PART ONE: MILLS
Chapter 1: Blood Thirsty
That was my two-second warning.
I tucked up my shoulders, stiffened my arms, planted both of my feet firmly on the off-white tile floor of the high school hallway, imagining my body to be an immovable tree trunk rooted deep into the earth, inhaled and…
Alan Kelly swerved into me from behind, body-checking me into the lockers with a ferocity he usually reserved for the hockey rink. The clang of the metal doors as my torso bounced off them immediately caused every head in the hallway to turn in my direction. Everyone was staring. And there were more than a few snickers accompanying those stares.
The hit didn’t hurt half as much as what I saw in their eyes. Not pity, which would’ve been awful enough, but disgust, like they honest-to-god believed that I deserved whatever was coming to me. Worse, some of these people, like Jeremy Cline, I’d been friends with since grade school: we’d gone to each other’s birthday parties when we were little and continued hanging out together long after we’d grown too old for gaudy cardboard hats and candy-filled goodie bags. But you wouldn’t know it now. I was toxic, and no one wanted that splashed all over their reputation. It hadn’t taken me long to realize there was no point in issuing any pleading glances to the gawping crowd: no one was going to come to my rescue. If the Alan Kellys of the school were picking on me, then they were safe – at least for a while.
“Slut,” added Alan’s equally vile buddy Christian. As he passed me, his arm shot out and karate-chopped the books out of my hands. I watched helplessly as they hit floor and were promptly kicked out of reach, passing from foot to foot like soccer balls in gym class as the hallway sprung back to life around them – the latest episode of the “humiliate Mills” show now over. I lost track of my calculus textbook when it passed the drinking fountain; the American history and biology ones vanished seconds later.
I leaned further into the row of lockers, wishing I could melt into them and disappear. All the while, I kept my eyes closed and exhorted myself to stay calm, but my fury was molten. It begged for release. If Alan and Christian knew what I could do, they wouldn’t be so quick to use me as their punching bag. All I needed was to press my thumbnail into the fleshy part of my forefinger, draw a droplet or two of blood and…
Bruce and my father would have my hide, and when they were done figuratively skinning me, the League of Sorcerers would kill me for real. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t officially one of their ranks, that I was banished for life due to my bond with a vampire: I still had to adhere to the rules about keeping magic secret from humans. That’s why, when the rogue sorcerers had been hunting me a few months back, they’d used automatic weapons and not magic. Even rogues had to play by the most stringent rules, or die.
I took a dozen or so deep breaths, forcing myself to focus on my diaphragm expanding and contracting, and tuned everything around me out – the laughter, the chattering, even the other potential bullies, the ones who would leap in for the cheap shot if they thought they’d caught me in a weak moment. Nothing was more important than keeping the anger contained. Not easy when it seethed and roiled and lapped up against my lungs and heart like lava, threatening to burst through my chest, Alien-style. It'd be so easy to reach out and reclaim my dignity with a little bit of retribution, but I wasn’t suicidal. I was just blisteringly mad.
And nothing I was trying was doing a damned thing to dampen the fury.
My head throbbed wickedly. I pressed against the cool metal of the locker door, as tiny red explosions flickered on the back of my closed eyelids. Deep down inside I knew it would hurt less to give in to the rage and let whatever happened happen, but I refused.
Because the anger was not mine.
Not all of it anyway.
I was pretty sure I had the bond to thank for that. As a sorcerer, I could form a lifelong symbiotic relationship with someone by saving them in the final moments before their death. Of course I hadn’t known that when I’d bonded with Keel, a Nosferatu prince – now king – and the result was, well, this crap. Sharing, if you will.
I didn’t dare move until the period bell sounded, afraid all it would take was one wrong word, one more jabbing elbow, for me to snap. Totally and completely.
Even though I was less than ten feet from the door to English class, once the hallways emptied I spun around and struck out in the opposite direction, leaving my books – wherever they had ended up – behind. I’d find them later, or not. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t like I was going to make it to class today anyway. If they were lost, then my father could pay to replace them. He was the one, after all, who insisted I needed to get “comfortable” among humans and learn to blend.
I wondered if he’d think that was still such a great idea if one of these days I ended going all Carrie on everyone.
My reputation had been tainted by six months of rumours and speculation, each piece of gossip more juicy and lascivious than the last: a secret pregnancy, rehab, juvey. And since I had no real story I could tell about the half-year I’d been missing, somehow all the made-up shit became imbued with more authenticity. I tried to ignore it, but when you hear something over and over again, the words start to creep under your skin and take residence in the spaces where self-doubt lives.
