Saturday, March 31, 2007

Episode 7: Loss

Sexual Content Warning, if you care about stuff like that.

Alex carefully watched Lia, and when he was sure that she was asleep, he put on his jacket and slipped out of the building.

“The drag” was between rows of warehouses. A set of streetlights ran down the center of the unfinished median, so that customers could see the merchandise along the edges, and then retreat into the darkened side streets for the transactions.

It had just been chance, that the apartment that he had found was so close to the drag. Or at least this version of the drag. There was another one for the female hookers, and there was another area for more “exotic” tastes.

Alex had been nervous all day, but for the last few days he hadn’t even managed to get someone to listen seriously to him, and the money was running out. Rent was due again in only a few days, and he needed more time to find a job. There had to be something out there to do.

He licked his lips as he saw the lights of the drag, and then he turned the corner.

There were a few guys standing around, some of them in the light, and some standing in the shadows of the buildings. There were a few cars, trolling back and forth, stopping beside one of the boys. They would talk for a few moments, and then the kid would either get into the car, or the driver would move on, looking for something more his tastes.

Alex hadn’t worried about what to wear. The t-shirt and the jeans were all that he had. Some of the boys wore tighter pants, but Alex realized that he didn’t look entirely out of place. The only thing was, they moved differently than he did. Alex noticed things like that, after the years on his own. To them, it was no big thing anymore. This was their workday.

Alex moved into the light, and started walking along the alley, and tried not to think about what he was doing. If it was daytime, and he was walking home to Lia, everything would be okay. All he had to do was pretend that nothing was going to happen.

With his hands in his pockets, he pulled the jacket tighter, trying to pretend that he was cold.

The guys walking the drag looked up at them as he passed. Some of them looked really young, babies compared to him. The youngest ones, the ones that were fourteen or fifteen, were the ones wearing the most colorful outfits, and Alex couldn’t look them in the eyes. They were Lia’s age.

Two of the older guys stepped out of the shadows. The first one was nothing special. He might have been around Alex’s age, or maybe a year or two older. He was thin, with blondish hair.

The other guy was out of place. He was Hispanic, with slick back hair, wearing a thin black wife beater, showing off a set of arms as big around as Lia’s waist. He looked like he spent all day in a gym.

Alex’s eyes flickered around. The other guys trying to work the strip were looking away, and some had stepped back into the shadows.

“Who are you?” the big guy asked.


The big guy reached out as he approached, and gave Alex a shove, sending him sprawling backward in the street.

“You’re on our turf,” the thin one said. “You can’t work the drag without permission. Can he, Cali?”

“Nope,” the big guy said, and kicked him in the side. Alex gasped, and curled up into a ball.

“Stop!” he shouted as Cali drew his leg back again. The kick never came. “How do I get permission?”

“We’ve got a smart one here,” the thin one said. “You want to talk with Martin.” He pronounced it “Marteen.”

“Are you Martin?”

The thin one laughed. “I’m Crazy K. But you look like Martin’s type.”

Cali grabbed his jacket and pulled him to his feet. Alex’s eyes were still watering with pain.

Crazy K pointed, and when Alex didn’t step forward right away Cali bent his wrist and forced Alex forward.

There was a light in this alley, and Crazy K knocked a few times on the door, and then opened it. Cali pushed Alex again, making him stumble over the step into the room.

Alex had expected a warehouse with boxes, but he found himself in a red office.

Everything was crimson. The large desk to his right was stained a brilliant ochre, and the walls were hung with a blood red fabric that gleamed like velvet. Aside from the desk, there were couches, three of them in varying cherry hues, and a few chairs.

There was a kid on the couch closest to Alex. He was on the younger side, and he had dark hair. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open slightly, and his arm dangled down to the floor. He looked almost like he was asleep. Alex noted that his pants were unbuttoned and felt his stomach tighten.

“Who is this?” a voice like butter said. Alex’s attention shifted up and he found himself looking at a man, dressed entirely in red and black. The clothing looked old, like he’d stepped out of a history book or a costume party. He had long hair, pulled back in a ponytail, and pale skin.

“I’m Lex,” he bit out. This was Martin, it had to be. And Martin had the most interesting eyes that Lex had ever seen. You kept eye contact on the street to challenge, but looking into Martin’s eyes he couldn’t look away. Martin was so perfect looking, so powerful, that Alex just needed to look at him.

“He wanted to work the street,” Crazy K said.

Martin flicked his wrist, and Crazy K was suddenly gone, leaving Martin, Alex, and the unconscious boy on the couch alone.

