So I'm excited to start getting to the juicy part of this story, but I have to tell you that this installment will be shorter than normal. What had happened was... lol... I wrote a really long piece and I knew it needed adjustment, and after giving it to a friend to look over, she agreed. That said, I'm taking the really long piece and turning it into a bunch of smaller ones so your brain doesn't explode. :D So expect more to come. We aren't done yet!
On an even better note, I'm happy to say that we will be resuming Flash Fiction Friday after a wintery hiatus, and I'm starting a new story that is totally different than anything I've written before. This has been nagging at me for months, and when faced with deciding between two stories for FFF, I went ahead and gave into my gut to go with this new one. So on Friday I hope you stop back and visit to check it out.
Well, on with Whispers! ;)
Part 8 Playlist:
Lose Your Soul - Dead Man's Bones (This is weird one, but it worked perfectly for me. lol)
In My Veins - Andrew Belle
Heaven Knows - The Pretty Reckless
Deep Shadow (Vocal Version) - T.T.L.
Last time on Whispers:
“Okay.” She fisted the bottom of her sweater in her hand, and stared at her lap. “Sinclair isn’t their real surname, but no one else but Red and her grandmother knew that, and Red didn’t know until about a year before Tabby’s birthday that night. Her grandmother wanted to keep them safe, but she also wanted Red to carry out family tradition because she believed Red, even above her son, could handle the job.”
Adrian slowly turned to Wes. Neither of them had to say it aloud. Adrian’s horrified face spoke volumes.
“She wanted Red to be something called a Hunter, and that they were many others like her. She said they would help her take down Camille.”
Whispers in Silence: Part 8
She stopped playing with her buttons. Her hands stilled and Elle lifted her head. “I was wrong. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, is it.”
Adrian swallowed loud enough for them to hear. He turned helpless eyes to Wes. What was he supposed to say that wouldn’t compromise the others still out there in the field? What did this mean for him? He needed Wes to fix this, obviously, as Adrian’s lips opened and closed yet nothing came out.
Wes got a glimpse of the Adrian he’d first met; the man who didn’t know how to ask for help. But when he did these days, he always turned to Wes. The Senior Detective softened his expression and put his hands to his wrist for Adrian to see. Just breathe. “Elle, it’s not that I don’t want to tell you, it’s that I can’t.” Wes offered her a smile. “I’m sorry I can’t give you more when you’re being so generous.”
She sniffled and nodded, taking his response in stride. “You’re very polite for a Detective.”
“And you’re a very strong woman for holding it together to help your friends. I’m not trying to placate you here, I’m being honest. Took some serious cojones to tell us what you just did. More importantly, I’m glad you trust us.” Wes slid his hand beneath a pillow to touch Adrian’s leg. Elle didn’t notice, but Adrian did. Wes’s partner breathed a sigh of relief.
Elle’s forced smile waned. She reached up and twisted her short braid between her fingers. “Then I’ll tell you what I know and help them the best I can.”
“We would appreciate that very much. Anything you know, Elle.” Wes exhaled as Adrian’s hand slid over his, their touching camouflaged by the pillow between them. “I suppose Red took her grandmother up on her offer?”
“Is that a real question?” Elle smirked. Her eyes lit up in a way that could only make her friend’s memory genuine. “Red was the most adventurous person I ever knew. She loved a challenge, and I always felt bad for her that she didn’t get to do more of what she wanted under Camille’s watch. It was time for her to get out, to do something worthwhile, she said. I would never hold her back from something like that, no matter how scared I was for her. So yes, she left one week later and that was the last I saw of her.”
“Did anyone else know she left?”
Elle shook her head. “She received a new passport and a ticket in a black envelope a few days before she flew out. I remember being nervous when she showed it to me. It was very James Bond and cloak and dagger kind of stuff. I knew she was going to be in danger.” She glanced up and shrugged halfheartedly. “But that was Red, the ultimate thrill seeker, and what better way to get a high than to take down the one person you hate the most while doing something you enjoy?”
Wes pictured Red Sinclair waltzing through that airport like someone important, a big smile on her face as she embarked on a top-speed ride into her new life as a Hunter. The complete opposite of her sister, Red Sinclair would have made the perfect James Bond if she was trained anywhere close to how Adrian was. Although unlike Adrian, Red chose that life. It wasn’t programmed into her brain to be some ultimate super spy for the queen. She loved her role, just like a real life James Bond.
