By the time Sunday came around, I was already tired of hearing about Genevieve’s murder. Evidently not muchhappened in Sim City, as it had been the front page story three days in a row and undoubtedly would be for at leastanother week.In addition, it was all anyone seemed to talk about. At the park, at the grocery store, even the bartender in therestaurant I reviewed on Saturday night asked what I thought of what had happened.
To top it off, I hadn’t been able to reach Marcus since before the murder. I hoped – I really hoped – it meant thevampire council was busy, rather than him being responsible.I read all the reports carefully and none of them said anything about missing blood, which probably would havehappened if it had been a vampire.And yet, I worried.
Luckily, Sunday gave me a distraction in the form of Fortunata’s birthday party.She’d decided that she wanted a big party, like Desdemona had had, and including her father, which meant it had tobe at night, so we’d made arrangements once again for Grey to drive the various visiting teenagers home after theparty was finished.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Marcus showed up. “You’re here!”“Of course I am, I wouldn’t miss my youngest daughter becoming a teen. I told you I was coming, didn’t I?”“Yes, but that was before the murder.”His face closed up. “Oh. Yes. Well, I’m here.”I bit my lip. “Good.”
I hadn’t shared my worries about their father’s possible involvement in their friend’s murder, so the kids wereunabashedly excited to see him, especially Fortunata, who really had wanted her father to be there for her birthday.
We immediately got to the cake cutting and growing up. Nata turned out, if I may say so, just as beautiful as herolder sisters.
We brought chairs in from elsewhere in the house – the kitchen, the study, the back porch – so that everyone couldeat their cake together in the living room, since there wasn’t enough space in the kitchen.
I was carrying in one last chair from the porch when I saw something strange.One of the slices of cake was floating in my direction.
I blinked, not certain what I was seeing, then I glanced at my children, taking an especially long look at Fortunata.Powers ran in my family, and while none of the older three had ever shown any sign, Nata had floated as ababy…though I hadn’t seen her do it since.But she was sitting on the couch, between Lily and Eglantine, and she wasn’t even looking at the floating piece ofcake. Nor were any of her siblings.
I frowned and approached the piece of cake.It promptly dropped to the floor, splattering everywhere.Could it be another ghost, I wondered. Someone with control over their surroundings like Rainelle but also theability to control their visibility – or maybe someone who had no control and who was always an invisible andinaudible ghost, a truly terrible fate.It wasn’t Rainelle, I knew that much, as she had already passed me on the path outside once Nata had grown up,headed to the far corner of the property to stay as far away from Marcus as possible.
I shrugged and took the last piece of cake from the serving platter. It wasn’t really something I needed to worryabout right then.The teens were settling in in the living room, so I caught Marcus’s eye and nodded toward the kitchen. I didn’t feel aneed to disturb my children and their friends, or to try and act younger than I was by futilely hanging out withteenagers less than half my age.He nodded back and got up, though I suspected he would have just stayed if I hadn’t asked him to join me.
We sat in the only two chairs left in the kitchen and ate our cake in silence.Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.“Please tell me you had nothing to do with Genevieve’s murder,” I said quietly. The teens were being loud in theliving room, but I really didn’t want them to hear this conversation.
He looked at me, completely horrified. “Roxanna! No!”“Did the vampire council?”He shook his head. “No. None of us did. It’s why we’ve been meeting so much – they’re not happy someone waskilled on their territory and that they don’t know who did it.”I sighed in relief.
“You were worried.”I shrugged. “What was I to think, Marcus? She was found right by Crypt O’ Night Club.”He placed his hand on mine. “It wasn’t us. I swear it, Roxanna. I’ve never even turned anyone, let alone killedsomeone.”“Good.”
We finished our cake in silence. I took Marcus’s dish and mine and went over to put them in the dishwasher.He leaned against the fridge and watched me.
“Roxanna,” he said when I was done.“Yes?” I asked. I dried my hands on a dishtowel.“How long do you think it will be before…before the kids have to leave?”I shook my head. “I don’t know. Not tonight, but soon. I’m going to talk to them about it tonight, after everyoneelse goes home. They need to know. Do you want to stay?”“You wouldn’t mind me being there?”“You’re their father, Marcus. You’re a part of their lives.”
“You have been good about that, Roxanna. Letting me come over to see the kids.”“I’m just glad you’ve come, Marcus. They need you.”“I know.” He rubbed his forehead. “It’s strange, but being separate like this has let me get closer to them. I stilldon’t always feel like a grown-up. It’s hard to believe we have four teenagers.” He looked down. “I’m going to missthem when they leave.”“I will too,” I whispered. No matter how much I had tried to accept it as a fact of life, knowing that if my childrendidn’t go – and soon – that they might go through the same things as I had, it was so hard to let go. These weremy children.I could understand why Mom hadn’t told us until she’d had to, but I couldn’t make the same mistakes. I couldn’t gothrough that again.
“I know you can’t always leave Sim City,” I said, turning to Marcus, “but promise me that you’ll keep track of themwhen I’m gone. Promise me you’ll watch out for them as much as you can.”“Of course, Roxanna. I promise.”“Thank you.”
We stood there in a moment of shared understanding.Then, naturally, we were interrupted.
“Mom, can Eglantine sleep over like she did on Lily’s birthday?” Fortunata asked.Marcus and I jumped apart, surprised by the appearance of our youngest, followed by her older sister and theirclosest friend.I glanced at him, then shook my head at Fortunata. “I’m sorry, but no. I have something very important I need totalk to you all about tonight, and it needs to be family-only.” All three girls looked at me sadly, but I stood firm.Lily backed down first, pulling Eglantine with her back to the living room.
Fortunata pouted. “But it’s my birthday.”“I know, Nata,” I said, taking her by the shoulders. “But that’s why she can’t. Your birthday is…it’s important, in ourfamily, and this is something you need to know as soon as possible now that you’re a teenager.”“But how come you’re telling us all at once?”“Because it applies to all of you now. You had to be a teen first, but it’s something you all need to know. Eglantinecan stay over tomorrow if you want, instead.”Fortunata shook her head. “She has a family thing tomorrow, right after school. She said it would probably last allafternoon and evening.”“Tuesday, then,” I said, and Fortunata had to be content with that.
The rest of the party went well – the teens spent time hanging out, Marcus and I seemed to be getting along betterthan we had in a very long time, and everyone enjoyed the cake.
And after Grey dropped everyone back at their homes (with a warning that he needed to be back here as soon aspossible and could not under any circumstances linger at Joyce’s house), Marcus and I sat down and told the kidsabout my family’s curse, about our family’s history from Carli to me, about the fact that they would need to leaveSim City fairly soon and strike out on their own.
Desdemona frowned. “How long do we have? I mean, you said you weren’t as young as Nata when you left, right?”“But we waited too long. I don’t want that to happen to you,” I said quietly, remembering what had happened. Icouldn’t watch my children go through what I had. Marcus put his hand on my shoulder and I smiled at him, slightlycomforted.
I looked at the kids to see that they were all staring at us. “What?” I asked.“You’re not…getting back together, are you, Mom?” Grey asked, eyeing Marcus’s hand on my shoulder.I rubbed my forehead. “No. Your father and I are just close. We were…together for a very long time, we’re used tothe other’s emotions and such.” I almost said lovers, but I didn’t particularly feel like scandalizing my children atthat moment.Marcus shook his head. “No, we’re not. We want different things out of life, and I think we’re better off apart thantogether.” I smiled at him.
We turned back to the kids. “Any questions?” I asked.“So basically we have to leave at some unknown time to go off on our own and never come back again?” Desdemonaasked. “That’s bullshit.”“It’s not what I want, but it’s what has to happen.”Grey put a calming hand on Desdemona’s arm. “You know Mom wouldn’t lie to us. This is important.”Desdemona wilted. “I know. It’s still bullshit.” Grey nodded.
Grey and Desdemona seemed to be, well, dealing as well as they could be, so I looked at my younger two children.Lily was curled up in her seat while Fortunata leaned on the arm of Lily’s chair.I came over and knelt in front of them. “I know you’ll both miss Eglantine,” I said, “but there’s a whole world outthere, and you’ll find it. I have every faith in you.”Fortunata smiled shakily at me. “Thanks, Mom.” Then she tugged on her sister’s hand. “Come on, Lil. Let’s go tobed.”Lily nodded unsteadily and followed her younger sister upstairs.
Grey looked at me. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of them once we’re gone. I promise.”“I know you will. Thank you.”“Come on, Desi. Sleep is probably good.”“Yeah, alright. Night Mom, night Dad.”“Goodnight.”