“You a runaway, Lex?” Martin asked. He had an accent, but Alex didn’t know it.

“Yeah,” he said, and it was the truth.

“You need money?”


“And so you came out to the drag? Why did you come all of the way out there?”

“I couldn’t find another job, and the rent is due in a few days.”

“Oh, that’s terrible!” Martin said, and Alex felt so embarrassed. He’d resorted to selling himself to make the rent. Martin must think that he was such a pathetic failure. He lowered his eyes, tearing up.

“Don’t cry!” Martin said, and he reached out, raising Alex’s chin. His skin was cold to the touch, as though he’d been outside only moments before. “Don’t cry little brother. You can work for me. Wouldn’t you like that?”

Alex nodded. Working for Martin would be so wonderful, and he could keep his apartment and protect Lia, and everything would work out.

“Let me see you, little brother,” said Martin and his fingered Alex’s coat.

“You want me to . . . get naked? In here?”

“Don’t you want to let me see you, Lex?”

Alex did. He unzipped the coat, Martin pointed to one of the empty couches, and Alex let it drop. He pulled off the t-shirt, underneath, and for the first time realized how warm it was in the office. He let that fall on the couch as well. He kicked off his sneakers, and then peeled off his socks, scrunched them up, and stuffed them in his sneakers.

He reached for the button of his jeans, and stopped, frozen. Martin had taken a step back, but his eyes seemed to be everywhere.

“Are you nervous, little brother?”

Alex nodded. He wanted to say something, but his teeth were so tightly pressed together he thought his jaw would break.

“Don’t be nervous, little brother. After all, if you want work for me, you’ll have to do more than this.”

Alex took a deep breath, and undid the button. With one motion he pulled down his pants, and the shorts underneath, and then stepped out of them, leaving himself naked in the middle of the room.

Martin released his breath, almost like a sigh. “See, that’s not bad, is it Lex?”

Lex shook his head.

Martin moved forward slowly, and caressed Alex’s cheek with his hand, and Alex shivered.

“What do you want to do, Alex?”

“I . . . want to please you.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. And what would you do to please me?”


Martin’s hands slid down his sides, still as cold as ice. Alex wanted them to warm up soon, but he couldn’t say anything. Martin wanted Alex to please him.


Alex struggled to agree, but again he felt himself at a loss for words.

“Lie on the couch.”

Alex walked to the couch, feeling his body flaunt itself in Martin’s vision, and lay down in it. It was so soft, and upholstered in velvet, just like the walls. Martin walked with him, keeping his hand gently on Alex’s skin the entire time, and kept their eyes locked together.

“I’m so hungry,” Martin whispered to him. “So hungry.”

He ran his cold hands up and down Alex and Alex shivered again. Then he smiled, and there was something wrong with his teeth. He bent down as though he was going to kiss Alex, but his face slid past Alex’s.

There was a sharp pain in Alex’s neck.

And then a blistering realization hit him. He was lying naked in this sicko’s office and the guy was biting his neck.

Martin’s hand was still running over Lex’s body, and Lex caught it in his and twisted it as hard as he could. Martin pulled away, surprised, and Lex pushed him back as hard as he could.

Martin stumbled back and Lex sat up, furious. Martin’s eyes were wide with shock, and down somewhere deep inside Lex felt something bubble up, some desire for Martin even now. He was so beautiful . . .

No. His teeth were fangs. He was a vampire. Lex had seen enough bad horror movies to know that. Lex shook his head, and forced the emotions down. Martin gasped. “Lex!”

The wooden desk rose off the floor. Martin looked at it, and then back at Lex. “You want to please me!” Martin said, almost desperately.

Lex frowned, biting his lip. It wasn’t just Martin in his head, and that made him even angrier. The desk rocketed forward, snapping computer cables like they were threads and slamming directly into Martin, crashing into the wall.

Lex held the desk there for a moment, then pulled it back and slammed it forward again, and the desk splintered. Then he let it fall to the floor and Martin slumped forward over it, bloody.

Papers thrown from the desk were still settling when there was a knock on the door. Cali poked his head in. His eyes widened as he saw the mess and Martin, and he pushed the door all of the way open and rushed forward. Lex’s first instinct was to cover himself, causing him to flinch away from the charging guard.

Less that a step from Lex, Cali was caught back, like he’d been caught by an invisible net. He rose onto his tip toes, gasping for breath, and stood there for a moment before being thrown backward.