I ducked into the girls’ bathroom and crossed the white-and-blue-tiled room to the row of sinks and mirrors, hoping the start of second period would give me five or ten minutes of privacy. The Mills who stared back at me from the glass was more vampiric-looking than ever. The angry scowl on my face only rounded out the sinister illusion. Great, just what I needed: another reminder of what a freak I’d become.
I slammed my palm against the mirror and a spider web of tiny cracks shot out from beneath my fingers. I stared at my hand. It throbbed dully. Why had I just done that?
You’re losing it, Mills. You’re finally losing it. It seemed impossible to keep denying it at this point.
About two weeks ago, the bursts of rage had begun to bring with them the physical changes. Now, when they washed through me, I grew noticeably paler and the red rings around my irises shone like those of a full-blooded Nosferatu. Not even my coloured contacts could completely conceal the effect. Meaning, whenever the fury took hold, I couldn’t go to class or anywhere until I calmed the hell down, and that was getting harder to do each time.
I slowly removed my hand from the glass, turned the tap on full and splashed cold water onto my face. I felt as shattered the image in the mirror.
I shut my eyes again, once more attempting to will the anger back to wherever it had come from, assuring it that it was unnecessary, unneeded, unwarranted. Though, admittedly I was doing an absolutely lousy job of it. Broken Mirror Mills reflected that: I couldn’t hide from myself.
I did want to take revenge; I spent countless nights fantasizing about it as I drifted off to sleep. Nothing too harsh: just a little well-deserved justice. Some payback humiliation. It was hard to keep playing the victim when I wasn’t one.
I ran my fingers through my dark hair; it had grown back to shoulder length. How different things were now than that night I’d chopped it off in the back of a van, on the run with Keel after escaping the Nosferatu compound. Funny how I could heal all my scars with magic, but I couldn’t use it to grow my hair out.
That’s it: keep thinking about mundane stuff, I told myself.
Just then, the washroom door emitted a sharp squeak as someone pushed on it. I had company. Crap. I took several quick steps backward into the stall directly behind me, then quietly closed and locked the door. I hopped up onto the toilet seat, so whoever it was wouldn’t see my feet. With any luck, they’d just think this stall was out of order and someone forgot to stick a sign on it.
The soft sound of sneakers padded past me, probably en route to the sink.
That’s when I smelled it: blood. Whoever was out there was bleeding.
And because I was angry – and the bond was feeding off that anger – I could smell it. And because I could smell it, I wanted it.
I swallowed an involuntary growl, and clutched the porcelain toilet bowl so hard my knuckles went white.
Don’t move, I told myself. Just chill. Focus on the cold ceramic beneath your fingers. Focus on the growing ache in your knees or the way your belt buckle is digging into your stomach. Focus on anything but the… you know.
I tilted my head and stared up at the stucco ceiling tiles, pretending I was back in my room at the apartment, far away from the bullies and the fragile human beings that sprung leaks way too often for their own good – and mine. It was useless, however. The longer whoever was out there remained in the washroom, the more I could practically taste her blood in my mouth, and not how I would taste it, but how Keel would, how a vampire would, as ambrosia. Shit. I released my right hand from the toilet bowl, and jammed the nail of my forefinger into my thumb until I drew blood of my own. A new scent spilled into the air around me, this one even more mouth-watering. Sorcerers were particularly delectable to Nosferatu – a rather cruel twist of fate since historically my kind was known for killing theirs, at least until Keel and I turned all of that on its head. I shoved my thumb into my mouth. My blood should have tasted coppery and bitter, but it was as delicious as it smelled. As disturbing as that should have been, it distracted me from the bleeding human on the other side of the door and that was pretty much all I’d hoped for.
Just leave, I begged wordlessly, as I suckled my thumb like an overgrown infant. Unfortunately my magic didn’t extend to manipulating anyone who hadn’t drunk my blood.
“Mills, are you in here?” said a familiar voice.
It wasn’t a stranger. Thank god. It was Lucia. The closest thing I had to a BFF these days.
I dropped down from the toilet seat, no longer worried about keeping quiet. “Yeah” I admitted. “But before you say anything, no, I can’t come out: you’re bleeding.”
Lucia was silent for a moment. “How do you know?”
“Do you really need to ask?” I said, not bothering to disguise the abject misery in my voice. Lucia and I didn’t keep secrets from each other. In fact, I couldn’t have even if I’d wanted to: she was naturally psychic and had known who and what I was long before I’d ever told her myself. Though she was technically forbidden from hanging out with me – our kinds did not mingle – her mother, Ms. Flores, had little control over what we did inside the school walls, and we made the most of that. If it hadn’t been for Lucia, I might have come clean and told Ephraim, my father, to yank me out of class ages ago, but then she and I would have lost touch all over again, and I just wasn’t ready for that. Call it weak or foolish or whatever, but Lucia was worth all the bullshit and the bullies, and she was worth this too, provided I could learn to manage it.