Once they were gone, I sighed. “That could have gone better.”“It also could have gone worse,” Marcus pointed out.“Yeah.”He stood up and stretched. “I’ve got to head out – I got permission to take the evening off for Nata’s birthday, but Isaid I’d be back at the club around midnight or so.”“Have a good night.”“You too, Roxanna.”
After Marcus left, I checked on the kids. Lily and Fortunata were talking quietly in their room, while Grey andDesdemona were talking slightly less quietly in Desdemona’s.I left them to it. They’d be better at comforting each other than I would be right then. Instead, I returned to mybedroom, where I tried to sleep.I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. ***
Monday morning began bright and early, as the kids all had school.I made breakfast and glanced at the paper as I drank my very needed coffee – I was right, it was still coveringGenevieve’s murder, though it took up less of the paper this time: my most recent restaurant review was in its usualplace about 2/3 of the way through.
The kids came stampeding down the stairs at their usual time, acting almost normal. But by the time they gotdownstairs, I could see the dark circles under their eyes, and knew that they had slept just as well as I had.I didn’t usually offer coffee to my children, but that morning, I made an exception. They were all happy to take it.
No one talked much for the first half of breakfast, until finally Desdemona couldn’t take it any longer.“So, what are everyone’s plans for today?” she asked.Fortunata raised her eyebrows. “Um, school?”“Well duh. I meant after school, of course.”
“Oh,” Fortunata said. She shrugged. “I don’t know. Lily, what do you want to do?”“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”“Eglantine’s busy, so…come back home and hang out?”“Sounds fine to me.”
Desdemona shook her head at her sisters. “Okay, seriously? You two have got to start hanging out with otherpeople than just Eglantine. I mean, she’s nice, but she’s just one person! Don’t you want to meet more people?”Lily shook her head. “Not really, no.”Fortunata looked between her sisters. “What is this really about, Desi?”
“Well, Flynn said a bunch of people are getting together at Hans’ Trap Door Corp after school, and you guys areinvited!”Grey looked up. “Joyce asked me to come too.”Desdemona smiled at her brother. “Awesome.” Then she turned back to her sisters. “Come on, it’ll be fun!”
Fortunata raised her eyebrows as she looked at her oldest sister. “I dont know if I think going out with a bunch ofyour and Greys friends will be all that fun, Desi.”Desdemona shook her head. “It totally will be. Come on, Lily, tell her itll be fun!”Lily shook her head. “I have a bad feeling about this…”“What, cause Eglantine is busy so you can’t hang out with her? You just need to meet some new people, you threespend enough time holed up together as it is. Besides, Flynn said theyre bringing some kids your and Natas ages,and I know you know Joyce already, considering how often shes around the house. And a bunch of the others wereover last night, and on Friday too. You’re familiar with them all, they’re just people you’re not friends with yet!”
“You just want to flirt with Dexter,” Lily pointed out.“Hes hot, can you blame me?”“He wears sunglasses even at night,” Fortunata said flatly. “That makes him weird, not hot.”Desdemona began to pout, using the face that rarely failed to get her what she wanted, and her sisters began tocrumble. As far as I knew, I was the only one who was at all able to stand up to that face. Her father certainlycouldn’t. “Please? I really do want to go, and I really do think youll have a good time. I promise you can leaveearly if youre not.”
Lily and Fortunata exchanged a glance. Fortunata shrugged and Lily sighed. “Alright,” Fortunata said. “Well come.But were leaving if its not fun.”Suddenly Desdemona was all smiles again. “Thank you! I know youll have a great time! Im going to go call Flynnand tell him.” She rushed up the stairs, leaving the rest of us in the kitchen.
“I cant believe were actually doing this,” Lily almost moaned.Grey shrugged. “Itll make her happy. And who knows? Maybe itll make you happy too.”“I hope so,” Lily said. “I really hope so.”
Grey turned to me. “You’re okay with this, Mom?”“Why wouldn’t I be? You know the rules – be home by dark, don’t “forget” to do your homework, pay attention inschool. I don’t have a problem with you spending the afternoon with your friends somewhere other than here.”“Thanks. We’ll be home by dark, don’t worry.” The school bus honked outside then, and the kids jumped up,running to grab their bags and catch the bus. Desdemona came pelting down the stairs, meeting her siblings on thefront porch.
I was left alone in the kitchen with a table full of dirty bowls and cups. I shook my head.“Great,” I said, to thin air. “See you tonight.” ***
I spent the rest of the day cleaning up from the party (with Rainelle’s help) and, well, not doing much else. Theparty had been a lot of work, so it was nice to have a day to not do much of anything.
I didn’t start worrying about my kids until around 5:30 or so, when the afternoon got late. The sun wouldn’t setuntil 7, of course, but I still worried a little that I hadn’t seen them yet.I distracted myself by playing the piano. I didn’t use it often; when I did, it reminded me of my mother, as Isuspected it always would. The kids, however, loved it.
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry for long; at 6:10 the front door slammed open with the sort of thud that’s only madeby teenagers. Clearly it was the kids returning.I stood up from the piano and turned to say hello to them.
It only took me one glance to realize that something was wrong.“Where’s Lily?” I asked, brow furrowed. Grey, Desdemona, and Fortunata stood in front of me, looking like theywere in rather bad shape – as though they’d run quite a ways to get here quickly. Fortunata had her hands behindher back, hiding something, Desdemona had tear streaks on her cheeks, and Grey was standing stiffly, like a soldierawaiting punishment for disobeying orders.Something was wrong. I didn’t know what, but something was wrong.
The girls both looked at Grey, who took a deep breath and began to talk.“Well,” he said, “school was normal. Afterwards, we headed over to Hans’ Trap Door Corp to meet up witheveryone…”
“Grey! Desdemona! You brought Lily and Fortunata after all!” Joyce exclaimed, happily greeting her boyfriend witha hug and a kiss.Desdemona grinned. “Yeah, we finally convinced them to come. Great, right?”“Awesome. Totally awesome.”
The large group of teens spread throughout the store – tryingclothes on, examining jewelry and cologne, buying stuff fromthe vending machines, and just hanging out.
Even Lily had to admit she was having a good time, partly because she was able to just blend into the crowd.Mostly, she spent time with Fortunata and a girl Fortunata’s age, who’d introduced herself as Ellen Boone, thoughone of the boys, who introduced himself as Timothy Flowers, clearly was interested in her.He was awkward in his flirting, but sweet.Though she had to agree when Fortunata said that the makeup was a little, er, strange.
After a couple of hours of hanging out and flirting and trying unsuccessfully to get Dexter to notice her, Desdemonawandered around the store with Flynn, looking around.It wasn’t very big, but it was pretty nice – she was surprised she’d never been there before, honestly, as sheabsolutely would have shopped there had she known about it.She’d explored every inch (except the men’s room, of course), but there was one thing she was wondering about.
“So, Flynn,” she said.“Yeah, Des?”“Where do those doors go?” She gestured to a bank of four doors directly behind the cashier. “Are they, like,employee lounges or something?”
Flynn smiled, though his eyes glinted with something Desdemona couldn’t quite identify. “Oh, those are a secret,but, you know, you guys are totally part of the group. Do you want to go see?”“Sure, why not?”
The doors didn’t seem to lead to anywhere, just two little staircases that, as far as Desdemona could tell, endedafter barely two feet. “What the hell is this?” she asked.Flynn rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said, grabbing her by the wrist and tugging her down one of the flights ofstairs. “It’s worth it.”
In the main part of the store, Joyce saw Flynn pulling Desdemona into the back and her lips curved up in a smile.“Grey,” she said, “would you get Lily and Fortunata and come with me? I have something secret to show you.”Of course, he agreed – when she gave him that smile, it always promised something good if he went along withwhatever she wanted. So he gathered his sisters and they went with Joyce and a bunch of the others to the secretdoors and down the stairs, though Lily was oddly reluctant. She went along anyway, however, not wanting to be leftalone.The cashier watched them go, then closed up the till and followed.
As Desdemona had discovered just a minute earlier, the stairs didn’t appear to lead anywhere…but once they wentdown them, they were suddenly somewhere else.It was full of…junk?
All four of them looked around, confused as the teens they were with moved swiftly to block all the entrances or tostand with a group of others (adults mostly, but some elders and children) who seemed to have been waiting forthem to show up.Lily wrapped her arms around herself for comfort. “What…what’s going on?”