He fell to the left of the door, knocking his head against the wall where the desk had been only moments before, and slumped to the floor unconsciousness.

Lex turned and saw Crazy K standing in the door, his face white. Lex raised his hand, but Crazy turned at ran before he could do anything.

Then he was alone again. He waited, but none of the other boys came to find out what was going on, so he slipped forward and slammed the door shut.

Where Martin had bitten him was bleeding slightly, but Alex ignored that. He quickly pulled his clothes back on, tied his shoes up, and then ran from the building.

The lights running up and down the drag were still lit, and now Alex could see that the full moon had risen in the sky. There was no one in sight. All of the boys had scattered, and the drivers had vanished with them.

Again, Alex found himself running home in the middle of the night.

This time there was no pretense of silence. He took the stairs two at a time, and clattered through the door, and then slammed it shut behind him, terrified. He leaned against it, like someone was going to come bursting in behind him, and quickly slid the locks into place.

He was gasping for breath, but stood there, leaning against the door until he was sure that there was no one behind him.

He slumped down on the couch, but he didn’t undress. Instead he took his thin blanket and wrapped it around his clothed form as tightly as he could.

It wasn’t until the next morning that he discovered that Lia was gone.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Episode 6: Three Weeks of Pennies

Two days working in a pawn shop, two days doing odd jobs for the super of an apartment building, three days working the nights at a junkyard, and even a day bussing at Luca’s Italian Restaurant, Alex was no closer to steady employment.

There were days between the jobs, and he would beat himself up, going over sentence dozens of times in his mind.

The pawn shop owner had been crazy. At the beginning Alex could forgive himself because he could blame the owner’s insanity. He had searched Alex before and after the shifts, and the second day, when Alex dropped a cheap ring in a pile that Alex was carrying for him, he’d accused him of trying to steal it. He’d threatened to call the cops, and Alex had walked away, seething in anger.

Then there was the job at the apartment complex, but at the end of the second day the guy had tried to renegotiate what he paid Alex six times, and at the end of both days he had only paid Alex half of the agreed amount, promising that he’d get around to getting the rest of it soon. However, after two days mopping up crap from overflowed toilets, Alex told the guy that he wasn’t coming back until he paid him what he owed. He’d gone back three times, and each time the super had made some excuse, exhorting Alex to work more before he paid him.

Alex had caught the drift. He was desperate, but he wasn’t stupid. Half a day’s pay for a full day’s work just wasn’t worth it to clean up shit.

The junkyard had been the best job. The guy had hired him after barely looking at his ID. He was paid cash, after work, and the owner, Gervasi, didn’t try to stiff him on the pay. Of the three guys and two dogs that guarded the yard after dark, Alex was the smallest by weight.

Gervasi had been having problems with thefts on the lot at night for the last few months, and Alex’s biggest recommendation seemed to be that he was new to the area.

They stationed him in a little booth on one corner of the property. It had no electricity and no heat, and in the in the middle of the night the desert wind seemed to blow in and howl through every orifice in the yard. Alone, in the dark, with piles of rusted metal and the wind, Alex jumped at every noise and stiffened at every flutter of paper or trash.

Alex tried to be brave, but after the second night, even Lia knew that he was terrified. She’d tried to massage his shoulders, but she simply wasn’t strong enough to get the knots out of his shoulders.

It didn’t matter though. On the third night, Gervasi was robbed again. Nothing within Alex’s line of sight had been touched, but instead of firing Saul, who was the old guy working the gate (and had nodded off the first night before he’d even finished training Alex), Alex was dismissed.

Less than a week ago, knowing that he didn’t have enough money to keep the apartment another month, he’d finally walked out to the Italian restaurant and asked for a job. He’d cleaned up best that he could, and he’d worn his nicest clothes.

The hostess was named Tina, and she introduced him to the manager. They didn’t need anyone, per se, but with Tina spinning her curls behind him, the manager had offered him a job.

The first night was going well. The cooks teased him but treated him fair. His two waiters, Paula and Lamar were willing to explain things and he went along.

And then Eli had shown up.

He was sitting at a table with another pretty woman. She was older, but you couldn’t really tell until you were up close.

Eli didn’t notice him at first, but he eventually flagged Alex over for water, and as Alex poured into his glass with a shaking hand, he looked up, saw Alex’s face, and his eyes turned into ice cubes.

Eli didn’t say anything, but his eyes followed Alex away from the table. His food was prepared and delivered without incident, and Alex was beginning to think that perhaps Eli would just let him be.

