The next morning, Hekate awoke to her alarm going off right by her ear. Reaching over, she slammed her hand down to make the noise stop before sitting up. The night had been nothing but tossing and turning, unable to fully rest thanks to her nightmares. Nightmares she fought hard to forget.
As she sat up, she evaluated the room, searching for evidence of the night before. But there was nothing. Everything appeared normal.
Even the word seemed foreign to her now. Only a few days ago did she had taken that word for granted. She would wake up, go to school, be with her friends, hang out with her mother, and even have a crush or two. But in only three days, her priorities had changed entirely. Her entire life, whatever was left of it, had changed. Now, nothing was normal.
It wasn’t until she walked into the bathroom that she realized there was some evidence left behind. In the mirror, she could see that her eyes were still bloodshot. Leaning closer, she peeled her eyelids open further to better inspect them.
Although it was impressive, it was reckless.
Moro’s image appeared in the mirror beside Hekate. Her reflection was lying across the bathroom counter, even though she wasn’t there when Hekate looked down. Ignoring the wolf staring back at her through the mirror, Hekate began to strip and climb into the shower, feeling the need to wash herself again despite no evidence of dust.
“Did you want to keep that stupid journal?”
No. I would have taken it to Selene. We could have learned more.
Hekate thought about this as she scrubbed the shampoo into her chocolate brown hair. She was halfway through washing the conditioner out when the thought she might have done the wrong thing crossed her mind. At the time, she was so pissed, she didn’t hesitate to destroy the object centered around the two deaths of yesterday. Now she worried she may have made a mistake with her rash behavior.
“So what now?”
Now…now we hope there won’t be side effects to what you’ve done.
When Hekate had finished, she stepped from the shower with a towel wrapped around her body. Moro mentioning side effects made her remember her wings. Mentally preparing for the pain, Hekate began to summon her wings. The feeling of skin ripping and muscles cracking to adjust to the new bones never felt pleasant. She felt she would never adjust to the sensation.
In the mirror, she studied them, and so did Moro. They were darker than before. Specks of ash covered nearly every inch of the wings. Selene had mentioned before that the wings manifested darker than she intended. And they had. They were never the snowy white you’d see in paintings. Instead, they were a dark gray color. Now, they reminded her of the inside of a falcon’s wings with the darker ash speckled throughout.
They were no longer new. They were war-torn, tainted by the deeds she had done since receiving them. Small lines of red broke through the ash, lining some of the feathers down her wingspan. Some feathers even appeared harder than the rest. As if the taint were too strong and they were beginning to fall apart.
You absorbed it.
“You sound surprised,” Hekate commented as she evaluated the new stains.
Hekate pulled her towel off to squeeze the excess of water in her hair, waiting for Moro to say more. When she didn’t, Hekate pressed her. “Why?”
That book contained the blood of demons and trapped souls. Something like that isn’t easily destroyed, let alone absorbed. Most humans would have been killed by that amount of energy.
Her words caused Hekate to look down at the brand that was still burned into her chest. She pointed towards it as she reached for her black polo shirt, and her red plaid uniform skirt.
Possibly, Moro agreed.
Focusing, Hekate willed her wings to return. When the sensation of her muscles snapping in to place finished, she reached for the hair dryer. Moro never dropped her gaze from the brand on her chest.
The brand was the only explanation Hekate could come up with that would explain how she was still alive. Ironically, Death wanted her alive. He had made it clear that killing her would have only been a gift. So he did something to force her to live. Even though all of that energy, here she was. Strong. Alive.
When her hair had begun to look like a rat’s, she set the hair dryer down before grabbing the hair straightener. As she waited for it to heat up, she stared at Moro until their eyes met. “One way or another, I was able to absorb the energy. The most it seems to have done is change the color of my wings and make it look like I haven’t slept in days. How about we try to have a normal day, one that doesn’t involve a threat to my life? Or a threat to others for that matter. We can fret about it later.”