“What’s going on?” Dexter asked. “What’s going on? Genevieve is dead, and it’s all because of your goddamnmother.”“Mom had nothing to do with Genevieve’s death,” Fortunata said. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but sheabsolutely didn’t.”“Maybe not directly,” one of the adults said. Grey suddenly recognized her as their mother’s friend Shelly. How longhad this group – whatever it was – existed? “But we had everything. We had power, we had magic, we had accessto things you could never even dream of. And then your mother,” she said, voice venomous, “took it all away. Ifshe hadn’t, Genevieve would never have died.”
The four Dorans exchanged glances. “What are you talking about?” Desdemona asked, still confused. “What doesMom have to do with anything?”“Idiot child,” another adult said. “She destroyed our benefactors. She killed the ghosts who rewarded our worshipand our offerings and now she has everything we ever wanted. She has the house, the graveyard, the money, thepower, the protection from powerful forces. She has it all.”They knew perfectly well that their mother didn’t have it all, and from what she’d told them, she’d destroyed theghosts to save Rainelle, not to get something from the Tricous.They also knew that no one was going to listen to them.
Grey crossed his arms. “What exactly does all of this have to do with us? Our mom killed the ghosts, not us. Wecan’t see the dead. It happened before any of us were born, anyway.”Joyce smirked. “What do you think it has to do with you?” The larger group began to close in around the Dorans.They were still blocking the way they’d come in – not that any of them really knew how they’d appeared, consideringhow the staircases had ended.
Grey looked around frantically. Was there any other way out?Then he spotted it – behind the larger group of adults, there was a staircase. It wasn’t much of a hope, but it wassomething. He managed to signal to his sisters with his eyes, and they nodded.As the group closed in, they broke and ran for the stairs.
While they made it down the stairs, the rest of this place – wherever they were – was similar to the room they’d firstarrived in. It was all a mishmash of objects, with no obvious (or even non-obvious) ways out.
They ran from room to room, up stairs, down stairs, through elevators, searching for somewhere to go.
They were pursued, of course. No matter where they went, someone seemed to be able to follow them. There wasnowhere to hide, so they continued to run.
One of the rooms was full of water. Grey, leading the group, managed to wade through it. Desdemona andFortunata followed him.Lily, however, out of breath from running so far, tripped and fell. The other three stopped and turned to look at her.“Hold on a sec,” she panted. “I’ll be right there.”She put her hand out to lever herself up to a standing position, using a nearby fountain.
Grey, Desdemona, and Fortunata looked around frantically. “Where is she?” Grey asked.“What happened?” Desdemona asked.“Do you think it’s like the stairs?” Fortunata asked. She walked quickly over to the fountain. “Did either of you seewhere she put her hand?”Grey shook his head. “I was trying to find another way out. Desi?”Desdemona shrugged. “I wasn’t looking closely enough. Maybe…here?”
They tried touching various spots on the fountain, until, a good fifteen minutes later, Fortunata finally managed toput her hand in the right place. Grey and Desdemona quickly followed her and then no one was left in the room withthe water.
Lily, alone, had ended up on a different floor entirely, near a different fountain.She looked around nervously, unsure what had happened.
She hesitated before saying anything, but she realized that her siblings weren’t with her and she did not like that atall. “Grey?” she called. “Desi? Nata? Is anyone there?”
Joyce, Flynn, Dexter, Timothy, Ben, and Ellen stood behind her. None of them looked nearly as friendly as they hadbefore and Lily shivered.She slowly started backing away as they approached her.
She didn’t see the open elevator shaft behind her, but they did.
The teenagers gathered to watch. “Well, that’s the Reaper,” Joyce said. “I’ll go get the urn. The rest of you gathereveryone else here, make sure the rest of them make it up. We need to give it to them, after all.”“We’re not going to kill them all?” Timothy asked.“No, you idiot, she’s the message. This way they’ll know death is coming and maybe the mother will finally pay forwhat she did, since we can’t actually hurt her ourselves.”“Oh. Right.”
By the time Grey, Desdemona, and Fortunata managed to figure out where Lily had gone, everyone had gatheredand was waiting for them.Everyone but Lily.They looked around, even more nervous than before.Fortunata was the one who finally asked the question. “Where’s Lily?”Flynn rolled his eyes. “Where do you think?”
"I thought you were our friends," Desdemona said, glaring at the group in front of her. She fought the tremble in hervoice, but it was noticeable to anyone who knew her at all."Bitch, please," Flynn said, rolling his eyes at his former friend. "You think we cared? Youre just a means to an end.“"But why?" Grey asked. He had one hand on Fortunatas shoulder and now he placed the other on Desdemonaselbow. "Why are you doing this?" He needed to hold onto his sisters right then. They could probably use the comfortanyway.
Shelly glared at them. “We wanted to destroy your mother, but she’s protected by magic, due to those stupidgypsies. You don’t have any of those protections. So we picked you as targets instead, and our teenage contingentwas quite willing to lure you here. But hurting you hurts her, which is exactly what we want.”"And youre just telling us this why, exactly?" Desdemona asked, full of false bravado. Grey squeezed her arm lightlyto remind her that he was there.Flynn smiled. It was not a nice smile. "She needs to know exactly what were going to do to every last one of you,doesnt she? One of you dead is enough…for now." He turned to the group. "Who has it?"
Joyce stepped forward, an urn in her arms. "Catch," she said with a smile, then threw it hard at the Dorans.Fortunata jumped forward, barely managing to catch it before it shattered on the ground, earning herself a skinnedknee in the process - something she didnt regret at all. A minor injury was nothing compared to the safety of thaturn.
"Oh, and by the way, Grey?" Joyce continued. "Consider our relationship over.“Grey, busy checking to make sure that both his youngest sister and the urn were alright, glared up at his ex. "Ohbelieve me," he said, voice full of loathing, "I considered it over the second you attacked us."
Desdemona glared once more at the group, then looked down at her siblings. "Come on, Grey, Nata. Lets go. Wevegot to get this to Mom." Her voice was gentle.Fortunata stood up. She brushed herself and the urn off. Then she looked at the group. "You may have won thebattle," she said, "but you wont win the war. We are Dorans, and we will fight.“The group laughed at her. "Yeah, have fun with that, kid," Flynn said."Oh, we will." Heads held high, the three Dorans turned and walked determinedly away.
Now that one of them was dead – now that the group had gotten what they wanted – the doors opened for them andthey were able to return to Hans’ Trap Door Corp. They’d been inside it – upstairs, but inside – all along.
“…and then we came home as fast as we could,” Grey finally finished.Desdemona began to cry. “I told her she could go home if she wanted, if she wasn’t having fun. And now she’sdead and it’s all my fault!”Grey tried to comfort her, while Fortunata held the urn gently, preciously, staring at it with immense sadness in hereyes.
As I looked at my children I suddenly saw myself as a teenager, mourning the death of my twin sister. I had notbeen as dramatic as Desdemona, as stoic as Fortunata, or as much of a caretaker as Grey, but I had mourned justas they had.Four children. One boy, three girls. One dead. Three left to live on.Was history doomed to repeat itself? Would my children end up as broken as me?
No, I thought.No.This couldn’t happen. Not again. I would not let my children go through what I had gone through. I would get Lilyback if it was the last thing I did.
But how?We didn’t have a bone phone.I’d never gone to college – there was no way to get into the Paranormal career and get one. I didn’t know anyonewho had one and I wasn’t even sure I knew anyone who’d gone to college.I couldn’t sneak into some secret society and grab one.
But if talking to the Reaper was possible via phone, shouldn’t it be possible in person? Especially for me, who couldtalk to the dead?I suddenly remembered something Marcus had told me and I gasped.To talk to the Reaper I would have to die, but…that didn’t mean death had to be permanent. Would I be trulyhelping my children if I killed myself in the small hope that I might be able to give them Lily back?No. There was another way, if I was willing to take it. I would be giving up everything I’d wanted.But Lily was more important than me.
“Grey,” I said. “Go call your father and tell him to get over here the minute it is dark. Am I understood?”“Mom, are you okay?”“Grey Doran, go call your father. Now.”
He looked at me, then went over to the phone and dialed. “Dad? Hi, it’s me. Look, something happened. No, I…I’drather tell you in person, but…but Mom wanted me to call you. She wants you here now. No, I know it’s still light.Right after sunset, as soon as you can. Yeah, she’s acting really strange. Like really. I’ll see you soon? Good.” Hehung up and came back over. “He’ll be here soon, Mom.”“Good. Take care of your sisters. I have things to do.”He nodded slowly and went back to comforting Desdemona. Fortunata moved closer to the pair of them and joinedtheir hug, the urn still cradled in her arms.