There was a party of two tables down and Paula convinced him that he could deliver everything with one trip. They loaded up one of the huge oval trays, and Alex carried it to the table, straining under the weight.

Eli pushed him as he passed where he and his girlfriend were sitting. He wasn’t sure how, exactly, because Eli hadn’t seemed to notice him as Alex passed him, but one moment he was concentrating on keeping the tray upright, and the next moment he was staggering forward, the tray just ahead of his hand. He tried to grab it back, but the eight plates and four side dishes flew ahead of him. One plate struck a man in the side of his head, another bounced off the table into a woman sitting across the table. Food was everywhere.

It was then, after what seemed like the worst had been done, that Alex realized that he was still moving.

He slammed into the diner nearest to him, a pre-teen girl, and then fell heavily on the table. The entire thing seemed to gasp under his weight, and then something broke and the hard surface seemed to give out below him. All of the drinks on the table slid in all directions, drenching Alex and the people sitting at the table.

Despite all the broken glass, Alex wasn’t cut at all, and no one was hurt.

In the end, he’d destroyed nearly two hundred dollars in plates and glasses, a two hundred dollar table, and the manager promised that the restaurant would pay a hundred dollars or so in cleaning costs.

Instead of taking it out of his pay, the manager had fired him on the spot, in front of all of the patrons of the restaurant. Alex managed to make it into the kitchen, having to push through the kitchen staff that had gathered at the door to see what had happened, before he started sobbing.

Paula caught up with him before he left completely.

“Here,” she said, slipping him twenty bucks. “You earned it.”

“What about all the stuff I broke?” he managed to say through the tears.

“I saw the guy behind you. It wasn’t that hard to figure out what happened, the way he was smiling like an idiot.”

Instead of going back to the apartment he wandered around for a few hours, trying to come up with some story for Lia.

By the time he stumbled through the door, Lia should have been asleep, but she was still awake, watching television.

“What are you doing?” he asked. He’d hoped that if he got home late, he wouldn’t have to deal with her.

“Waiting for you,” she said, “How was the restaurant?”

He shrugged, and her smile fell a little bit but didn’t go away. She got up, came over and hugged him.

They stood there for a moment, and she said: “You smell like noodles.”

“I need to take a shower.”

“Alright,” Lia said. “But make it quick. There’s a scary movie marathon on, and I can’t watch it unless you watch it with me.”

Alex smiled, touseled her hair, and then went to take a shower.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Episode 5: Feathers

There was something going on below her.

She preened, setting the feathers into place, but part of her attention was focused on the men.

One made a grand gesture, but the other wasn’t intimidated and stepped forward, shouting. There was a flicker of sliver in the light, and then a splash across the wall. In the silver of the full moon there was no color to it, but she could smell the metallic tang of blood like she was on top of it.

She thought he would run after that, but he didn’t. He spoke into his phone, and then leaned against the wall, cleaning the knife.

It wasn’t that he was brave, because she could smell his fear when he’d spoken on the phone. It was even stronger than it had been when he’d been threatened.

He didn’t have long to wait before the car arrived. The driver got out and opened the back door, and a woman got out.

The woman didn’t look right, or feel right. She wore a dress, but not one of the little dresses that the streetwalkers wore. It looked more like a sundress, and over it she wore some sort of shawl. She was very thin, and her skin was stretched so tightly over her frame that it made her seem younger.

What happened? she said, and then, Obviously, so explain it to me.

That was odd. Usually in the dreams the words didn’t make sense to her. The dreaming part of her wanted to listen to the man too, but the part that was awake still couldn’t make sense of him. He groaned and lamented, but all she understood was the feeling: abject terror.

The woman listened—untouched by the cold and the darkness—and when the man was done she reached out and laid her hand on his shoulder.

In the dreams, she was usually isolated behind the black eyes, but now she was afraid. The woman’s hand burned with bitter frost, and the man couldn’t help but to release a keening cry of pain. He tried to pull back, but the woman’s grip held him fast for a moment until he threw the whole of his weight into pulling away.

He fell against the wall where he had been leaning, but instead of leaning he slid to the ground. The shoulder of his jacket was white, and as he reached up with his hand it flaked away under his touch. He was crying now, quietly, but the pain was partially distracting him from the fear.

The woman turned to the mess and gestured and said Be consumed, but she spoke it to the ground and the walls.

The body seemed to relax, which was odd considering that it had already been splayed out dead, but it shrugged a moment as the earth opened up and swallowed it, drinking the blood and chewing on the bones. Then it was over, and the there was no sign of the dead man.