Reluctantly, Moro nodded in agreement before disappearing. Hekate took that as a minor victory as she ran the hot iron through her hair. She wanted to forget about yesterday. the last thing she wanted to remember were those eyes. Although they already had he milky white layer of death, Hekate knew she had taken the man’s life. Whether or not Moro was willing to fully admit it. And those eyes are what made her sleep restless.
When she was satisfied with her hair, Hekate took a deep breath, and made her way downstairs, leaving her nightmares behind her. In the kitchen, her mother was making a pot of coffee when she looked up. “What happened to you? I thought you went to bed early?”
“Turns out, it isn’t healthy for me to get too much sleep,” Hekate joked.
Her mother pointed to a plate with scrambled eggs on the counter. “I made you breakfast. Eat up. You have to leave for school in a few minutes, and I have to leave for work.”
She leaned in to kiss Hekate’s cheek as she started to rush out the door. “Don’t forget to run by the grocery store on your way home! The list is on the fridge!”
“Okay, Mom!” Hekate yelled.
Hekate looked at the food her mother had made. Only taking two bites, she threw the rest away. Nightmares left behind or not, she didn’t have an appetite. The food tasted like nothing on her tongue, making it unappealing.
She drove to school in silence, enjoying the temporary peace. By the time she pulled into the parking lot, she had made a deal with herself. She would forget yesterday, at least until after school. She needed some semblance of normal to maintain any form of sanity. But the slight burning sensation on her chest inhibited her from casting the memories aside completely.
Marcia was already in homeroom when Hekate arrived for her first class. She was talking to one of their classmates, Branden. They both wore the standard uniforms the school required them to wear. They had both chosen a white polo shirt. But Branden stood out right away. His skin contrasted the white so greatly, it was as though his shirt was a beacon. Just like a beacon, his smile lit up when he noticed Hekate walking towards them.
He quickly waved her over. She wasn’t sure what he’d be excited about. Bible class was one of their most boring classes of the day. Moving closer, Hekate sat her bag into the chair next to Marcia.
Marcia turned and grinned. “Hey, chica. How was your night?”
Glaring at her friend, Hekate fell into her chair before turning to join their conversation. “Nothing special.”
Marcia narrowed her eyes, taking in the broken blood vessels in Hekate’s. “I see.”
Thankfully, Branden didn’t notice the exchange as he pulled their attention back to him. “Apparently we’re getting a new guy in our class today. I think he came from public school down south or something.”
“We are in the south,” Marcia jested.
Branden rolled his eyes. “We’re teetering that line. I mean from a state that is in the south with no arguments.”
For a small Baptist school, it was rare for them to ever get a new student. It had become a game for everyone to find out as much as they can about the new student. As if coming from public school immediately made them an oddity. Hekate had experienced this when she entered their middle school from public. Only Marcia seemed brave enough to be her friend in the beginning.
Before any more could be said on the subject, the bell rang and the teacher, Mr. Brown entered the room. Behind him trailed a boy with short blond hair, buzz-cut around the sides. He was taller than Mr. Brown only by a hair, but his back was broad, and stature strong. He stood confidently next to the teacher, not showing an ounce of nerves for being in a new school. His jet black eyes met Hekate’s for a split second and for only a moment, they felt familiar.
Mr. Brown pulled their attention back towards him. “Good Morning class. We have a new student who will be joining us this morning. Caleb, would you like to introduce yourself?”
Caleb stepped forward to wave, while his other hand stayed in the pocket of his khaki pants. “Hey, guys. I’m Caleb Fields and my family recently moved here from Fairfax.”
Hekate glanced back at Branden who met her confused expression. He simply shrugged, admitting that he had been wrong. Fairfax wasn’t considered south at all in Virginia. When she turned back, she noticed the majority of the girls were doe-eyed as they stared at Caleb. Even Marcia seemed enamored by his presence. Erik didn’t seem pleased.
Mr. Brown’s hand fell to the desk. Although he tried to make it look casual, the loud noise was enough to get the class’s attention again. “Very good. Take a seat and we can begin today’s lesson.”