By the time Marcus arrived, I was in my bedroom, preparing for what I was about to do.He came in barely five minutes after sunset, and if he had needed air he’d have been panting for breath. Clearlyhe’d run straight from his apartment.“Roxanna, what is going on? Grey sounded very upset when he called, he said you were acting strange, and Grey,Desdemona, and Fortunata are crying in the living room. And where is Lily?”“Lily is dead.”
He stumbled and caught himself on my bed. “W-what?”“Lily is dead. She was killed to hurt me.”“Holy…” He took a deep unnecessary breath and pushed his hair back. “Roxanna, what’s going on? You tell me Lilyis dead, you’re acting strange, I’d expect you to be upset over this!”
“I am.” I turned to face him. “But I’m going to fix this.”“But how? You can’t just fix death!”“You can’t.”He blinked at me. “You can’t either. I mean, you can talk to the dead, but…but you’ve never said anything aboutbringing them back. You’d have tried with Rainelle if you could. Or your sister.”“My sister’s urn was smashed. She couldn’t be brought back. And I didn’t have a bone phone or a way to get onefor Rainelle, and while I like Rainelle, I wasn’t willing to try something more dangerous. For Lily, I am. For Lily Iwould do anything and I will get our daughter back.”“Again, I repeat: how?”
I crossed my arms and looked at Marcus. “You’re going to turn me into a vampire.”
That stunned him into silence. Then he shook his head. “What?”“You’re going to turn me into a vampire. As soon as possible.”“But you have no interest in being a vampire! You’ve shot me down every time I suggested it! And wouldn’t yourbracelet prevent it anyway?”“It will prevent it if I’m unwilling, but I think if I want it, it will let me.” I glared at my wrist. “It had better.”
“Why, Roxanna? You’ve never wanted this before.”“Because it’s the only option, can’t you see that? If we can’t talk to the Reaper through a bone phone, someone hasto do it in person, and that someone is going to be me. I can see the dead, I can hear the dead. Do you remember,when you were turned into a vampire, you told me you saw the Reaper? If I can do that, I can talk to him, and I willargue for our daughter. Lily is worth everything, Marcus, do you understand me? I will not let our children gothrough what I did, and if the only way to stop it is to do something I’ve never wanted, well then, so be it. Turn me,Marcus. Make me a vampire.”
After a moment, Marcus spoke. “Alright. Should we tell the kids?”I shook my head. “No. I don’t want them to be disappointed if it doesn’t work.”“Rainelle?”I closed my eyes for a second. This would hurt her terribly, given how she’d talked about Marcus ever since he’dbecome a vampire. But there wasn’t another choice.“Lily’s more important.”
He nodded. “Come here. It’s best if I can hold you.”I came over and he helped me stand in the best position.He looked down at me. “You sure about this?”“Never more certain. Do it.”
I could feel the blood draining from my body. It was unnerving, knowing that I was dying.Knowing that I had asked for it.I closed my eyes and let the darkness come.
When I opened them again, I was somewhere else. It was dark, full of stars, and seemed to go on forever – and itwas full of people.There were people in groups, people alone, people standing up, people sitting down, and people lying motionless onthe ground. They were every color, shape, size…and age.Some of them glanced at me, but no one came closer.
“I wonder who she is,” a woman said idly. She was sitting in a group, and all of them turned to look at me.The man next to her shrugged. “She’s one of them,” he said, gesturing to the people lying down, “or she will be,anyway. You know they never see us.”“Yeah. Too bad.”
My hands curled into fists.I walked up to that group and stood right in front of them.“I am Roxanna Doran,” I said. The entire group turned to look at me, shock written on their faces. “And I want tospeak to the Reaper.”
The woman blinked in shock. “You can see us?”“I see dead people, yes. Where is the Reaper?”“He’s usually over that way,” one of the men said. He gestured to his left.I nodded at him. “Thank you.”Then I started walking.
Every once in a while, I thought I caught a glimpse of someone familiar, but most of the people I was passing werepeople I didn’t know.There were a lot of them, and I wondered who they all were. Were they all dead? Where was Lily?
After an eternity of walking (I hoped Marcus was right when he said it didn’t actually take as much time as it feltlike), my question was answered. My daughter was sitting not far from the Reaper.
I knelt in front of her. “Lily.”She looked up. “Mom! Mom, what are you doing here? Are you alright?”I smiled gently. “I’m fine. I’m here for you.”“For me?”“I’m here to bring you back.”“Oh!” Lily nervously tucked her hair behind her ear. “Oh.”
I stood up and held my hand out to my daughter. “Come, Lily. We need to go speak to the Reaper.”She took my hand – or, rather, she tried to take it. Her hand slipped through mind, reminding me of the ghosts I’dseen and the way they simply walked through walls. Perhaps Lily would learn to become substantial with time, buthopefully she wouldn’t need to.Or perhaps I was the insubstantial one here.
She finally levered herself up and followed me, though she shivered a bit as we neared the Reaper.When we were close to him, she pulled back a bit as the Reaper reached out his hand to touch me.I remembered this from Marcus’s story, and I stepped backwards. “Not yet,” I said. “You’re not sending me backuntil you send her back with me.”
“WHO ARE YOU TO SPEAK TO ME?” His voice was like thunder and lightning, like a tsunami crushing a beach to bitsor an avalanche tearing a mountain to pieces, like the rumble of an earthquake and the flow of a volcano.I forced myself to hold firm. “I am Roxanna Doran, and I want my daughter back.”
He stopped short. “WAS THAT IN RESPONSE TO WHAT I SAID OR WERE YOU JUST STATING YOUR NAME?”“In response.”“MOST PEOPLE DO NOT HEAR ME WHEN I SPEAK.”“I can see – and hear – dead people. I guess you count.” I looked around. “All these people, they can’t hear you?”He shook his head. “THEY CAN. BUT YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THEM.”
The Reaper looked at me closely. “I HAVE NOT SEEN ONE LIKE YOU IN A LONG TIME, ROXANNA DORAN.”“There have been others?”“NOT OFTEN, BUT OCCASIONALY THERE IS ONE WHO CAN HEAR ME EVEN WHEN THEY ARE NOT AMONG THE DEAD.IT IS RARE THAT THEY ASK FOR SOMETHING.”“Well, I’m asking. I want my daughter back. I want her to return with me when I go.”
“THEN YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TO BECOME.”“Yes. I choose to become a vampire.”The Reaper looked around at everyone surrounding us. “IT IS ONLY A TEMPORARY IMMORTALITY. ALL VAMPIRESMUST DIE ONE DAY, AND RETURN HERE TO JOIN WITH THE OTHER HALF OF THEIR SOULS.”
I realized then that the people lying down, not moving – the ones the man had pointed to when he said I’d be one ofthem – were all vampires. Their skin was pale, and though I couldn’t see their eyes, I had no doubt that they werered.“So Rainelle was right,” I said. “Vampires are broken.”The Reaper nodded. “YES.”It explained why vampires didn’t show up in mirrors. Whatever it was about mirrors that showed the truth,whatever part of the soul showed in mirrors – vampires, like ghosts, were missing it. But ghosts saw vampires aswrong, so they were missing even more, though also less, since they still had the body. Zombies showed up inmirrors and zombies had bodies, but I was pretty sure they were missing something else.Maybe sanity. I didn’t think I’d ever actually met a sane zombie.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. It didn’t. It couldn’t. “I needed to be here, and this was the only way.”“YOU CAME TO GET YOUR DAUGHTER.”“Yes. I did.”
“AND HOW DO YOU PLAN TO TAKE HER?”How? I…I didn’t know. Suddenly the whole plan seemed foolish. How was I, a mere human, to take someone fromthe Reaper’s domain without his permission, especially when I couldn’t even touch her? Did I think he would justgive her to me?Suddenly I had a thought. “I want to make a deal.”
“A DEAL?”“My daughter’s life, for…something. When someone uses the bone phone, you take money, right? I don’t havemuch, but I can pay…”I waited as he thought. I wished I could see his expression, know what he was thinking, but the hood hid his facecompletely.
Finally he shook his head. I breathed in sharply.“NO,” he said, “I DO NOT WANT MONEY FROM YOU.”I put my face in my hands, trying desperately not to cry.“I WANT SOMETHING ELSE.”
