I was visiting home again. At least, the house where I’d grown up. After two years at Peter Lougheed’s closed youth ward, it felt more like I was visiting a stranger’s place.
My doctors and parents alike insisted that I not think of it in terms of visiting. There was no cure for schizophrenia, but my symptoms had levelled out when they’d switched me over to the Seroquel. I thought it was because I was suddenly too drowsy and stupid to have any more outbursts.
There was a full bottle on the desk in the corner of my room. Twice a day, I had already decided I would just flush them instead of swallowing them. Maybe find my real self after being doped up for so long. Cut through the cobwebs enough to find the truth.
Because I wasn’t crazy, insane, mentally ill, or whatever the PC term was. No matter how many times I ended up back in some institution, I knew that the doctors were wrong. There was a monster inside of me. It curled and coiled, feeding itself on my rage and frustration. I only let myself be put away because I was terrified of what would happen if the thing ever got out.
I was 20 but had been declared legally unfit to take care of myself. This meant I would be tossed between my parents’ custody and the government, not being allowed to take care of myself. That was fine for now. I had no inclination to go out in the real world, get a job, pay bills.
It’s not like any of my friends had real jobs anyway: graveyard shifts and record stores. There wasn’t much in the way of role models in my life. But so long as I wasn’t treated like an invalid, I was content with whatever happened.
I was currently tucked into the corner where my bed met the wall, flipping through an old copy of Stephen King’s Different Seasons. I’d started reading Apt Pupil, but the skin-crawling disgust at the evil things on the page had made me skip over to The Body instead.
At least I could still feel disgust at evil things.
Jann Arden was playing on my stereo, crooning songs from before I had gone to any hospital. Back when I was in junior high and I’d maybe worn a little black (Mercy had worn a lot more), but this was before Tristan had entered the picture. Before we’d met Alaric behind the counter of B&B. Before Tam had stomped into our lives down the crowded high school halls.
This music was something I could barely understand anymore, but I wanted so badly to find the girl I had once been again. Before the first coils of insidious thought crept into my soul. The voice was urgent and rich, yet somehow it just didn’t catch in my mind like it had before.
A line of music crept into my head, making me look up from the book for a moment. “Love is a demon and you’re the one he’s coming for, oh my Lord…” Before Jann could go on to proclaim how she was ashes and Jesus, I threw a pillow at my stereo. It died. My heart was beating wildly and I took deep breaths to calm myself.
Maybe it was too soon for music.
I threw my book on the floor, suddenly restless. Here I was, supposedly free, and I was willfully locking myself in my room. I wanted to be out in the fresh, crisp air, explore Carburn Park in the melting snow. I wanted to see Mercy. No, I wanted to see Tristan. I’d seen Mercy often enough in the past two years, but Tristan…
I fell back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Tristan. I’d been his since I was 14 yet I barely knew him. I just knew there was something inside him that called to me. It tamed and hypnotized the monster inside my heart.
My greatest proof of the monster was that my father wasn’t really my father. My parents hadn’t admitted that until I was 15 years old. My mother claimed that my biological father had just been a bad man who had done a bad thing and was now in jail for it. I knew better. My father had clawed his way up from Hell to share his monster’s blood. And now the only way I could keep the world safe from my tainted blood was to be sent to the hospital again and again.
There was a knock on the door. “Vesta?”
“C’min!” I called, not bothering to even sit up.
My mother opened the door and stepped into the room. She hesitated a moment before rushing to the bed, kneeling down and placing her hand on my forehead. So much for not being treated like an invalid. “Oh, dear, you look terrible… Flushed but no fever.” She traced the lines under my eyes. “I was going to go shopping and didn’t want to leave you alone, but I don’t think you should come out like this. Are you alright?”
I shrugged, pointedly not looking at her. “Just need some sleep, is all.”
“We’ll I’ll turn the lights out when I go then.” She hesitated. “Tristan was calling around after you. I think maybe you’d better stay away from him this time. That boy’s been in jail and I don’t think he’s the best influence on all already confused girl.”
I made a noncommittal sound at the back of my throat. My mother moved over to the desk and picked up the pill bottle, looking at it. “Have you even taken your first one for the day yet?”
“Ves—” But then she shook her head, saying nothing. “I just want you to know that he’s out free now. They granted him parole. I personally hope he breaks it and gets sent back. The fewer people like him around, the better.”
I wondered vaguely if ‘people like him’ referred to his criminal tendencies or his soft mocha skin. I barely even noticed my mother’s intolerance anymore. My eyes had been opened to it when I met Mercy, whose parents were bleeding hearts so far left of centre that they should have started up a commune. But after so many years, the words just fell dead and numb around me. “Yeah, Mom,” I muttered.