Good for you, kid. Good for you.
“The classics never die,” Wes murmured with a smile.
“Oh, nothing—so Red left under a fake identity and that’s how she was able to disappear with no one the wiser.”
“That’s right. A car was sent to the hotel she stayed at the night before she left. I couldn’t be seen at the hotel with her because of the cameras, so I could only wave goodbye from the other side of the street.” Elle rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. This is harder than I thought it’d be. I mean, I think about her every single day, but this is different. I’ve never told anybody the whole story.”
“Take your time, Elle. We’ll be here.”
She wrinkled her nose and straightened. “No, I can do this. That was the last time I saw her, but it wasn’t the last time I heard from her. After being gone for a long time, she started sending me the gifts from PO boxes around the world. It was her way of telling me she was okay, and where she was or had been at the time. I started to track her by the addresses because I was going a little crazy when I wouldn’t hear from her for a while. It was strange to me that I suddenly get these gifts after years…”
Wes’s curiosity stirred. He cocked his head and squinted. “What do you mean track?”
Elle held up a finger and got up from her chair. She went to a large bookcase and crouched down to open the cabinet at the bottom. She pulled out a thick, black photo album and then brought it to Wes and Adrian. After sitting down she opened it to reveal the book wasn’t a photo album at all, but a scrapbook instead.
“I have a page for every shipping label from the packages. I researched them a bit, the labels, and they looked strange compared to the ones I found online. I was scared to take them to a professional, in case they somehow saw something they weren’t supposed to. Then I stopped looking at them because maybe I was being paranoid, you know.” She handed the book over to Adrian who immediately reached for it.
He skimmed page after page with his finger, always going straight to the barcode with a set of numbers underneath. Finally he looked over at Elle, considering her for a long time before he said, “Thank you for not showing this to anyone. You were considered very trustworthy to receive these. You were an ally. There aren’t many of those, and usually the title is reserved for mates.”
“I…I wasn’t involved with her like that, but we were very close. We understood each other like no one else.” Elle folded her hands in her lap, fingers clenching and unclenching. “Please tell me I’m not crazy and that those mean something. We’re they messages for me? I never received any letters. I was always dying to hear from her.”
Adrian checked with Wes. Elle Franco had waited too long to know the truth, and Wes saw Adrian had answers to give her. She had hidden Red’s secret for many years, and Wes knew she wouldn’t betray her friend’s true identity, even after Red’s passing. “Go ahead.”
Adrian put the book in his lap and pointed to a barcode. “The first three digits of every barcode were not printed by the post office. They’re signatures used by Hunters when sending evidence to the queen. Had Red sent these all by herself there would have been the same three numbers every time. She used the Hunter network to help her, undoubtedly because she was working undercover and didn’t want the packages to be all from the same location. Had these fallen into the wrongs hands, she would have been made.”
“Then they aren’t messages? They aren’t even from her? Her grandmother said they were important when she phoned me about Red’s… when Red died. She said to keep the gifts safe until it was time. And then Robert showed up—”
Adrian shoved the book into Wes’s lap. “Hold that thought for me, Elle. Stay here,” he said. He jogged through the living room and seconds later the front door opened. He came racing back inside with a tech kit from the escort vehicle outside, and then crouched down in the hallway and opened the case. “Wes, I need you.”
“Coming,” Wes yelled back stupidly. While his partner didn’t hear him, Wes still didn’t need to be told twice. “I’ll be right back,” he said to Elle.
When Wes entered the hallway, he found Adrian had taken some of the weapons off of the wall and was inspecting them closely. He crouched next to Adrian and tapped his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“We couldn’t always send messages by phone or letter, and computers are especially dangerous. There were enemy eyes everywhere—they worked at the bank, at the post, at fucking restaurants. They had ways of monitoring all electronic activity like phones and GPS. We had to hide everything, had to go old school to get anywhere. You’ve seen my suitcase.” Adrian turned the spear over and looked up at Wes. “Nothing is as it seems.”
“You think there’s something hidden in the weapons.”