I looked up. Was he offering a deal?“What do you want?” I asked.“YOU SEE MY DOMAIN,” he said, gesturing to everyone who surrounded us. “THIS IS BUT THE FIRST STAGE OFDEATH. THE ONLY WAY TO MOVE ON, TO REACH THE DEEPER REALM, IS TO LOSE ALL CONNECTION TO THEPHYSICAL WORLD. THIS HAPPENS WHEN AN URN OR GRAVE IS DESTROYED. UNTIL THEN, EVEN GHOSTS ARESTILL BOUND TO THAT REALM.”I nodded. “Yes, I knew that. Which is why you can only resurrect someone if their grave or urn still exists.”
“IN THE PAST, MANY GRAVES AND URNS WERE DESTROYED. EVENTUALLY, EVEN WITHOUT INTENTIONALDESTRUCTION, THEY WOULD SIMPLY DISAPPEAR. THIS NO LONGER HAPPENS. GHOSTS ARE BOUND TO THEPHYSICAL WORLD IN EVER GREATER NUMBERS AND ARE THEREFORE BOUND HERE MUCH MORE.”“Right,” I said. “What does this have to do with me?”“I WISH TO GIVE YOU THE POWER TO SEVER A GHOST’S CONNECTION TO THE PHYSICAL WORLD, WHICH WILL LETTHEM PASS TO THE DEEPER REALM. IT WILL NOT WORK ON VAMPIRES OR ZOMBIES, AS THEIR BODY IS A SECONDCONNECTION. YOU WILL BE A BEACON TO GHOSTS AND YOU WILL SEND THEM ON.”“How would I do that?”“GHOSTS WILL FIND YOU. YOU WILL TOUCH THEIR HEART AND YOU WILL BE ABLE TO FEEL THEIR CONNECTIONTO THE PHYSICAL WORLD, AND YOU WILL SEVER IT. YOU WILL KNOW WHAT TO DO ONCE YOU HAVE THE POWER.”
“But ghosts don’t like vampires.”“THEY DO NOT HAVE TO LIKE YOU TO BE DRAWN TO YOU. THEY WILL NOT BE UNCOMFORTABLE FOR LONG.”I thought of something. “Do you expect me to do this forever?”He shook his head. “NO. EVEN VAMPIRES ARE NOT TRULY IMMORTAL. YOU WILL DO THIS UNTIL ANOTHER ISBORN WHO CAN SEE THE DEAD. THE ROLE AND THE POWER WILL THEN PASS ON TO THEM.”
I thought it over. I already felt a bit like a beacon for ghosts, considering how often they found me. This would giveme the power to send them on, hopefully making them less unhappy and less stuck.I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about the fact that the Reaper hadn’t specified how long I would have to do it for, butat least I knew it wouldn’t be for the rest of eternity.And it would give me Lily back.“Alright,” I said. “I’m in. You give me my daughter’s life, and I will do this for you.”
“Mom?”I turned to Lily. “Yes?”“What did you just promise?”“Don’t worry, Lily. I’m saving you. I’m bringing you home. As for what I promised the Reaper, it’s nothing bad,really. It’ll all be fine, just trust me, okay?”She bit her lip and nodded shakily. “Okay, Mom.”I would have put my arm around her if I could have, but I couldn’t.
“SHE WILL NOT CONSCIOUSLY REMEMBER THIS PLACE WHEN YOU RETURN,” the Reaper said to me. “IT IS NOTFOR THE LIVING TO COMPREHEND. YOU WILL REMEMBER, AS YOU WILL NOT BE TRULY LIVING, AND YOU WILLKNOW YOUR TASK, BUT SHE WILL NOT. SHE WILL REMEMBER HER DEATH, HOWEVER, AND WILL HOLD THEMEMORIES OF THIS REALM IN HER SUBCONSCIOUS, BECAUSE SHE IS NOT RETURNING THE USUAL WAY. IT MAYAFFECT HER.”I nodded. “I’ll take care of her.” I looked at him. “What do you need me to do, for this to work?”
“STAND IN FRONT OF ME.” I did so. “NOW HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER STAND IN FRONT OF YOU.”“Lily.”“Mom?”“Come stand here. In front of me.”“By…by the Reaper?”“Yes. Don’t worry. He’s not going to hurt you.”“Okay,” she said quietly. She came and took her place in front of me.
“Wait,” I said. “Is there…is there any chance you could let me bring someone else back?” I thought of Rainelle,Astraea (but no, her urn was gone), perhaps someone else…He shook his head. “NO. DOING IT THIS WAY TAKES TOO MUCH EFFORT. I HAVE ONLY AGREED BECAUSE YOUAGREED TO OUR BARGAIN, WHICH IS ENOUGH GAIN TO MAKE IT WORTH THE TROUBLE. IF YOU WANT TORESURRECT MORE THAN ONE, YOU MUST USE THE ESTABLISHED PROCEDURES. WOULD YOU PREFER THIS ONEOR ANOTHER?”In that case, there was no contest. “I’m taking Lily. Now what do you need to do?”
He reached for me with his right hand, his arms passing through Lily. I watched as she started to fade.Then I could only pay attention to what I was feeling as his hand touched me. I hesitate to say that my soul broke,but it felt like it, and I could see another me forming beneath my feet. I knew that this was the part I was leavingbehind to become a vampire.His left hand twisted somehow, and suddenly I was filled with an awareness of the ghosts who inhabited this place.I knew where they were and what they were. I could feel them as I had not before.
Then the world faded into blackness.As I opened my eyes (when had I closed them?) I realized that I was no longer in the Reaper’s realm. I was backhome, in my bedroom, and Marcus was holding me up.Had it worked? I could tell I was different – surely I’d become a vampire, considering the sudden craving for blood –but was Lily back? Did I have the power the Reaper had promised?
A scream came from downstairs. “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” That was Desdemona. Her siblings’voices mingled underneath hers, all clearly worked up, but none as loud as my eldest daughter.“Did it work?” Marcus asked.“I think so. Let’s go see.”
We walked down the stairs and found our four children huddled together, Lily surrounded by her siblings as they allclutched her.She looked up at the sound of our footsteps on the stairs and suddenly burst into tears.I caught her as she flung herself at me. I sat down, pulling her into the cradle of my arms, and held her as I hadn’tsince she was a toddler. “Shhhh,” I whispered, stroking her hair. “I’m here. You’re safe.” A few tears leaked frommy eyes, but I did my best to be strong for my daughter.
Marcus, Grey, Desdemona, and Fortunata all stared at us. “Mom,” Grey asked hesitantly, “what did you do? How –how did you get Lily back?”“And when did you become a vampire?” Fortunata added.“I made a bargain with the Reaper. Lily’s return for…well, it doesn’t affect any of you. I have something to do forhim. But he gave Lily back to me.” I looked up at Fortunata. “But to speak with the Reaper, I needed to die. Thisway, I could come back.”
“I can’t believe you did that. You know what I think about vampires!”I looked over and saw that Rainelle, too, was watching. I was suddenly aware of her – I knew exactly where shewas and that knowledge had nothing to do with sight. I didn’t have time to think about that right then, though.“Rainelle,” I said, “this had nothing to do with you. I refuse to be sorry for saving my child.”She glared at me and stormed through the outside wall. I ignored her.
I continued to comfort Lily, joined by Marcus and the other children, until we were interrupted again.This time, the doorbell rang six times in quick succession, as though someone was standing at the door and planningon pressing it until they got an answer.
Grey got up and opened the door, letting in Jean, Helen, Terri, and Lisa.“What happened?” Jean asked.“Why are you a vampire?” Helen added.“Didn’t the bracelet work?” Terri asked.“I’m a vampire because I chose it,” I said. “The bracelet worked fine, but I wanted it, so it didn’t stop it.”
Jean frowned. “But you died. The bracelet was connected to you, and you died. We made it – when you died, itbroke, and we felt it.”I looked down at my wrist, suddenly realizing that she was right. I wasn’t wearing the bracelet anymore and Ishivered. I no longer had that protection.“Why did you choose to become a vampire anyway?” Helen asked. “That bracelet protected you as long as you werealive.”I shook my head. “There are more important things.” Lily sobbed in my arms, so I tilted my head at Grey. Henodded and pulled Jean, Helen, Terri, and Lisa aside to tell them what had happened. I heard Helen gasp when sheheard what her grandchildren had done, but I couldn’t concentrate on that.Instead I continued stroking Lily’s hair, trying to calm her sobs. It was slow going.
Suddenly Marcus sat up straight. “Crap,” he said.“What’s wrong now?”“Do you feel that? Fuck.”“Feel what?”And then suddenly I did. There was a feeling of anger but I knew it wasn’t mine. Whose was it and why was Ifeeling it?