My mother flicked off the light and shut the door behind her.
I flipped over onto my belly and closed my eyes, picturing Tristan the last time I’d seen him. I’d gone to the hospital about two weeks before he was arrested. It was my first time not being treated at the Children’s Hospital. It was his first time to be locked up in an adult penitentiary. The synergy of our incarceration just proved to me that we were meant to be together. When we were free, we were free together. When we were locked away, it was together.
I wondered vaguely if he had gotten arrested to kill the time until I got out again.
Tristan had that gorgeous mocha skin and the strangest eyes. A muddle of colours that didn’t belong, ranging from amber to red. From far away, the mix of colours seemed to turn brown and it was only up close that their strangeness could be seen. Not many people got close enough to Tristan to see that; he kept a folding knife on him at all times, not shy about taking it out if someone got into his personal space.
The only other ones he had let in at all were Tam, Merce and Alaric. He would fight playfully (and sometimes brutally) with Tam, but he’d shown a soft spot for Mercy. She was a little bit fragile sometimes. Alaric was just along for the ride because wherever the girls were, there he would be.
None of them had ever gotten as close to Tris as I had. I knew the reason that he had chosen me was that he had seen the monster in my off-purple eyes. He had known we were alike. Because Tristan, with his strong face and wild eyes, was more a monster than I would ever be. My best guess was that both of his parents were monsters; that he himself had to be one. How else could he have gotten so much blood on his hands and only gone to jail for two years this time?
They’d never been able to prove he’d killed anyone, but after he was put away for grand theft the owner was never seen again. I wondered what it must have felt like, the blade glinting in the light as it found its home in human flesh.
I shuddered, curling up into myself, trying to fight down the rising darkness inside. “Don’t think about it,” I whispered. I dug my nails into my palm and just breathed until the knife and blood receded from my mind, leaving me only with that image of Tristan.
I wouldn’t even pretend that I didn’t miss him more than the others. His tightly curled black hair, sweeping past his chin. His black leather. The way he kissed me so sharply that we both tasted my blood. He had impossibly gentle and accurate hands. Then there was the way his eyes had flashed red and gold when he told me that he owned me and I would never be able to fight it.
I didn’t want to fight it.
It wasn’t as though I’d ever loved him; the monster in my heart wasn’t capable of that. But beyond his cold detachment, there was something about him that I missed violently when we were apart. A distant part of me wondered if he cared. Maybe that was why he didn’t find any old slut who liked guys in black leather when we were apart. But how could he care?
I was terrified that one day I would find proof that he was a monster and he would kill me for it.
My hand was at my neck and it drifted slowly to between my breasts, touching an old scar through my shirt. I’d been 17 when Tristan had taken his knife to me, carefully opening the skin above my heart. His blazing eyes hadn’t left me once, and yet he never cut too deep or too far. “Your heart is mine,” he had whispered. “And I want you to feel this pain again if anyone ever tries to make it. Your eyes are mine.” He had brushed his lips against my lashes, getting my blood all over his shirt as he leaned into me. “And they will never look at anyone but me.”
My heart and my eyes; both were proof of what my real father was. Of course he would want them. And as long as I was still breathing, he couldn’t have either without the rest of me.
A note on the table saying “gone nature gazing,” was all I left when I got the call I’d been expecting. His smoky voice had only said two things, leaving no room for argument. “We’re both out; come meet me.”
I couldn’t say no to Tristan. The embers in his eyes lit a fire in my soul that threatened to kill me, and only his touch could cool me down. It had been far too long since I had last been near him, and I was afraid that the monster in my heart would begin to misbehave if it went longer without his attentions.
There was an old hollow trunk of a poplar tree twenty minutes from my house, where two grown people could easily duck inside and not be seen. This was where I had lost my virginity to him when I was 15, terrified of what might be alive in the soft wood under me but unable to say no to him. This was where we’d always met since my mother had decreed that Tristan was no longer allowed near the house.
For the first time in almost two years, I approached the hollow. The unseasonal snow made the trek difficult, but I didn’t have the guts to turn back.
He was already there, leaning against the trunk, picking dirt out from under his nails with his knife. He blinked once in acknowledgement when I drew near but did nothing else.
“Tris…” I felt weak.
“I’ve been thinking.” He seemed to be addressing his knife, as it flicked out from under a nail. Not knowing what to say, I just stood where I was and listened. “I never thought their laws were binding; never thought I’d face their consequences.” He glanced at me, his eyes burning. “Never thought law was for people like us.”
I mouthed “like us,” but said nothing.