“Yes, and I think that’s why Robert showed up in the first place. Halverson is not just some graduate from the Academy, Wes. Neither am I. And people like us will wait as long as we have to, to do our job right.” Adrian brought the spear up for closer inspection. “Someone is guarding Elle and guarding whatever is in these weapons because the information is important, and so was Elle to Red otherwise Elle would be dead by now. When a Hunter goes down, we protect what they have left. And we go after whoever killed them. It’s our way.”
Adrian squinted at the weapon. He put it in his lap and reached for the black light. “Elle, I know you’re there. Hit the lights.”
The lights went out and Wes tensed when Elle stopped next to him. In the eerie glow of candle light, Adrian turned the device on and shined it at the spear. A blue band appeared where the arrowhead met the wooden shaft. “I knew it. Wes, find the rest.” He handed the black light to Wes. “I’ll work on getting this open.”
Adrian fished out the flashlight, held it between his teeth and used a knife from the kit to pry the weapon open. Wes paused at the swords, amazed how deep he’d fallen into Adrian’s world when more blue bands appeared. “Got it,” Adrian tugged a slim USB from a crevice in the spear’s shaft. “Elle, get the driver to give you our laptop. Hurry up.”
“That won’t be necessary,” a voice boomed from the top of the stairs. “Stay where you are, Elle.” The lights from the top level flicked on. There stood Leonardo Redding.
Redding descended the stairs casually. He made no point in disguising his appearance for them because it was apparent he had no intention of anyone alerting the security outside to his presence. “I have a gun on me, but I’m not going to use it,” he said to Adrian and Wes who both had their weapons drawn and aimed at his head.
“I knew we’d catch you. Although, I didn’t think you’d just waltz up to us and turn yourself in,” Wes spat.
Redding snorted. “You say that like I’ve done something wrong, Detective.”
“You murdered an innocent man. You’ve taken out countless others.”
Redding’s hold on the banister tightened. Wes wondered what this son-of-a-bitch could possibly be angry about, but it was clear Redding took Wes’s accusation personally. “If you’re referring to Briggs, I did not kill him. As for the others, the men and women that took enjoyment from defiling and killing children, then yes I’m guilty of their deaths. And by your Royal law, I am clear of prosecution. For as it states under the queen’s decree: any vampire or human, male or female, who harms a child shall be put to death without trial.”
Wes stepped to the side where Adrian could see him. “That’s not how it works in the human world. There are laws,” Wes growled.
“He’s not human, and neither are we,” Adrian reminded Wes. “He’s right.”
Wes bared his fangs. He stepped in front of Elle to protect her. “So if you didn’t kill Briggs, then who did? We have you on camera at the ceremony. Don’t even think of lying to me.”
“I was there, but not to kill Briggs.” Redding looked at Adrian. “And not to kill you.”
Wes tried to get a feel for Redding, to catch him in a lie. There was nothing. Not one blip of untruth. “Then why were you there?”
“To get the last piece of evidence against Camille Sinclair. She was meeting with Ulysses that night to finalize his new security detail and set up a new home for boys in town, so they could offer services to visiting vampires. I was there to kill Ulysses Maloy also, but that was taken care of for me. Quite well, I might add.” Again, Redding met Adrian’s eyes. “And it was all fated, because the primary reason I came to France was to watch you all graduate.”
“Excuse me?” Adrian faltered. His gun hand shook.
“I have followed you for many years, Adrian. In part, to punish myself and watch you grow. And as it was my duty with your father gone, I needed to make sure you were safe.” Redding took the last step down. Such emotion ran through his eyes. “The last time I was this close to you, you were so small and scared. I tried to give you a blanket, but you kept screaming and covering your ears. You said I was dead, that I wasn’t real.”
Adrian shook his head and backed away. “I’ve never met you in my life. Shut up.”
“I was there the night your father was killed. The two of you were on enemy watch in the woods, but I had no idea you were supposed to be there. I would’ve taken another route to spare you harm had I known what was really going on. But as it were, we were bringing a boy from one of Camille’s homes to safety. We were going to take him out of the country along with others we had waiting at a private airport. But I wasn’t your enemy that night, Adrian. Not at all. They were and I had no idea at the time.”