As Caleb began to walk past Hekate, he glanced down to give her a crooked smile. It was enough of a move to cause Hekate’s stomach to flip. Her only reaction was to form an awkward smile of her own. It was forced and thin. She wasn’t mentally prepared to grin at this stranger, and she was ready to kick herself for it.
She was grateful to realize the new kid wasn’t in all of her classes. She had enough on her plate outside of school, and the last thing she wanted was someone here to complicate things. But only two classes into the day, she noticed some of the girls forming cliches, deciding who would be allowed to approach Caleb and who to bully away. Hekate and Marcia aimed to stay far away from them.
By the time they were on their way to lunch, Hekate was relieved. A momentary reprieve from the tension surrounding the classrooms gave her a minute to catch her breath. Unfortunately, the drama followed Caleb wherever he went.
Why are you so irritated?
“I’m not irritated exactly,” she murmured in the lunch line.
Is it this boy?
Hekate was beginning to become annoyed that the two parts of her life were beginning to clash. She felt her face heat up in embarrassment when Moro asked her the basic question. If it weren’t for Moro living inside of her, she’d be able to lie.
So, it is the boy. Interesting.
Huffing, Hekate quickly paid for her food, leaving the lunch line of confused students, wondering what had set her off so suddenly.
Caleb was already sitting next Branden towards the back of the cafeteria when she walked in. The rest of the girls from her class were already surrounding their table. Even from the doorway, Hekate could feel Caleb’s infectious laughter. But she could also feel the hostility of the girls surrounding him. Taking her bagged lunch, she moved to the table closest to the door. Marcia was already sitting with Erik, her back towards the laughter.
“I’m surprised you’re not sitting next to the new meat,” Hekate joked.
Erik narrowed his eyes at Hekate, but Marcia merely giggled. “Oh, I think he’s already focused on someone else. Besides, I don’t need new meat. I’m good.”
Hekate glanced between the two of them, trying to gather their meaning. She was also trying to measure their interactions. Hekate wondered if something did finally happen between them. “What’re you talking about?”
Erik chuckled. “Caleb has been stealing glances at you all day. You haven’t noticed?”
“Unlike you, I’m trying to pay attention in class. You must have quite the crush on him to grab your attention like that,” Hekate grinned.
Marcia laughed and leaned into Erik. “He’s just looking out for you apparently. I told you Erik isn’t that bad.”
“Oh yeah? How’s that? Tell me how you’d be looking out for me,” she asked, taking a bite out of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“During our last study hall, he kept asking random questions about some of the other students here. Specifically you,” he said. Although he tried to make it sound like no big deal, there was a harshness in his voice as he said it.
Hekate could only blush and tilt her head down towards her food. Marcia noticed and grinned immediately. “Ahh, so our little Hekate is growing up. Are you going to live up to your namesake and cast a spell to gain his affections?”
“Shut up,” Hekate grumbled. The fact that her mother had given her such a strange name bothered her enough as it was. When she was old enough to ask about her name, her mother said she hoped the name would give her confidence and strength. When in reality, all it did was cause her to be embarrassed by her own name. Who named their kid after a mythological goddess?
Marcia grin widened. “I’m so proud of you. Look at you! You can be human! You do have feelings.”
Not able to help herself, she glanced up towards the crowd. Amara, one of the ring leaders, was leaning into Caleb’s shoulder, pointing at something on the table before laughing. Caleb grinned, but his eyes suddenly left the table, meeting Hekate’s. She quickly jerked her head down, immediately regretting her decision.
When the lunch bell rang, Hekate felt relieved that the topic could be dropped. Without another glance up, she turned to leave. Marcia and Erik quickly caught up. Before Hekate and Marcia could walk into their classroom, Erik grabbed her arm. “Can I talk to you real quick?”
“Sure,” Hekate said.
Marcia glared at Hekate for a split second before turning to go into the classroom. Following Erik, they took a few steps away from the door. “I just wanted to ask you something real quick.”
“What’s up?” Hekate asked.
Before beginning, he took a shaky deep breath. “Okay. You know Marcia the best. Does she really like me? Or do you think it’s just a game or something?”
Hekate’s eyebrow cocked. “A game?”
“You know what I mean,” he groaned.