The door slammed open and three vampires stalked in.“What did you do?” the one in the lead asked as she stalked over to Marcus, picking him up and holding him againstthe wall as though he weighed nothing at all.He didn’t answer. He couldn’t. Her arm covered his throat, making it impossible for him to talk.
She looked around the room, looking at each of us in turn. Her gaze lingered on Lily, then on me. Then she turnedback to Marcus. “You are a most disobedient child. This is not allowed.”She let go of Marcus and he dropped to the floor.She ignored him.“You have broken the rules and should be punished. I would rather just kill you all, but the council demands a trialinstead. You will come with me. If you do not, I will kill you all.”
I wanted desperately to break down, considering all that I’d been through – and now a trial as well! – but it wasn’tsomething I had time for. Instead, I handed Lily to Fortunata and stood up, looking at the vampire. “We’ll come,” Isaid. “I’d prefer if you asked nicely, though.”She sneered. “Hold her,” she ordered, and the other two vampires took hold of me. It didn’t hurt, but I knew if Imoved without her permission, they would quite happily stop me, probably painfully. She turned to Marcus. “Bringyour spawn. I never should have let you have them.”“You’re not the boss of me,” he said.She smiled. “Oh but I am. I made you. I can destroy you if I want.”
Marcus backed down first. He helped Lily stand up. “Come on, kids. We need to go.”The vampire turned to leave, followed by the rest of us, when Jean stepped in her path. “We’re coming too,” shesaid.The vampire sneered. “You?”“You said it’s a trial. We’ve known Roxanna since she moved here. Consider us witnesses.”The vampire took a moment, but she acquiesced. “Very well. Come.”
I wasn’t quite dragged through the streets of Sim City, but it was close. Everyone else was able to move on theirown power, but I was propelled by the vampires on either side of me.We entered the Crypt O’ Night Club and I was pulled to the back corner. The few times I’d been there (it hadn’tbeen often) I’d never been in this corner. I saw now that it held an elevator.
We all entered the elevator and one of the vampires pushed a button. It moved down, going perhaps four or fivefloors down into the earth.As the doors opened, one of the vampires holding me shoved me out of the elevator and I tripped and fell, landingon my knees on the floor.
As I stood up, I looked around.The room was clearly meant for meetings, as a large number of vampires sat in a semi-circle facing the front of theroom – and there was a row of chairs off to one side, in case they needed more, I guess. At the front of the roomwas a large wooden table where three vampires sat, with an empty seat that I assumed was meant for the one whohad brought me, the one who had turned Marcus.My children, Jean, Helen, Terri, and Lisa were led to a row of chairs that had been blocked off with a low wall.Marcus wasn’t placed with the rest of them, or with the rest of the vampires. Instead, his maker ordered him to siton a chair in front of the low wall.
That left the single chair in the middle of the room for me.
I felt a bit like a recalcitrant schoolchild going to see the principal as I sat down, alone, in the middle of the room.I assume that was rather the point.So I sat up straight, shoulders back, head held high, and did my best to look confident. I wasn’t ashamed ofanything that I’d done. There was no need to be. I had saved my daughter and would pay the price for doing so fora very long time.
“Roxanna Doran,” one of the four vampires in front said, “you have been brought here today by the vampire council,as led by Contessa Trysta, Contessa Gabrielle, Count Bradford, and me, Count Herman, Grand Magistrate of SimCity, to stand trial for the crime of perverting the nature of vampirism in order to return the dead to life.”I could see my children out of the corner of my eye; I was glad to know that Lily was tucked in between Grey andFortunata, with Desdemona also leaning in close. I wished I could comfort her, but I couldn’t.I had to focus all of my wits on what was happening in front of me.
Count Herman turned to Marcus. “Marcus Jones, you will answer for your part in this crime after we are done withyour lover.” Then he turned back to me. “Have you anything to say for yourself?”
“Have I anything to say for myself?” I stood up and I looked around the room, at the other vampires on the council,at the four behind the tables, at everyone who had come to support me without even knowing what was happening.I turned back to the four leaders. “I have plenty to say for myself. Have any of you ever lost a child? What about asibling? Have you ever known that you, and you alone, had the ability to save someone you loved? I told Marcus tomake me a vampire so that I could save my daughter. Despite that, I would not have succeeded had the Reaper notallowed me to. I made a bargain in exchange for my daughter’s life, and I will be fulfilling it for the rest of mine, aslong and unnatural as it may be.”
“What is this bargain of which you speak?” Contessa Gabrielle asked. Or at least I assumed she was ContessaGabrielle, as I seemed to remember that Marcus had said that Contessa Trysta was the one who turned him into avampire, and this was the other female vampire.“The Reaper gave me the power to send ghosts on to their final rest, even if their urns or graves have not beendestroyed. His realm – you all have seen it, when you were turned into vampires yourselves – it was full of ghosts.You can’t see them, but I can. I can see the dead, and there were many there. I have seen many here as well. TheReaper wants them able to move on and asked me to take on that role and ability. To get my daughter back, Iagreed.”
A murmur ran through the assembled crowd.Contessa Trysta sneered at me. “And you think this means you shouldn’t die? I still think we should just kill you alland be done.”Count Herman turned to her. “Do you want to argue with the Reaper? If what she speaks is true…”“And who says it is?”“I’m inclined to believe her. You know what she did at Gothier Green Lawns.” Count Bradford and ContessaGabrielle nodded in agreement.
Another vampire – one I didn’t recognize, one of the many who were watching the proceedings – stood up.“If we shouldn’t kill her because of the Reaper, what about the daughter? She died. She’s supposed to be dead.Why not send her back?”
I turned to face her. “If she’s supposed to be dead, then why did the Reaper let me take her back? I’ve seenzombies and vampires and ghosts. Lily is human and completely normal.”She sniffed. “Normal. Of course. You Dorans are all the same, waltzing into town like you own it, causing chaoswherever you go. I met your mother, girl. I would have taken her soul, but I was stopped. The world would be amuch better place if I’d succeeded.”I bit my lip. This had to be one of the witches Mom had told us about. She’d never mentioned either of thembecoming a vampire, but she’d also left Belladonna Cove. Who knew what had happened after that?I shook my head, bringing myself back to reality. It didn’t matter who she had been, only who she was now – amember of the vampire council. “Better for who?”“For everyone but you. It still will be, if we kill you all.”
I glared at her. “Over my dead body.”She looked me up and down. “That won’t be a problem. You think you can fight us? If we decide to kill someone,we will.”“You’ll have to go through me first. You may eventually kill us, yes, but how many of you will die in the process?”
I felt movement, and though I couldn’t turn to look – there was no power that would make me take my eyes off thiswoman, not right now – I could feel first Marcus, then Jean, Helen, Terri, and Lisa coming up to stand behind me.“And I won’t fight you alone,” I said.
“Kimberly, enough,” Count Herman said. “If you decide to kill the girl, it will be on your head alone. Her life is littlemore unnatural than anyone raised by a bone phone. It is the perversion of vampirism that we are investigating.”He looked at me. “Everyone, sit down, in the seats assigned to you. This trial will continue as planned.”I stayed standing until Kimberly gave in and sat down, then I obeyed the order and took my seat.
And so the trial continued. Various vampires and my friends and children all spoke, but it was clear that ultimatelythe four at the table would be making the decision of what to do about me, with the final decision ultimately restingon Count Herman’s shoulders.I could only pray that they wouldn’t hurt Lily. I couldn’t see her die. Not again. What I had said to Kimberly wastrue: I would do anything and everything to stop them if they decided to hurt my children, no matter what it led to.
Lily even managed to stand up and tell the story of her death in a very shaky voice. There were some frowns whenshe told of the group who had killed her, and Contessa Gabrielle leaned over to Count Bradford and whisperedsomething, which he nodded in reply to.
Finally, around two in the morning, everyone finished speaking.The Counts and Contessas gathered to decide on a sentence.
When they were done, Count Herman stood.“This is our sentence,” he said. “For your crime, Roxanna Doran, we sentence you to imprisonment. You will bemagically locked inside your house for one hundred years.” I closed my eyes. Apparently they’d decided to let melive, not wishing to anger the Reaper. But in some ways, this was worse. “Marcus Jones, for participation in thiscrime, you will be magically bound within the limits of Sim City for the same period of time. The walls that keepRoxanna in will keep you out. You will perform penance for the council as well. The magical bonds will be put inplace before sunrise today.”