“You’re a fucking lunatic,” Wes hissed and was about to pull the trigger when Redding took another step down, but Adrian prevented him from doing so.
Adrian started hyperventilating. He put a hand out to Wes’s arm, trying to steady himself. Wes wasn’t quick enough and Adrian went to his knees. Torn between keeping his gun on Redding and cradling his mate, Wes made the hardest decision of his life. He put his gun away and pulled Adrian into his lap.
Adrian started to convulse and make noises like a wounded animal. Wes’s worst fears had come to pass. He slid his phone across the floor. “Elle, take my phone and call Sutton. He should be the last one dialed. Tell him Adrian is turning and then bring in our guys from outside.”
She put her arms around her middle and backed away. “But—”
Redding pointed at her. “Do it. Now!”
Wes held Adrian close, settling him chest to chest, heart to heart, so he could share his mate’s pain. Adrian’s pupils dilated. His eyes now bloodshot and glassy were filled to the brim with unshed tears. He choked on every breath. His fingers dug into Wes’s shoulder as he tried to speak. Wes lost himself in Adrian’s agony. He hugged his mate for all he was worth and whispered in his ear, “Everything will be alright. I’m here, baby. I’m here.”
“Promise?” came a slurred reply.
Wes leaned back to see Adrian’s eyes. How did Adrian hear him? It wasn’t possible. Wes nodded in shock. He gripped Adrian’s free hand when another tremor stole Adrian’s last breath as a human. Adrian’s fingers went slack and slid from Wes’s hand.
“Adrian?” Wes shook his mate gently. Although he knew Adrian wasn’t gone forever, Wes still mourned. It was natural for his emotions to be everywhere at once when he was forced to sit back and wait, hope and wait for Adrian to wake up again. To feel his mate’s dead body in his arms was the most agonizing moment of his life. In a few minutes, Wes would have to take the next step and feed his mate or else he would never get up again.
Wes looked up at Redding, who was kneeling not a foot away. Tears slid down Wes’s face. He continued to hold his limp mate close to his chest. “Who are you?”
“Someone who takes care of the one’s they left behind. It was Red’s way, and now it is mine.”
Adrian came to the understanding he was no longer alive, but not quite a vampire yet. He was somewhere blissfully in between and grateful the pain had stopped. He wasn’t so delirious he didn’t remember where he’d died a mortal death, in Wes’s arms, somewhere in Brooklyn. Now he wondered where he was, because this place was definitely not New York City, and nowhere near Wes.
Adrian was bundled up in a puffy blue coat, a bright and vibrant color he would have never chosen for himself. In his gloved hands was a cup of coffee like he’d just taken a walk and purchased one from a vendor on the street. In the distance a group of rowdy school children tossed a ball across a snow covered playground. And behind them was a church with a large bell and a stone steeple. It connected to a massive, similarly fashioned building Adrian presumed was a school.
The bell rang and the children continued to play. They overlooked Adrian as he walked the tree lined path towards the open area. Rays of sunshine crested over the trees, playing off their joyful faces, and Adrian smiled. While he was confused and somewhat angry inside that he had no idea where he was or what was happening back in reality, this place brought him a sense of peace.
It helped to elevate the stress of not being near Wes. Not being near the man who was now his home, his life. Not being able to comfort Wes when he was probably flipping out. Yet somehow, Adrian sensed the tether between them like his lifeline back to the world he knew to be real.
The closer Adrian came to the playground, and the nun keeping guard over her rambunctious flock, Adrian spotted a man seated on a bench. He had his fur lined hood pulled up to cloak his identity, but he seemed very at ease watching the children play. He rested an arm around the back of the bench, one leg stretched out and the other bent at the knee.
Adrian heard his chuckle when one little girl raced away from a group of boys, a large grin on her face and the ball in her hand. In fact, Adrian heard everything around him. He heard the birds in the trees. The wind when it blew past him in gentle gusts. He heard the bell’s mighty toll when it struck on the hour and the nun blow her whistle when the boys got out of hand.
And he heard the man’s voice when he said, “Take a seat, Adrian.”
Adrian’s wondrous smile faded. He knew that voice, had only heard it once in a nightmare and always wondered if he’d ever want to hear it again. “Dad?”