“Of course she likes you, you moron. I’ve been waiting months for the two of you to get it together and just date. For crying out loud, I figured you were the one just dangling her along,” Hekate chuckled. The two of them had been playing chicken long enough.
“Hey Erik!” a voice called from behind.
Caleb came up from behind Hekate. She felt her entire body stiffen at the sound of his voice. The brand on her chest hummed, making her entire body heat up. Erik didn’t seem to notice him at first. My confirmation of Marcia was enough to cloud his earlier hostility towards him. When he finally noticed, his grin was so wide, Hekate began to wonder if he was really in love with Caleb.
“Hey, Caleb! I have to go talk to Marcia. Sorry!”
And just like that, Erik had bolted, leaving Hekate and Caleb alone in the hallway. Hekate turned to look up at him. His grin was crooked and confident. “Hi. You’re Hekate, right? I’m Caleb.”
Her face was expressionless. She didn’t trust herself. “Yeah. Nice to meet you. How’re you liking the school?”
He shrugged. “Seems all right. Everyone here seems pretty nice. I expected more questions and judgment considering I came from a public school.”
Hekate couldn’t help but chuckle. “You just happened to luck out then. They scrutinized me pretty hard when I first arrived.”
“When did you start here?” he asked curiously.
“A few years back, in middle school. It was only last year when people started to warm up to me,” she said dryly.
“Well, uh,” he began, “I have to go to my next class. But I was wondering if you wanted to get some coffee tomorrow night? Just to hang out?”
Her eyes widened only slightly when she met his jet black eyes. Her stomach was flipping again, as her mouth gaped open. She quickly slammed it shut as her mind caught up with the situation.
He was asking her out. And on his first day too. “Sure, I guess.”
His smile had infected her, causing her to match it. “Great! I’ll see you then!”
Hekate nodded as he walked past to rush towards his classroom on the other side of the hallway. Her feet were planted into the ground, shock making her unable to move. Erik noticed when he came out of the classroom, that stupid grin still lighting up his face.
“I take it that went well?” he asked.
She jerked her head towards him, narrowing her eyes. “What did you do?”
Erik folded his arms confidently. “Told him if he wanted to ask you out to do it quick. Wouldn’t want him to lose out on competition.”
Something clicked in her head when she realized what he meant. “You ass! You had him ask me out so you knew no one was a threat to you and Marcia!” She took a step forward, slowly lifting her fist. “I’m going to kill you.”
Dodging her punch, Erik began to run down the hall to his classroom, laughing the entire way. “You know you love me!”
Marcia nearly knocked her down when she walked into the classroom. “Hekate! I owe you big time!”
It took Hekate a moment to mentally catch up. “What? What did I do?”
“You talked to Erik for me,” she exclaimed, “We have a date tomorrow night!”
You’ll have to disappoint her.
“Why?” Hekate whispered, low enough for Marcia not to notice.
That is when she will finish receiving her wings. It cannot be postponed. Your souls will be perfectly synchronized then. Besides, the sooner she receives her wings, the sooner she’ll be able to defend herself properly.
Her eyes darkened, causing Marcia to pause. “What? What is it?”
“You’re going to need to postpone your date,” she said.
“What?” Marcia was practically a fronted by the idea.
Hekate swallowed hard before looking up. “That’s the night you’re receiving your wings.”
Although she wouldn’t say it out loud, Hekate allowed the shadowed thoughts overtake her mind. Hekate might not survive the month, whether it was from the brand or the demons. Perhaps Erik getting her a date wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, considering.
And even though the idea of having Marcia’s help was meant to be a positive one, Hekate still didn’t want her to be at risk. This was supposed to be Hekate’s job alone. And now she’s dragged her best friend into it. The guilt bit into her heart. It was stronger than the guilt of the two dead men.
I killed one of them.
Hekate’s head twitched, shaking to deny Moro’s answer. If it weren’t for her, both men would still be alive. Though criminals, they would be alive and in jail. Instead they were dead, souls probably taken.
Death is only beginning.
Keeping her voice low, Hekate answered. “I know.”