“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.
They’d stayed in another small motel on the outskirts of
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.
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.