The hooded man turned his head. Davide Donohue lowered his hood and patted the space next to him. No burns. No blood. Just Davide’s healthy normal self, seated before Adrian like a dream.
“Hey, kid.” Davide returned his attention to the playground, knowing Adrian would sit when he was ready.
“This isn’t possible. I thought I’d only see you again when I died, if that’s real. If there is an afterlife...” Adrian sat down quickly, scanning his father’s face like he’d forgotten what it looked like after all these years. This was his father, his flesh and blood that had been dead for ten years just sitting next to him like nothing had changed. Adrian wanted to cry, to scream, to shout his joy to the heavens. Nevertheless, something inside of him gave him strength and peace of mind, told him everything would be okay and not to question this gift.
“Everything is possible, and technically, you are dead.” Davide grinned. He looked at his son. “For a little while anyway.”
Adrian nodded. He didn’t get it, why he was here, how his father was here. “How?” he blurted. He deserved to know something, anything really. Silence be damned, he’d lived too long not asking questions.
“The dying part? Happens to every vampire when they turn; they have to give up a part of themselves to make room for the beast. Curse and a blessing, I suppose.” Davide shrugged.
Davide put his arm around Adrian. “I know what you meant. I was messing with you.” Davide smiled. He actually smiled, as if years of death and destruction had been lifted from his shoulders. Although he’d never looked a day over twenty-four in life, Adrian always saw his father older than his years. It was nice to see him looking strong and handsome, carefree and relaxed.
Davide leaned into his son. “You’re here because you live in both worlds. You see things others can’t. I’m here because you needed me, and I promised I’d always be with you. I wasn’t that terrible of a father, was I, that you think I’d break my promise.”
Adrian shook his head. “No. I think you did just fine.”
“You’re sure, Adrian? You didn’t ever wish you were one of them?” Davide pointed to the kids playing. “Now that I’ve had time to think, I wish you were. I wish I could’ve given you a better life. I should have let Sutton take you when he begged.”
Adrian put his coffee down and turned his body towards his father. “Don’t say that. I like who I am.”
“And who is that?” Davide searched Adrian’s eyes.
“I’m still figuring that out,” Adrian admitted. “I may not have been one of those kids, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy. When you were with me, I was happy.”
“I told you, I’m always with you. There’s nothing wrong with being happy now. Nothing at all.”
“It’s not the same.” Adrian whimpered. His father’s hand cupped his shoulder as they sat in silence. “I remember you. I remember everything and you’ll always be a part of my life. But when you left me, when they took you from me, I wasn’t ready.”
“Adrian, no one is ready to lose their father. I wasn’t ready to let you go yet either, but here we are, somewhere in between and only one of us is leaving here alive.” Davide reached up and ran his fingers across the nape of Adrian’s neck. “It’s kind of a gift to both of us, this right here, you and me and no danger. We never really got the chance to breathe.”
“Dad, what if I’m scared to wake up? What if I can’t do it?” Adrian tensed. His father’s approval meant everything to him, even in this place when nothing was alive or dead. He didn’t want to appear weak or afraid, but if this was the last time he had with his father, he had to ask if it was okay. Was it okay to be happy and not be a Hunter? Was feeling okay to do? Was it okay to be happy without his father?
“You were scared to me ask me that question but you did it anyway. Fear is a normal emotion we have to work through, it’s not a job, Adrian, that’s life. I was scared every single day after you were born, and I raised you still, because you were mine and you were my world. I was scared to lose you like I lost your mother, so I raised you to be strong and smart and self-sufficient in case anything happened to me. And I was scared you would turn your back on me, resent me for losing a part of yourself to be a Hunter, and yet I kept going because when you looked at me for approval, I knew I was your world too. With fear, there is always reward, believe it or not.”
“You were, Dad. You were my world.”
Davide patted Adrian’s shoulder. He stared at the children as he smiled. “I know, kid. And even though I’ll always be with you, Adrian, you have to wake up because you’re someone else’s world now. It’s time you remember what happened. It’s time you grieve and move on. Wes needs you now. Frederick needs you now. Your team needs you more than ever.”
“I don’t want to go there. I can’t remember, but I know I’m scared. Something bad happened to me, or…maybe someone else. I don’t want to know.” Adrian gripped his father’s hand. “Don’t make me go there.”