She’d kept her perch throughout this, but now the woman looked around, and that terrified the part of her that was awake. She took flight.

She was no owl. Her wings beat loudly against the darkness, but not as loudly as her pounding heartbeat.

She flapped and flapped, until she was in another part of the city altogether and her wings burned from the exertion. She relaxed, and spotted a wooden fence between the yard separating two parking lots.

As soon as she landed though, she knew that she’d made a mistake. There was no car, no humans that her eyes could find in the dark, but something was still watching her.

Between one breath and the next, the woman was there. Not close enough to harm her, but standing in the dark. Her face was white, and she clutched the shawl tightly.

Who, who, who? the woman asked. Who, who, who?

If there was some response, it was garbled. She wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be in this dream. The woman didn’t seem satisfied and she frowned.

Then she opened her eyes so wide that the white surrounded her irises, and they changed from brown to a brilliant yellow with red flickering at the edges.

Come, she implored. There is so much that you can do for me. Come and be mine. Give yourself entirely to me.

It washed over the dreamer, and it was so absolutely reasonable and desirable. It made so much sense. She opened her wings, and it felt like sparks of love and respect flowed down them into her. The woman stepped forward, singing Come, come, come.

She sprang from the fence, flying right into the embrace of the woman, and when she reached the heart of the golden sea of devotion and contentment, the part of her that was awake vicious attacked.

The woman screamed as claws and beak tore into her. The taunt skin snapped back and the smell of blood surrounded them. She raised her hands, but there was nothing that she could do against the huge flapping black wings. She struck out, missed, and tried again.

This time she caught on the edge of the wing, and the bird broke off, flying away. She didn’t flee this time. Whatever disturbed the waking bird had been washed away by the blood on her talons. A little victory, but a victory.

When Lia awoke, there were a few black feathers in her bed. It wasn’t the first time, but there were more than normal.

She shivered at the strange dream, and then she gathered up the feathers, and threw them in the trash in the bathroom before Lex could find them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Episode 4: The Strip

Alex had never been a morning person, but he woke up before the sun rose the next morning. Lia had pulled the sheets and blankets on the bed loose again, and was curled up in them like they were a cocoon, still asleep.

The two hundred dollars that Lenny had given him was still in his pocket, and he was hungry so he walked down the street to the diner.

Dana, the waitress that had suggested he try to get a job with Eli, was already gone for the day by the time that Alex arrived. If she had still been there, he’d considered waiting until she left. He didn’t want to think about what happened the night before.

The morning waitress was Gabe. She was only a few years older than Alex, relatively pretty and didn’t speak English very well but when she smiled at him it made him smile back. She brought him his order to go, but didn’t charge him for the coffee and slipped him a little bag of sugar cookies.

“Feliz Navidad,” she said, and Alex realized that it was Christmas.

He left Gabe a good tip, bought a paper from a machine and then walked back to the apartment.

Alex had ordered a variety of things. He didn’t really know what Celia liked yet, and decided it was better to be safe that sorry. He’d ordered an extra breakfast burrito for himself, and his coffee. He’d bought an orange juice for Celia, and they’d put the entire order into one of those cardboard caddies.

It was a Sunday paper, and there was an entire employment section, but most of the jobs were in casinos on the strip. Each one had a huge list of jobs from dealers to security, but Alex knew that if you worked at someplace big and nice, they would ask for two forms of ID, references, and they might even run background checks. Alex didn’t have a real ID or references, and if they ran a background check on him they’d never hire him.

There wasn’t much else that he was qualified for. He circled a few places, mostly the smallest ads or the ones that gave the vaguest descriptions of the work. He needed a job that wouldn’t ask too many questions.

He’d gone through most of the section when Lia woke up, and came into the room yawning.

Alex tossed her the bag of sugar cookies. “Merry Christmas.”

She smiled. “Thanks Lex!” She tore open the little bag and bit into one of the cookies.

“There’s real food too,” he said, pointing to the bag.

Lia offered him a cookie, but Alex refused and she quickly finished him off and then moved onto the bag of food. She didn’t seem choosy, and she finished off the remainder of the food like a vacuum.

When she was done, she looked at him. “What are we going to do today?”

“What do you mean?”

“I want you to take me to go see all the big hotels and casinos. I haven’t been out at all, and you haven’t seen them either. Besides, you can’t go look for a job today, it’s a Sunday.”

Alex shrugged. She was probably right about finding a job on a Sunday, and he hadn’t seen the hotels and the casinos yet.