Then he turned to the children and I held my breath, worried and scared of what he was about to say. “And youchildren, Grey Doran, Desdemona Doran, Lily Doran, and Fortunata Doran: you are hereby banished from Sim City,for your tendency to cause chaos, something that is not welcome within our city. If you do not leave by sunsettonight, you will be put to death.”I sighed in relief. Banishment, I could deal with. My children – all four of my children – would live, and for them thiswas no worse than what our family curse already caused. But unlike my parents, I wouldn’t have the chance toleave, so for me it was much worse.But what happened to me didn’t matter. My children were safe (as long as they were gone by sunset), and that wasall that mattered.
“As for those who killed Lily Doran,” Count Herman finished, “we do not welcome such groups in our city. They willbe dealt with.”I could see the vampires around me grinning at that pronouncement, clearly looking forward to whatever they weregoing to do to that group. For a moment I felt bad – many of them were just teenagers, and a few were evenchildren – but then I reminded myself that they’d killed my daughter and I stopped.
And with that, the trial was over. I immediately went to my children and put on a brave face for them. “It’ll be justfine,” I said. “Let’s go home.”Grey frowned but nodded, willing to go along with what I wanted, at least for now.
Marcus stopped us before we could go. “Roxanna, I…I’m sorry. I didn’t know they would do that.”“It’s alright, Marcus. Our children are safe. That’s what matters.”“But–”I put my hand on his arm. “I know.” I glanced at the children, then back at him, and he nodded slowly, agreeingnot to talk about it in front of them. “A hundred years is a long time, Marcus. You’re not going to see them again.”“Then I guess I’d better say goodbye,” he said quietly.“Please.”
He hugged and kissed each of the children, whispering quiet words of goodbye to them. Then he hugged me onceand wished me well.Before he could leave the club, guarded by two other vampires, a vial of blood was drawn from his arm – for whatuse, I didn’t know.
Helen, Jean, Terri, and Lisa were led from the room by another group of vampires, and finally the children and Iwere left alone with the leaders of the council and a few guards.I was once again taken by the arms and led up the elevator, through Crypt O’ Night Club, and back to my house.
From inside, I watched as the vampires worked their magic. They took a few drops of my blood and used it to sealme to the house, and used some of the vial they’d taken from Marcus to seal him out.And then, a little before dawn, they left.
We managed to get Lily to curl up in her bed and at least try to sleep. Desdemona and Fortunata stayed with theirsister, Fortunata curling up in her own bed and Desdemona taking the sleeping bag that Eglantine usually used whenshe stayed over.
I considered staying with them, but once the sun rose the room really was too sunny for me to be fully comfortable.It was strange – as a vampire, I could feel the sun, and even though it wouldn’t kill me as long as I stayed inside, itmade me feel lethargic and a bit sick.Instead, I went downstairs to the office, one of the least sunny places in the house, and sat down in the corner bythe bathroom.
I still wanted to break down.I still couldn’t.My children needed me to be strong, at least until they left. After…after that, I would be able to let myself go.
Grey found me down there, sitting and thinking.He joined me and we sat in silence for a while.
“Mom?” he finally asked.“Grey?”“Are you alright?”“Of course I am, what kind of question is that?” He raised his eyebrows at me and I sighed. “No, I’m not alright,but I will be. I’m glad you’re all safe.”
“Only if we leave by sunset.”“You will. You have a car and you have time to pack. You’ll get your things and go before the sun sets and you’llfind something new, just like I did, just like all of our ancestors all the way back to Carli.”“I’m not ready.”“I wasn’t either, but…but you need to go, Grey. If you don’t, something even worse will happen and eventually you’llfind yourselves forced from Sim City, if the vampire council doesn’t kill you first. We almost lost Lily. I can’t bear tosee any of you die, not you, not your sisters.”
“This has something to do with our…aunt?”I nodded. “My twin sister died, Grey, and it took me a very long time to recover from that. I’m still not fullyrecovered, and I doubt I ever will be. I can’t watch my child die, not again, and I never want to have to see any ofyou go through what I did.”He shook his head. “I never want to. When I thought we’d lost Lily…” He trailed off into silence.I patted his shoulder. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
I hated having to put so much weight on Grey’s shoulders but there was no choice. “Promise me you’ll watch out foryour sisters. Please. Lily…the Reaper told me she won’t remember his realm, at least not consciously, but it willaffect her subconsciously. And she remembers her death. I’m worried about her.”“Of course, Mom!” He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you think Lily will be alright?”“I hope so, I really do.”“Me too.”
We were interrupted by the sound of screaming.Grey and I glanced at each other, then we ran up the stairs and into Lily and Fortunata’s room.
Lily was curled up in a ball, screaming her head off. Obviously she’d just woken up from a nightmare. Her sistersstared at her in shock.I quickly took stock of the situation. “Grey, Desdemona, Fortunata, out.” They glanced at each other, then left.I sat down next to Lily and took her into my arms.“Mommy,” she sobbed. She clutched me as she cried.I stroked her hair. “Shhh,” I whispered. “It’ll be alright.”
She shook her head. “It won’t. It won’t ever be okay.”A tear dripped down my cheek. “It will. I know it feels like it won’t, but it will, Lily. Life goes on. It won’t go onhere, but you’ll leave today and you’ll travel and one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realize that you haven’t been thisupset in ages, and you’ll realize that you’ve moved on. One day, the nightmares will stop and things will be better.”“I’m not ready to leave, Mom.”“I know. But there isn’t a choice.”
Her eyelids were drooping, but she was fighting to stay awake, most likely to avoid the nightmares. “Come on,” Isaid, pulling her up. “You can come sleep with me, alright? I’ll help with the nightmares.”She nodded, then followed me into my bedroom, where I put her to bed.
I sat next to her, too worried to sleep myself, and watched my daughter sleep, worried about her, worried aboutwhat would happen once they were gone.There was nothing I could do for them anymore. I was bound to this house and wouldn’t be free until well after allof them were dead.
After some time, the door opened quietly and Fortunata poked her head in. “Mom?” she said quietly.“Nata?”“I was talking to Eglantine about what happened, and she said she had an idea of something that might help Lily,but she wants to talk to you first.”I nodded and stood up, walking out of the room. I left the door open an inch so I could keep an ear on Lily.
Fortunata handed me her cell phone. “Hello?”“Ms. Doran?”“Hello, Eglantine.”“Hi. Um, Nata told me what happened. I’m sorry I wasn’t around.”“It’s not your fault at all.”“I know. I still feel bad.”
“Fortunata said you have something that might help Lily?”“Yeah. She said she’s a mess?”“Yes.”Eglantine took a deep breath. “It’s a radical solution, but…well, it may be the best option. If she used it, it wouldchange her personality, push the memories farther back. Everything that happened would…well, the best way to sayit is that it would stop mattering so much.”
I thought. “Is this something that has to be done now?”“No. It can be done whenever.”“Then I think you should leave it for Lily to decide. Come over before sunset and give it to her, make sure sheknows how to use it. And then leave the decision up to her.”“That’s a good idea, Ms. Doran. I’ll see you after school?”“See you then.”
I hung up the phone and looked at Fortunata, who’d been listening.“We’re not going to school today,” she said.“No. Lily’s in no shape to go, and frankly neither are the rest of you, or even me. We all need sleep, and you needto pack before you leave.”Fortunata nodded. “And it’s not like our grades matter anymore.”“No, they don’t.”
“Mom?”“Yes, honey?”“Thank you. For – Lily is my best friend. Thank you for bringing her back. Thank you for agreeing to whatever youagreed to, to get her back.”“Of course I did. I couldn’t have done otherwise.”
“You’re not going to tell us, are you?”“Tell you what?”“What you agreed to.”I shook my head. “It has nothing to do with you, Nata. And it’s not bad, per se. Just…I’m going to be alive a lotlonger than I ever planned on.”She nodded. “Yeah. And stuck here, too.”That was skirting too close to things I didn’t want my children to know. “Yes,” I said simply, trying to cut off theconversation before it began.
I looked at my youngest. “You look as tired as your sister, and you need to be gone before sundown. Go to bed,Nata.”Her lip twisted. “I don’t really want to sleep alone. And Lily’s with you.”“Why don’t you stay with Lily for a bit, while I go find Desdemona? I bet she’ll be willing to spend some time withyou right now. And that way you won’t be alone, but I’ll handle Lily’s nightmares.”“Okay.”
Fortunata went into the bedroom and I climbed the stairs, looking for my oldest daughter.I found her in her bedroom, throwing things into a bag.I sat down on her bed and watched her as she chose which clothing to bring and which to leave behind.