“You’ll never be alone, Adrian.” Davide leaned forward and kissed his son’s head.
“Don’t leave me here. I don’t know even know where I am!” Adrian rose from his seat and stared down at his father.
Davide suddenly stood alongside his son. “My idea of heaven is where I met her, the pretty nun who wasn’t a nun at all.” Davide grinned. He waved to the nun and she turned to face him.
Adrian caught a glimpse of his mother’s blue eyes beneath her habit. She lifted a hand and waved back. Adrian took a step forward, entranced by the vision of his mother. He lifted a hand to her and then the sun went down and night stretched across the sky.
A tree lined wood sat off to the right and miles of icy tundra to Adrian’s left. Snow fell from the sky, blown this way and that by a forceful wind. Amidst the open land was a barely visible two track road.
Adrian’s stomach lurched. “No. I don’t want be here anymore.” He took a step back just as an all-terrain vehicle’s headlights hit the snow. “No!”
“Adrian,” a man said to his left. Adrian jumped at the voice. He turned to find Briggs standing there, healthy as he’d been in his final days. Like Adrian, he wore a white parka and his hands were gloved, one of which he extended to his pupil. “Come with me.”
Adrian tried to pull away. He yanked and yanked to no avail. “Go away. I don’t want you here.”
“Yes, you do.” Briggs tugged him close. He bear-hugged Adrian around the middle and forced him to watch the vehicle begin its trip across the tundra. “Think back, Adrian. Think back to this night and remember the details for me. I might have trained you to be a Detective, but you were already prepared to see the world from the other side. Think hard, Adrian. Remember.”
“No. I can’t.”
“You can do this. I need you to remember. The vehicle came into sight and what did you do?”
Adrian sobbed, sagging in Briggs’s arms. “I lined up the shot because I was supposed to take out the tires. An enemy coven was trying to breach Surik and escape to the states by plane.”
“Who told you to do that?” Briggs hugged him tighter. Shots rang out into the night from a gun belonging to fourteen-year-old Adrian. The tires blew—a deafening noise in Adrian’s ears.
“And who ordered him to do so?”
Adrian shuddered. His teeth chattered. “W-we were contacted by other Hunters. We were meeting a team. Th-they checked in by radio that night.”
“Did you know them by name or number?”
Adrian shook his head. “I can’t watch this. Please, make it stop.”
Four men exited the side of the vehicle. They searched the night for their target and then one lifted the cannon onto his shoulder.
“When they got out with weapons, prepared to strike back, you knew something wasn’t right. Listen, Adrian. Listen to what you could not hear before.” Briggs pointed to the men.
A man tumbled out of the vehicle on the side Adrian couldn’t see before. He helped a smaller boy out and covered him with his body. “We can make it on foot if we hurry,” a voice Adrian recognized rang out in the distance. It was Redding. “She must have found us.”
“Fuck that. They’ll follow us if we let them live.” The guy with the cannon let it rip without listening to Redding’s shouts to cease. Soon enough, a fiery being danced in the woods. Adrian’s father was engulfed in flames.
“No! What have you done,” Redding roared.
Adrian fell to his knees and howled. “Stop this. I beg you.”
Briggs dug his fingers into Adrian’s arms. “It was a setup, Adrian. It was all a trap. They didn’t know there were two of you. They wanted your father dead. When you figured that out, you went for revenge.”
“Redding did this,” Adrian wailed.
Briggs turned Adrian to face him. “No. Redding was tricked too.”
Briggs hugged Adrian to his body and the scene changed. A small café on the outskirts of Surik sat open after normal hours. Adrian swallowed back vomit when he laid eyes on the sign hanging above the door. It was the café the Hunters were supposed to meet at, the one where the enemy contact waited for his colleagues to show.
Adrian dragged his feet, forced inside by an invisible hand. He knew Briggs was with him, even if he chose not to show himself at the moment. Suddenly, fourteen-year-old Adrian walked right through him, leaving behind an ire laden taste in Adrian’s mouth. The boy was so mad. He had locked onto the one emotion that would carry him through the tragedy he’d just lived.