Las Vegas warmed up during the day, but that wasn’t the largest change. They got off the bus between the MGM Grand and the Tropicana, and it was almost like stepping into another world. All of the buildings were so different and strange. Lia said she’d never seen so many people before. There were people everywhere, walking around in garish clothes taking pictures of everything even though it was Christmas. Alex guessed that this was probably a light day, considering the time of the year, but if it got much busier the sidewalks would have been nearly wall to wall people.

Lia was most impressed by the architecture. She wanted to go inside all the buildings, and look at everything. They visited the talking fountain in Caesar’s Palace, saw the huge fountain outside the Bellagio and walked over the moat in front of the Excalibur. They went inside the pyramid of the Luxor, saw the gardens inside the Mirage, and saw the Emerald City replica inside the lion of the MGM Grand.

It was warmer during the day, and around lunchtime Alex was able to take his windbreaker off. Lia had found out that the MGM had its own amusement park, and because she was so excited Alex bought them admission.

The amusement park wasn’t nearly as busy as the street. In fact, compared to the trip that Alex had taken to Six Flags back when he was in middle school it was positively dead. Alex could see where the park employees would have set up truncheons to accommodate huge lines, but for most of the rides there were only ten to fifteen waits or less.

Lia had never ridden a roller coaster before, and she was so excited about it that the ride attendant let them ride it twice in a row and then they they’d waited through the lines twice more.

The park finally closed around five. For the last half hour what little crowd there had been seemed to melt away. Alex and Lia rode a water ride, which Lia had decided was her favorite because the boat that you rode twisted every which way in the water and the scenery was so detailed there was always some new skull or monster in the water that you hadn’t seen before.

Lia couldn’t stop talking about everything on the bus ride back home, and the other people on the bus smiled at her as she spoke. All the enthusiasm made her seem younger than she was, and even Alex couldn’t help but smile when she described the magicians on the third floor of the Excalibur castle.

They got back to their apartment, and Alex went out for dinner. There was a real Italian restaurant, or at least a better restaurant than the diner a few blocks further on, and Alex decided to bring dinner home from there.

The hostess took his order, and as Alex sat on a bench around the corner from the entrance as he waited for it. At some point another guy came in and Alex peeked around the corner. The newcomer was wearing jeans, and a light coat and a headband of all things. The hostess seemed to recognize him.

“Hey Phil, are you working tonight?”

“Of course,” he said with a voice that was older than he looked, as though he smoked all the time. “You’d think that everyone would be angels on tonight of all nights, but I guess all the guys get so stressed with their families during the day that they need some fun at night. Last year I made four bills in a couple of hours.”

Alex’s ears pricked up.

“How are the others?”

Phil shrugged. “The same as always. Indy and Chris were picked up the other night by that new pig, but they only had to spend the night. They almost got Mickey too, and if they’d caught him it would have been his three strikes.”

“That new officer’s been in here with his wife,” the hostess told him. “He seemed nice enough, but then again he ain’t got nothing on me.”

“It’s going to suck for a while, until they transfer him or he starts taking tricks.”

“He came in with his wife,” the hostess said again, and this time she stressed the wife part. There was a pause, and then both of them cracked up at once. “Do you want me to try to slip something into his food if they come in again?”

“Eh, if he really is honest, he won’t be around for long anyway.”

“Ah, there it is,” said the hostess. “Your usual is up. Take care, Phil.”

Phil exited out the door, and Alex watched which way he walked.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Episode 3: Looking For Work

“Don’t stay up late watching TV, ‘Lia.” Alex said.

She looked over at him and nodded, and then went back to the cartoons on the television.

Celia insisted on calling him Lex, and so he’d been calling her Lia. Instead of annoying her like it annoyed him, Celia seemed to like the nickname, and used it all of the time now.

After leaving Madrid, Alex wanted to get as far away as possible from the tiny town, so they’d driven the old truck west into Arizona, following I-40 until they’d seen an exit for Las Vegas.

They’d stayed in another small motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas their first night, and in the morning the truck wouldn’t start, so they left it and took a cab to another section of town. The next morning he’d found a small set of furnished apartments that rented by the week. They manager, a bitter looking man that barely came up to Alex’s jaw, had insisted on four weeks rent up front, which had used most of the money that Alex had taken from Lia’s father’s garage.

With so little money left, Alex had been asked around about odd jobs. An older waitress named Dana on the evening shift at the diner down the street from the apartments had suggested that he check with Eli.