He threw his knife so it went flying into the ground, barely sticking up through the snow. He narrowed his eyes, staring at nothing. “They had me in for car theft.”
I regretted opening my mouth when his narrowed eyes turned to me. “It was only because they never found the body, never had proof there was one. I spent my time in their prison thinking what would have happened if they’d found it; how long I would have been there. Without you.” He shook his head. “Not pleasant ideas. For everything I can do, walking through solid steel isn’t one of them.”
“You…killed someone.” There. I’d known it, but to hear him actually say it… The monster in my heart was positively thrilled to hear this, and the rest of me was feeling so sick that I could barely stand.
He shrugged. “Not the first. Different laws hold me, babe. You understand.” Without warning, he pushed away from the tree and grabbed hold of me. I suppressed a yelp and just stared at him without seeing as one of his hands reached under my shirt to trace the scar he had given me.
“It’s in the blood,” he was saying. “It’s a compulsion. Almost a necessity. Have you figured it out yet?”
My eyes closed, and I focused on the feeling of contact. “They keep telling me I’m wrong. The keep putting me on drugs until I agree with them and say there’s nothing inside me.”
He pressed me into the tree trunk, his breath moving against my cheek. “Yeah, they told you you’re crazy. No such thing, right? No monsters under the bed, no monsters under the hood.” He tapped my scar. “Nothing wicked this way comes, huh?”
“Our fathers came from the same place, babe. I saw it in you the second I met you. But you never knew yours. And you believed them at that hospital, didn’t you?” He drew back far enough to look at my eyes. “You’re afraid to become what I have.” He traced a finger up my chin, resting it on my lips. “But you never will, you know. I have you under control. Don’t want the competition.” He pressed his forehead to mine. “Instead, I’ll have a willing audience.”
I wanted to talk, but the weight of his finger on my lips stopped me. I searched his chaotic eyes for his reason behind telling me all this now.
“I hate jail,” he said abruptly, leaving me against the trunk as he walked over to retrieve his knife. “Can’t stand captivity. You know what that’s like. Imagine your locked doors were steel bars instead.”
I found my voice. “Do you think you’ll be sent back?”
“I’m breaking parole already.” He laughed. “Your mother was at the hearing, and she had a word or two about how I treated her precious daughter. Not allowed to see you.”
“She didn’t tell me that.”
“Of course not. She wants to pretend to be on your side. Mothers are like that. She must have done her best to nurture you and keep you safe and good, since your other nature hasn’t broken through yet. My mother never tried.” He shrugged, dismissing it.
“I thought she was…locked away, too.”
“Yeah, higher security version of your favourite hang-out. My father was unimpressed with the fact that she neglected me. I sometimes see her, but there’s really not much left.” He stood perfectly still and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was taking a calming breath.
“Our fathers,” I ventured. “What were they?”
Tristan leaned his head back, staring up into the sky. He squinted against the sun, and it was a long time before he spoke. “I know there are angels. Not what the church would have you believe. They act like frazzled teenage girls, and everything seems to be funny to them. They’ll play at love with anything that comes near them but are ill equipped to actually do anything. I’ve met some. The wings are amazing; nothing else, though.” He took a breath, considering his next words. “I’m not sure if angels belong to some almighty good God like everyone assumes. They aren’t really all that good, they’re just sort of there, an opposing force… The only thing people are right about is the other side; the under-side.”
He tore his eyes from the sky and caught me in his gaze. “The shit that goes on down there, babe… Makes me sick to think it.”
I gaped at him, out of words again. This was a sadistic boy who had killed before and probably would again. What could faze him?
“Nothing positive exists. It’s…” He faltered then shook his head, obviously mad at himself. “Take the worst thing you can imagine and multiply by infinity. That’s what they’re capable of.”
Right then, the worst thing I could think of was the police arriving and taking Tristan to jail again.
“They can’t breed amongst themselves; that’s all I know about it. They need human women. Maybe their own are just so…wrong, that their own bodies kill the child before it can develop.” He slid down the trunk, sinking his ass into the snow without seeming to notice. He played with the tip of his knife, not noticing when he sliced himself open. “They look almost like us, just a few…aberrations, things the more powerful ones can hide. But they’re hardly ever up here. Humans are too easy to kill; there would be no sport. Every once in a while, though, if they’ve killed off enough of their own number or if they just feel like it… They come up here and interbreed. They lose interest so quickly, though, that barely any of their children are brought back down with them.” He put his bleeding finger to his mouth. “Some pretty bad ones were left behind. Bundy. Manson. Gacy. Berkowitz. Guys like that, who never know what’s in them.”