Adrian slid into a seat just inside the door and watched his former self eye the only employee there. The man raised a brow at him, snorted because he knew the boy wasn’t there to buy anything, and continued to wash the counter. That left the one customer in the place, a red-headed vixen with black, ripped up jeans and pearls—an odd outfit for anyone, especially in these parts. She checked her watch, regarded Adrian for the child he was, and then sipped her coffee without another thought.
Young Adrian pulled out the chair at her table and sat down. He put his gun on the table and cut her with a stare that could blow the world into smithereens. “Who do you work for? I want to know before I kill you,” he said with a deadly chill to his voice.
The woman looked at his gun and then back at him. “That’s a big piece for a young man like you.”
“Cut the shit, lady. I will blow a hole in you the size of this country. Who. Do. You. Work for?” Adrian cocked the gun and stood, aiming it at her head.
The employee began to shout in Russian. He scrambled to the backroom and locked the door. The redhead checked the young Hunter over again. Older Adrian knew she was looking over his gear, his face, and reading him for the Hunter he was.
“I’d heard talk about a young one, but I never thought you were this young.” She straightened in her seat and looked around uneasily. “We take care of our own. It is our way,” she recited the motto in case he was on her side and Young Adrian faltered.
“Nice try. Who else did you kill to get that information, someone else’s father?”
“Father? What are you talking about?” she hissed quietly.
“My father,” he spat. “The Hunter you ordered taken out, traitor!”
Visibly upset, the redhead whipped out her phone. She checked it for something urgent and then shook her head. “He should have been here by now. Did something happen to him?” She appeared out of breath, reaching for her gun. “I have to call the queen. Stay near me, something isn’t right.”
Young Adrian lowered his gun, confused that she wasn’t threatened by him, while the real Adrian waited for what he knew would happen next. The Hunter lifted her phone to her ear, turned to Young Adrian, and then a melee of slugs hit her in the back, pumped all the way through her body until a giant hole was fashioned through her chest.
Blood covered Young Adrian. He turned to the door, hands on his gun, but fingers trembling. He thought he caught a glimpse of a boy in the doorway before the room fell silent. In the distance sirens rang. The employee had called the cops.
Young Adrian’s bottom lip trembled. He studied the blood all over his front and started to cry. He was fourteen and alone. Everyone was out to get him, and no one knew to come to his aid. His father was gone forever, the only one he really trusted. He was out of options, out of contacts, and out of time. He did the only thing he knew to do. He ran.
Adrian grieved for his younger self. He blinked rapidly, his eyes burning with tears. The scene shifted. Briggs held Adrian’s hand through the woods, the moon lighting their way now that the snow had lightened up. They came upon Young Adrian kneeling naked in the woods. He was shivering and gulping for air as he patted the snow into place.
“I buried everything except for my knives. I wanted to die,” Adrian confessed. “I was going to kill myself.”
“But someone wasn’t giving up on you.” Briggs pointed to the east. The silhouette of a man hit the snow where he hid behind a tree. He watched Adrian cry. He watched him throw up again. He watched the young boy drag himself off the ground to continue on his journey to the end.
As Young Adrian moved along a snowy path towards an old abandoned house, the man trailing him followed at a safe distance. Moonlight bathed the man’s face, revealing Redding to be the man tagging behind.
“Why is he following me?” Adrian looked to Briggs. “Where’s the boy?”
“You know why, Adrian. Think hard and everything will make sense. The woman, the boy, Redding, your father—they are all connected.” Briggs gave Adrian’s hand a squeeze. “Are you ready to remember? You hold the key to bringing Camille down, Adrian. You just need to remember what it is.”
“The house,” Adrian moaned. “Don’t let him go into that house.” He reached out to his younger self, but couldn’t stop the boy as hard as he tried.
Briggs turned Adrian to him. “This has already happened. You cannot interfere with the past. You went into that house ten years ago, but why, Adrian?”
“I was so cold.”
“You were scared. You thought ending it would be better, but when you saw the house, you couldn’t go through with it. Something changed.” Briggs rubbed Adrian’s back.
“There was a man,” Adrian whispered.
Adrian shook his head. His eyes glazed over, haunted by what he now understood. “An old man came out of the house. He was looking for someone, calling out for him, but he saw me instead and took my hand.”
“There wasn’t an old man there, Adrian.”