Eli turned out to be at the local bar. Alex’s ID said that he was twenty-one, and it was a good fake, so he’d slipped in and found Eli sitting in the back of the bar with a pretty woman on his lap. Once Alex had managed to get his attention, Eli sized him up, and had given him an address and a time.

It was after ten when he slipped out of the apartment, and everything seemed dark. There were street lights, of course, but it seemed like they were having trouble pushing through the air. They only would illuminate a few yards at most, and then they would just quit fighting and give up. If there were any stars, they were invisible for the same reason. Only the moon was visible, pale and rising in the distance, but even it couldn’t break through the shadows.

The address turned out to be a restaurant, and there was already a truck waiting at the back entrance, with it’s lights on and seven guys standing around. They were all a lot larger than Alex was.

One of the guys, probably as wide as he was tall with arms that looked like they could break Alex in half, looked up at him as he approached. “Who are you,” he barked.

“I’m Lex,” Alex told him without thinking, and the paused, wondering if he could correct himself.

The muscular guy laughed. “I’m Lenny. What can we do for ya, Lex?”

“Eli told me to come, and he might give me a job.”

“He did, did he? You look like you’d do better working the drag. I don’t need no more pretty boys that can’t fucking lift squat.”

Alex didn’t say anything, but he swallowed as Lenny laughed.

“What do you say boys, should we give the kid a try? It is Christmas Eve, and I’m feeling charitable.” The other men chuckled.

He turned and tossed a set of keys to one of the other men, who opened up a big rolling door in the side of the restaurant. Just inside the door were a set of boxes, each about the size of a stereo or a small TV, but without any marks on them.

“Tell you what, Lex. You load one of these into the truck by yourself, and I’ll give you a job.”

Alex didn’t like Lenny’s smile, but he went over to the pile of boxes, and tried to lift one. He jerked on one, and it barely moved an inch.

Whatever was in the boxes weighed a lot. Maybe three hundred pounds or so. Alex had seen hundred pound bags of cement, and he guessed whatever was in these was only slightly lighter.

Crap. Fucking hell.

If he had help, he probably could get one of the boxes into the truck. He took the box, and carefully tipped it off the pile so that it was on the ground by itself, and then dragged it over to the truck. He was already sweating, but now all he had to do was lift the box up into the truck. He could do that.

He squatted down, put his arms around the box, and threw his entire body into lifting the box.

The box tilted, and for a moment Alex thought he was succeeding, but it still wasn’t off the ground. His back strained until he thought is was going to burst, and he let go, and the box thumped back against the asphalt.

The people around him were laughing, and Alex didn’t even turn to look at them. He had to try again. He had to get a job, even if it was loading drugs, or whatever the hell you load into trucks in the middle of the night, because Lia was counting on him.

His eyes were watering as he gripped the box again, remembering what Lia had looked like, her father’s body still warm on the floor near her. She had her hand to her cheek where her father had hit her to send her flying like a rag doll. She’d been afraid at first, but when he just stood there, looking at the man on the floor, she’d pulled herself up and came over to him and pulled him away.

Lia trusted him, for whatever reason.

Alex felt something twist inside, and he reached down and took hold of it. Something surged through him, and he was in that state again.

The men around him were still laughing. Let them laugh.

Lex stood up, and the box came with him. It wasn’t a struggle, it was just an annoyance. If he wanted to, he could have lifted the truck up and tossed it around like a toy.

He reached out, and set the box inside the truck, then jumped up, and gave it a kick, sending it sliding back until it hit the front wall. He turned, and saw the men looking at him. They weren’t laughing now, they were starring at him with eyes wide with fear.

Lex jumped down from the truck. They were all so weak, like bugs. He could annihilate them if he choose . . .

He blinked, and he was just Alex again. There was a moment of disorientation, and he grabbed the truck to steady himself.

What was he doing? Oh, yeah, of course. He’d lifted the box by himself. They had to give him a job now, right?

Lenny’s face had hardened into a mask. He’d been laughing before, but sometime during the blur that had been him lifting the box, he’d stopped. He was looking at Alex with something in his face, something that made Alex want to try to hide.

One of the other men turned to Lenny, and said something in Spanish under his breath.

Another one of the men said, without taking his eyes of Alex, “Have you ever seen a Vamp that looks like him?”

Lenny also kept his eyes on Alex. Slowly, as if he thought Alex was armed, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “We don’t want no trouble, kid. I’ll give you double pay for tonight, two hundred dollars, if you leave now. We’re with the Ladies, and you and your friends don’t want that kind of mess. Right?”

