then the bell tolled. But it wasn’t just a bell. It was the worst sound to ever take an axe to my head and split my skull right in half. A horrible, terrible shrieking bell, placed on the wall right above my locker and screaming into the halls. I slapped my hands over my delicate ears and gasped as if someone had drop-kicked my liver. The scream went on for days, months, years. I’d forever be trapped by this device of torture.Then it stopped.I found myself crouched down on the floor, blending in perfectly with the unaffected humans who passed by and tossed me lingering looks of pure ‘What the hell?’. I blinked the mist from my eyes as the humans filtered through classroom doors.Oh, the bean sidhe scream had been the sign of class?Actually, the fae probably wouldn’t have cared much for that comparison, but they didn’t care much for anything, including one another—Wait.My head swung around. Yuuhi had gone. He had left me behind, and—shit—I had let him. I was supposed to keep an eye on him just as much as he was supposed to keep an eye on me just as much as we were supposed to keep an eye on—shit, shit, shit.I started in the direction he’d turned into and tried to recall my first class. Had it been English? I took a moment to observe the next intersection of hallways and searched my mind for the map that my father had shoved into my lap and ordered me to memorize. Not much of it had stuck. My little brother Carmi could have redrawn it better with his crayons than I had committed to memory.A sigh left my parted lips. Casting away the brain vomit of map, I tested the air instead with my nose and ticked my ear this way and that. The tickle of his scent led me to the left, and I followed it down the quieting corridor. The intense fluorescent lights were something my eyes would have to get accustomed to, along with the permeating smell of iron and chemicals that industrialization tended to secrete.When I tiptoed into a classroom, the bell exploded in my ears again. I gritted my teeth, a hand clamped tight around the doorsill. Only when the shrieking stopped did I realize my grip had dented the frame. Whoops.Oh well. A little texture looked nice. That’s what my other father always told me.The professor shuffled around at her desk in the corner, sorting through some papers as the class buzzed with chatter from their rows of ubiquitous desks. I sidled my way along the wall and spotted Yuuhi, sitting at the very back.Well, I spotted his eyes.I wouldn’t say the rest of him was a blur, no. That wasn’t it. But the vacuum power of his eyes drew me in and I found myself sliding absently into the desk that he had reserved for me with his binder. I kept my lips tight as I said, “You left me behind. You can’t do that, it’s against the rules—”He nailed me with a look that I translated as, ‘Shut up and pay attention.’ When his gaze slid to the boy sitting in the seat directly in front of me, I did a double-take.Oh. Right.My hand plunged into my pocket and I retrieved another folded paper. Once the squares were smoothed out across my lap, I studied the face of a young man. Yuuhi spazzed beside me and hissed, “Kali! You’re walking around with his picture in your pocket?”Was that really so weird? Men carried wallets with all kinds of pictures in them all the time. Or, at least, they used to. Now everyone carried telephones with all kinds of pictures in them.It wasn’t that weird.I shoved the paper back into my pocket, leaned across my desk, and tapped the young man on the shoulder. Yuuhi spazzed beside me again.The boy perked and twisted in his seat to look at me, which was when I realized I hadn’t planned on what I was going to say. Instead, I ended up staring at his inquiring face, at features that completely juxtaposed Yuuhi’s. Instead of the smooth, gentle, teasing structure of Yuuhi’s face, his was bolder, more defined, perhaps even a bit strong for his young face. He’d probably grow into his features in a few years, and into that disheveled mess of short black hair, and then—Yuuhi produced an unconvincing laugh as he leaned toward us. “Excuse her. This is her first year out of homeschooling, so she doesn’t exactly know how to interact in a socially acceptable way with others. Unfortunately, she chose you as her first victim.”I stared straight ahead at that pair of hazel eyes, like tea stains on paper or the golden hue that book pages took after aging in the sun. Those alert, attentive eyes flickered to Yuuhi before landing on me again, and I felt the pressure to do something. Anything.I extended my hand in greeting. “I’m Kali.”Yep.I was an awkward mess.He glanced my splayed fingers first, and after a heartbeat, a smile made its way to his eyes. Only his eyes. He reached over and took my hand as Yuuhi slapped his palm to his face in shame. “Hi, Kali. I’m Jason.”His fingers were soft, a shock of snow against the oak heart color of mine, but there was something sturdy in his grip, as if every finger touched me precisely the way he meant to.I realized I was staring.“U-Um.” I gestured to Yuuhi. “And this is Yuufi.”“Yuuhi,” Yuuhi said.“He’s my brother.”“Stepbrother.”“He’s also not Japanese.”Yuuhi’s head swerved around to nail me with a look. “Am I not, oh sister of mine?”I nailed him with a look. “Don’t be a jackass.”“How could you ask such a thing of me?”Jason’s lips finally cracked with a smile, but I couldn’t actually call it a real smile. More like an amused smile. His eyes narrowed on Yuuhi. “Dearest sister of yours has been in public school just about as long as you have, hasn’t she?”I nearly fell out of my desk, but Yuuhi remained cool and calm and collected and every other similar alliteration. He leaned back in his chair as the spectacled, bushy-haired professor finally scrambled to the front of the class and worked to shut us up. Yuuhi asked, “Did my spotless shoes give it away?”I leaned over my desk to look at his shoes. They were pretty spotless.A snort escaped Jason. “No. I just wanted to see if you’d tell me, and you did.”Yuuhi’s lips pursed to blurt out nothing but half a gust of air. Then he deflated, realizing that he had, indeed, basically owned up to the fact that he was about as savvy in the ways of modern day human schooling as I was. I grinned at the frazzled Yuuhi.Seeing him put in his place felt good.When the squirrelly professor called out “Anderson! Jason Anderson!” Jason had to face forward and announce his presence. Yuuhi took the distraction as an opportunity to sink deep into his seat, setting his sunglasses on his nose as he folded his arms. Carmi had posed like this many times, usually when he had been denied playtime or sugary substances.The professor piped our names with our matching fake surnames and we announced our presence, and throughout the rest of our tenth grade English class introduction, I found myself spending most of my time staring at the back of Jason’s head and watching his movements. Everything he did seemed so calculated, so mathematical, even the way he tapped the blunt of his mechanical pencil against the text of the fat syllabus packet. The gears never stopped turning, even when one of his friends, I assumed, leaned over from the next row and murmured some indecencies to Jason’s keenly alert face.There was something different about him that I couldn’t place, something that separated him from the other humans, and that was why I knew there could be no mistaking what he was. We were right on target. The higher powers had somehow discovered him before he had discovered himself.At first, it had been an inadvertent gesture when I glimpsed Yuuhi beside me. He should have been watching Jason and studying him just as intensely as I was. But he wasn’t.He was intensely studying me.
(Copyright © Sarah Godfrey & Victoria DeRubeis. Images are just for fun and don't appear in the digital version.)