“I have your books,” she said and proceeded to shove them under the stall door in a stack. The covers were even more scuffed up than before. At this rate, they wouldn’t last the month, let alone the whole semester.
“Who else’s books would be kicked around like that?” she said, then added, “Besides, your name’s inside them.”
“What are you going to do about all this?” Lucia asked. I knew she was talking about bond’s symptoms, and not just what had happened that day.
“I have no idea.” I was glad she couldn’t see me: I must have looked absolutely ludicrous sitting on the edge of the toilet seat, fully clothed, sucking my thumb between sentences. “It’s getting worse though, so I’m going to have to think of something soon.”
“Well, wiping all the ugly off your social media was a good start.”
“It’s been scrubbed clean. I thought you did that.”
“No, not me,” I told her. “I haven’t logged on since a couple of weeks ago. Complete mistake that was.” I usually had no interest in letting the abuse from the school hallways follow me home, but I still succumbed to the occasional moment of self-loathing. Bruce – the human my father was bonded to – called it “being a teenager.” I suspected it ran it bit deeper than that. I didn’t argue with him about it though, because for the most part, Bruce was cool. He’d even convinced Ephraim to get me a second, private cellphone after someone had passed around the number to my old one. It hadn’t been long before I’d been fielding calls from perverts and mouth-breathing psychos at all hours of the day and night. We’d left it in service though, so they’d think their taunts were getting through. Otherwise, Ephraim rationalized, he’d have to keep on buying me new cellphones.
If I hadn’t been kidnapped and been forced to spend six months in a tiny cell where I’d been used as a Nosferatu drinking box, and if I hadn’t discovered that I was a sorceress in the process, this whole social plummet would have likely destroyed me, but I hadn’t exactly returned to class feeling human anyway. And then there was the whole sticky matter of my destiny: apparently Keel and I were supposed to be some world-changing force – or a world-ending one. That’s what all the supes were so frazzled about. This, of course, made it hard to get too wound up about the bullies; after all, I had absolute annihilation to contemplate.
“Are you sure the delete-fest wasn’t your doing?” she said. She obviously didn’t believe me.
“Why would I lie about that, Lucia?” I asked, annoyed.
“Okay then,” she conceded, “but someone’s definitely been sprucing it up.”
“I’ve been hacked?” I asked. At this point, nothing really surprised me.
“I don’t know. Do you still call it hacking if whoever is doing it is doing you a favour?”
“Why would someone do that?”
“Maybe you have a guardian angel,” Lucia said thoughtfully, before adding, “Maybe he’s hot.” She had a way of finding the silver lining in everything. Some days I loved her for it. Today, not so much. There wasn’t room for any sunshine in my pity party.
“Sounds a little suspect,” I told her. If someone was doing this, it was probably only so that they could do something really awful later. Humans, as it turned out, could be just as cruel and calculating as the Nosferatu, and why not: we’d all evolved from the same common ancestors.
“I still think you should check it out,” Lucia suggested. “Maybe you can figure out who it is. If they turn out to be sketchy, just go back to ignoring it.”
“Maybe,” I allowed, already knowing my curiosity would get the best of me. “But right now you and your hemoglobin had better get out of here, so I can, you know…”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Just hang in there, Mills, okay?” A moment later I heard her footsteps retreat to the door, which issued a second plaintive squeal as she left the washroom.
And I was alone again.
Yeah, hang in there, I repeated in my head. The wound on my thumb had already closed – fast healing was another sorcerer thing – and the smell of Lucia’s blood was beginning to dissipate. That had been close. Too close.
What would happen next time?
And the time after that?
How many people would get hurt if I couldn’t keep the anger in check?
I leaned my head against the wall of the stall, right below where someone had scribbled Evan Kowalski is mine, bitches, and shut my eyes. The inevitable was coming and I had a sick feeling in my gut that I had hastened its approach in attempting to prepare for it. While Ephraim had grounded me from using sorcerer magic, I’d kept right on practicing bond magic, and these side effects appeared to be the fallout of that. But if I didn’t practice bond magic, learn it, understand it, how would we ever be on equal footing when the bond drove Keel and me back together?
You won’t be, I scolded myself. Not if you can’t even get it together enough to leave the bathroom.
Even after that self-admonishment, it took another twenty minutes to pull the latch on the stall door, and then ten more to work up the nerve to return to my locker and leave the building, where I gladly gave myself over to the invigorating embrace of the cold winter air.