Alex didn’t understand what was going on, except that he wasn’t getting the job. He nodded, and Lenny fished two hundred dollar bills out of his wallet and held them out.

Alex stepped forward, his eyes on Lenny’s hand, and the men around Lenny took steps back. Only Lenny managed to keep his place, and even he flinched when Alex snapped the money out of his hand.

Alex backed away, back into the darkness. Crap he was tired now, even though he’d slept most of the afternoon because he thought it would help if he didn’t fall asleep at Eli’s job. When he got to the edge of the parking lot, he turned and ran for the apartment.

The dark streets flashed past, and when he reached the building he tore up the stairs, flung himself down the hall, and burst through his door.

He closed the door behind him, locking it, and then slumped with his back against the door, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor. What the fuck had happened back there? Something not good, that was sure, although the two hundred would at least feed them until he could find something else.

He got up, and the room spun and swam. He shook his head, trying to clear himself of the dizziness, and stumbled over and fell onto the couch. As soon as his eyes closed, he was asleep.

Lia woke when the door opened. She quietly got out of bed, went over to the door, and saw Lex fall on the old sofa.

“Lex?” she asked, but he didn’t reply. She looked at the clock. He’d barely been gone for forty-five minutes, and she’d only been in bed for half and hour.

He didn’t respond, but he was breathing. She pulled off his shoes and his thin coat, and then wrapped him in a blanket. Lex hadn’t said anything, but she could see that he got cold easily.

When he was tucked in on the couch, she went back to the bedroom, and sat on the bed for a bit. Now that she’d been woken up, she didn’t feel tired. Even though Alex had told her not to, she slid out of bed and opened the window. Their apartment was on the fourth floor, even though the screen was missing nothing could come through the window unless it flew up.

Lia lay back in her bed, letting the dry cool air flow over her, and began to dream.

She hopped to the open window, and then up to the still, and looked down at the ground. Heights had never bothered her, although they’d bothered her father something fierce. She opened her wings, and launched herself, flying, out over the apartment buildings and into the darkness.

She could see what Lex had called The Strip off in the distance. There were big buildings there, covered in lights, but to her vision they were the color of dull stone, uninteresting.

She flickered down the street past the 24 hour diner where they’d been eating for the last few days. The woman there that had recommended the job to Lex was not as pleasant as she was supposed to be. She kept flying until she was among larger buildings.

There, at the top of that one, there was green. She flew up and up and up and found herself among fruit trees. She landed on one of the branches, and looked around. There were three men talking, but she wasn’t listening to them. Whatever they were saying, didn’t concern her. Instead, she caught sight of a small grass hopper in the dirt surrounding the trees. She peered at it for a moment, and suddenly pounced down on it, crunching it in her beak.

As she swallowed the bug, she realized the terrace was quiet. She looked up, and one of the men at the table was looking at her.

He was taller than the other two men, and larger. He was wearing a very expensive dark suit with a blue shirt and had the most piercing blue eyes she had ever seen. Lia looked at him for a moment, and then hopped back to the railing.

“What is it,” one of the men was asking.

“Another lycanthrope,” the man with blue eyes nearly whispered.

Both men started up from the table. “Where?” asked the shorter of the two men. He had greasy black hair, and dark eyes, and he was wearing a red pullover.

The other man also had black hair, but his was impeccably styled into a crashing wave. As he looked around the terrace, his eyes seemed to shift from brown to a pale gold. Like the first man, he was also wearing a suit, but it seemed simpler, and wasn’t quite so complimentary.

“The bird?” asked the one with golden eyes.

Blue eyes nodded. “I don’t think she’s fully aware yet. But she heard my call.”

“Full moon isn’t until tomorrow night.”

“This isn’t her first time then,” said blue eyes. “She must be a wilder. Probably doesn’t even know that she’s a lycanthrope.”

“Do you want me to catch her, sir?” said the one in the sweater. He was edging closer to the railing.

“No,” said blue eyes. “Now that I know that she’s out there, I’ll find her again.”

“What is she?” asked the one with golden eyes. “A crow?”

“A raven,” blue eyes said, and then frowned. “Corvus corax. They’re rare, but not unheard of.”

Greasy black hair suddenly lunged at her, but Lia let go of the railing, and was airborne. She flapped a few times and disappeared into the night. As she circled upward, she saw golden-eyes slap greasy black hair hard enough to knock him over, and then look up at her. In the darkness he shouldn’t have been able to see her, but he looked right at her, and somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear him whisper.

Come back, come back.

And then he was out of sight.