Adrian wasn’t going through this again. It was bad enough he was stuck here in this place, at his stress limit, being forced to relive this night like a punishment. He would not have Briggs think he was crazy on top of it. He wasn’t crazy. He knew what he saw. He’d never…forget it.
“Yes, there was.” Adrian wrenched away from Briggs’s protective arms. “He took my hand and called me Sasha. He was the one who brought me inside. I was terrified, but I was too far gone to argue. I’d been walking for so long. It was too cold.”
“Sasha?” Briggs narrowed his eyes. “Where did you hear that?”
“From the man! I told you already.” Adrian whipped around. He watched his younger self reach out to the man, the old man with tears streaked down his face. He let the man bring him inside from the cold and the door shut behind them. Redding moved in, crawling slowly over the porch to a window. He kneeled down, curling his fingers around the window sill, and peeked inside.
“Redding saw him too. He was there.”
Briggs shook his head. “No, Adrian. Redding never saw a man. He only saw you.”
Putting two and two together was easy for someone like Adrian, but in the face of this kind of four, he was left spinning and dizzy. No one else saw the man because he’d been dead for a long time. The old man that led Adrian inside, the reason he called him Sasha and the blocked memories, all came rushing back to him.
He’d relied on a spirit to save him, because the old man was the only one who listened to his cry for help. However, what lay inside that old house wasn’t safe or comforting, and that is what scared Adrian the most.
There was no way the old man had helped him with good intentions. Adrian had been so far gone that night, he’d allowed something evil to lure him inside. He’d given up and let his guard down. How was what he saw in there supposed to bring Camille down? He didn’t want to go inside. He didn’t want to remember.
Adrian stood with Briggs at the front door. Redding watched through the window, unaware of their presence. The door opened with a groan, letting in a dusting of snow. “You were never alone, Adrian. Redding was there.”
Adrian closed his eyes. “It wasn’t Redding I was afraid of.”
When Adrian opened his eyes, he was inside the house. It was dark and damp, old and musty, abandoned for many years, and never taken care of when it had been inhabited by a living being. Somewhere in the shadows, a rat squeaked and scurried across the floor. Somewhere deeper inside the house, footsteps thudded down a hall.
The most important part of the house to Adrian was his younger self hiding in a corner of the living room, shaking and quietly sobbing. He took a step closer. “Can you hear me?”
Briggs appeared beside him. A crack in the caving roof allowed moonlight to illuminate his profile. “He can’t hear you.” Briggs ran a hand over Young Adrian’s hair. The boy didn’t look up. “What happened after this, Adrian? Where was this old man?”
Adrian shook his head. “He… I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. If you were the only one to see him, where did he go?” Briggs sat down in a chair that was on its last leg. He didn’t make a sound. His profile remained passive, like a therapist in the middle of a session.
“He told me to wait there. That he was going to make everything better when he returned.” Adrian regressed, slipping back into the familiar fear he’d blocked out for many years. He spun in a slow circle, taking the house in beyond the walls and furniture, to the bare bones and the sense of dread that dripped from every corner.
“He didn’t come back. But…” Adrian backed away from the crumbling fireplace. “I heard him. I heard him everywhere. He was humming. Then he was crying.
Calling for Sasha.”
Calling for Sasha.”
“What do you mean you heard him everywhere?”
“I should have known, but I was tired and sad. I should have known that if I heard him he must be dead.” Adrian backed into the wall next to his boyish counterpart and slid down to the floor. “I knew they were dead.”
“Who?” Briggs kneeled next to Adrian. “Who else was in the house with you?”
The fireplace roared to life, outlining at least a dozen silhouettes. Adrian instinctively sheltered his younger self with his arms, but his hands went right through. “No. He can’t see this. It will mess him up forever.” Adrian tried to get Briggs to help him. He turned to where his mentor was only to find a boy’s ghostly face next to his, mouth stretched open in a scream.
The other boys stalked toward Adrian, hands outstretched as they closed in. Young Adrian screamed at the top his lungs. How could he not? It was anyone’s worst nightmare.
The group of dead boys with their hearts missing, with blood running down their bodies, swarmed both Adrian and his younger self until they both had no choice but to close their eyes and go to another place. A deep, dark place they could hide from the world. But they never stopped screaming. Not once.