“How can you even look at me?” The outburst was unexpected.“What?”“How can you look at me? I dragged Lily to the get together and I got her killed, Mom!” She angrily wiped tearsfrom her face. “I’m a terrible person.”
“Oh, Desi.” I caught her hand and pulled her over to stand in front of me. “You are not a terrible person. You’re ateenager who wanted to spend time with you friends. There’s no way you could have known what they planned.”“But I should have!”I lifted her chin and looked at her. She tried to avoid catching my gaze but eventually gave in. “Hindsight is always20/20, Desdemona. You can only judge a decision by the facts you knew when you made it, and when you askedLily to come along, you thought you were just going to have a good time shopping with your friends, and there isnothing wrong with that. You did nothing wrong, Desi. Believe me.”
“You really think so, Mom?”“I really do. I love you, Desdemona, and today hasn’t changed that at all.”She smiled tremulously, then threw herself at me. We hugged.When I finally managed to pull back, I looked at her. “Don’t forget your hair dye when you pack.”Her giggle was watery, but it was there. “I won’t. I’m thinking of going fully green.”“You could pull it off, I think.”“Thanks.”
I stretched out. “I’ve got to go back down to Lily. Would you mind staying with Fortunata for a bit? She doesn’twant to be alone.”“Not at all. I don’t mind sleeping there today.” She noticed my raised eyebrows and rolled her eyes. “I know, I likehaving my own room. But after today…I’m glad I have my sisters.”I smiled sadly. “I’m glad you do too.”
The next few hours were spent in my bedroom, watching Lily sleep, waking her up from her nightmares, and holdingher when she cried.I really hoped she was going to be okay, at least in the long run. It was clear that the short run wasn’t going to goso well.
After the fourth nightmare, she refused to try to go back to sleep, choosing instead to pack up her things.She still wanted me there while she packed, even though her sisters were both quite willing to help.I braved the discomfort of a sunny room to help, despite not feeling all that well.
Around 3, Eglantine came over and gave Lily something. They spent half an hour going over the directions while Ipacked up all of the food from the fridge for the kids to take with them. I didn’t need it anymore myself, and theycould undoubtedly use it.
And finally, it was 6 o’clock, an hour before sunset, and it was time for them to go.I kissed and hugged each of my children, saying quiet goodbyes and asking them all to look out for each other –especially for Lily, who needed the support the most.She clung to me until her siblings pulled her away, eyes on the clock, knowing what would happen if they stayed toolate. They didn’t want to go, I’m sure, but the alternative was unthinkable. They had to leave, and they had toleave immediately.
As the door closed behind my children, I walked up the stairs to Lily and Fortunata’s room, where I could see themgetting into the car. Fortunata helped Lily into the backseat while Grey drove and Desdemona took the front.And then they left.
I pressed my face against the glass, straining hard to watch the car for as long as I could. It would be my last sightof my children, and I didnt want to miss one moment of it.As it disappeared from sight, the sun began to set, and I sighed in relief. Theyd be gone from Sim City before thesun fully set, as they had to be.
I felt a presence behind me, but I didnt bother turning around. I knew who it was, anyway. "Rainelle," I said."Roxanna. Im sorry. I mean, not–" She paused, thinking over what to say. "Im sorry the kids had to leave.“I shook my head, face still pressed against the glass. "I knew it was coming. I didnt – I didnt know it would be likethis. But I knew. And its okay.“"How is it okay?“I finally turned around, trying to smile. Im sure it was bitter. "It could be worse. I still have you."
She looked down and we stood in awkward silence for a minute.Then she suddenly spoke. “I saw the vampires.”“What?”“Doing their…whatever sort of magic it was. They bound you to the house, didn’t they?”I nodded.
She breathed in sharply. “You can’t leave.”“No.”“Do…do you know the full extent of what that means?”I closed my eyes. Trust Rainelle to figure out what I hadn’t told my kids. Trust her to see the true horror of mypunishment that I’d hidden from them. “Yes. I can’t leave the house, so I can’t feed, not unless someone comes tome, and Jean, Helen, Terri, and Lisa will have already started warning people about that.” I was already feeling thecraving for blood. It made me glad my children were gone; at least I wouldn’t attack them.
“But you’re not going to die.”“No.” Vampires don’t die when they’re deprived of blood. Instead… “I’m going to go insane.”“And bound to the house…you won’t even be able to walk into the sun and end it.”I shook my head. “I can’t anyway. I promised the Reaper.”
“You…I don’t…” Rainelle took a deep breath. “Roxanna, I want you to smash my grave.”“What?”“I can’t do this. I can’t be bound to this house, to this yard, with only you able to see me. I could when you werehuman, but you’re not, not anymore. You’re a vampire. You’re wrong. And it won’t take long for you to go insane.I know I’m safe from you, but you won’t know that. You’ll try and attack me. You won’t recognize me. I can’t livelike that. I want to move on. I want you to smash my grave.”
I put my face in my hands. “I can’t get to your grave. It’s in the backyard.”“I’ll bring it to you. I’m physical enough for that, I think.”I rubbed my face. To be deprived of my only company, after all I’d been through. I couldn’t bear it.And yet I would have to.
I sighed. “That isn’t necessary, Rainelle.”“What do you mean?”“When I met the Reaper, he…he gave me the power to send ghosts on. I don’t need your grave. I just need totouch you.”
She came to stand directly in front of me. “Then do it.”I hesitated. “You’re sure about this?”“Completely. I’m sorry, Roxanna. But I want you to send me on.”I closed my eyes, holding back tears, then opened them. “I’ll miss you, Rainelle.”Her smile was shaky. “I’ll miss you too. I hope…I hope things are better than I think they will be.”“Me too. Me too.”
And then I reached forward, touching her heart, watching as she faded into nothing.I felt her presence disappear and I knew she was gone, leaving me completely alone.
I put my face in my hands and tried to cry, but I was too upset even for that.I was all alone, without anyone to talk to, without even the ability to kill myself. I had a task to do and walls to keepme in and the promise of insanity to come.What was I going to do?
I looked up when I heard a noise.I caught sight of the door opening, but no one was there. I looked at the mirror and there was a flash of –No.No. This wasn’t possible.
I sat down, hard, on the floor.“You’re dead,” I said.
“I was,” she admitted. “You recall all the zombies?” I nodded automatically. “They had a bone phone.”
“But your urn,” I whispered. “It was smashed.”She shook her head. “Susanna switched the urns when she heard Rosalie give the order. One urn isn’t any differentfrom another, not unless you look closely, and Rosalie…she wasn’t looking. She smashed one belonging to anotherzombie, not mine. When they were gone, Susanna used the bone phone to bring me back.”
“You didn’t come find me.”“I couldn’t, not at first. The bone phone…it only heals the injury that actually killed you. I was shot three times,Roxanna. It took me a long time to recover, and then it took me even longer to figure out where you’d all gone. Bythe time I finally got here, you were pregnant with your third child and in a screaming fight with, well, I assume itwas a ghost. I – I didn’t know how to tell you I was actually here. So I just…didn’t.”
I thought back over the last few years and suddenly some things started making sense. “That was you,” Iwhispered. “You made Fortunata look like she was floating. You were eating the food. And that was you, with thecake, at Fortunata’s birthday party.”She nodded. “I didn’t get to interact with Grey – he was already a child by the time I got here – but I spent a littletime with each of the girls when they were too young to understand that someone invisible shouldn’t exist. I wasn’tcareful enough with Fortunata. You almost caught me then.”
I put my face in my hands and finally, finally, began to cry.“Astraea,” I whispered, willing, now, to accept that it was true, that she was really here. That I wasn’t alone.
“Roxanna,” she said, smiling. “I’ve missed you so much.”“Not as much as I’ve missed you.”She laughed. “This isn’t a competition. Besides, I’m here now, for whatever you need.”
“Are you – are you sure?” I asked, voice shaky.“Completely. Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.” She cocked her head. “Or should that be, whereveryou’re not going, I’m not going your way? No, that doesn’t sound right. Grammar fail.”I laughed, a bit hysterically.
She knelt down in front of me and took my hands in hers. “I’m completely serious. I am here for as long as youneed me, in whatever way you need me. I will be your legs, your voice, your eyes, your ears. I will be your sourceof blood and your source of information. I will be your link to the outside world for as long as you cannot be.”I looked at her. “And you’ll stay? Even if I need you forever?” I touched my fangs with one finger, reminding her ofwhat I was. While I wouldn’t live forever, I would live for a very long time.She reached forward and gently touched that same fang. “I will never abandon you again.”“Thank you,” I whispered. “Thank you.” ***