“Why not ones who know?”
“You gain control, babe, once you know what you are.” He grinned suddenly, grabbing me by the hands and pulling me down beside him. The snow felt very cold against my legs. “Or you just get locked in a mental ward where you can’t do any harm because you can’t keep your damn yap shut about monsters.”
Trying not to smile, I touched his shoulder hesitantly then moved my hand to his face. Nothing terrible happened so I took a deep breath, shivered, then leaned in very close to him. “If you’ve gained control…how come you’ve killed?”
He wrapped his arms around me, a welcome sense of warmth, still grinning. “When you get control, you’re no longer sloppy. You’re smart enough to not fall into a pattern. To not play your victims first. No one is going to see you, no one’s going to know it was you. I know what I am, so I can follow my nature without the regret that holds others back just long enough to get caught.”
“You’re going to keep doing it?”
“Haven’t decided.” He kissed my forehead. “Just knowing I can is all the thrill I need.”
“Aren’t you scared of jail?”
“I missed you,” he said uncertainly, by way of admittance. “You crazy bitch.” He laughed then sobered up again. “I was worried they wouldn’t let you out of the hospital this time. I was about ready to break you out, or get myself sent back behind bars. Either we’re both free or we’re both not. I’ve decided that.”
“I don’t like the hospital.”
“I don’t like jail.”
“Then stop killing people?”
He had his knife in his hands, and he brought it up between our faces. “You don’t understand what it does for you… It’s like suddenly, you’re a god.” He turned the knife, so we were both staring at its sharp edges. “You’re never felt blood washing over your hands, never let the demon have total control.” He folded the knife into its sheath. “You never will, either. I won’t let you.”
In the hospital, the doctors were always telling me to get in touch with the monster inside to find out what she wanted. No one but my own conscience had ever told me to deny the monster before. I’d never expected Tristan to be the next to say it, and that made me angry. “Why the hell not?”
“You don’t have the control it takes. That’s why you let me be so overbearing, babe. You can’t take charge. And if you let your monster out, I’m sure there’ll be no turning back.”
Tristan raised his hand sharply, almost hitting me. He stared past me. “Someone’s coming,” he hissed. Neither of us said a word as we helped each other climb over the huge trunk, tumbling into its hollow. I swore softly as I felt my ankle turn on impact and I sank waist-deep into snow; however, if Tristan was worried about us being seen, I had to be worried too.
After wading out of the drift, we were sitting in a mess of fallen leaves and dirty snow. Tristan drew me close and held me. He nuzzled at my neck, barely breathing. I strained my ears, trying to hear whatever had set him off. It took minutes before I registered the sound of footsteps and soft voices. By then, my body was trembling with the cold.
“She never just goes for walks.”
I held my breath. It was my mother.
“I don’t know, I’m just scared she’s gone off and gotten herself hurt. Run to him again. I can’t believe they let him out! They never took his knife because it wasn’t an illegal weapon. I’m just… I’m so…” My mother started crying. Putting on a show.
“I know, ma’am. We won’t go home until we find her.”
Tristan stiffened. His fingers dug into my back and he hissed “parole pig” in my ear. I struggled out of his grasp, shaking my head wildly and mouthing “no.” I refused to let it be true.
Without thinking, I grabbed Tristan’s knife and was about to stand up. He grabbed me by the belt loops and dragged me down into the snow. “Stupid bitch,” he muttered, settling his weight over me. “Crazy, stupid bitch. That is your mother and my PO wandering around, looking for both of us. You don’t want to run out waving a knife you don’t know how to use.” With one hand, he took his knife back, and with the other, he traced the line of my jaw. “You look half-dead.” He narrowed his eyes. “That place just sucks the life out of you. Let me put it back?”
I stared up at him, trying to breathe noiselessly. I was very aware that one of his legs was between mine. The other was drawn up by my side so not all his weight was on me. “It’s been too long,” he moaned into my ear. “You filled my nights and dreams in jail. I’m desperate for you.”
I closed my eyes, already half mad from watching the dancing flames in his. “We’re hiding,” I said softly. “In the snow and fucking cold. To keep you out of jail. Sex doesn’t seem an option.”
“Sex is always an option with you. I promise to be quiet. Let me warm you up?”
I raised one leg slightly, threatening his manhood. “You are not,” I hissed, “going back to jail.”
“Then I’ll kill them if they come back,” he murmured.
“They’re probably standing out there, staring at all the tracks we left!”
“They’re too preoccupied to see.”
I struggled under him, trying to push him off, using my nails and trying to bite him. He rolled off of his own volition, laughing. “Temper, temper. They’re gone. Don’t make me find another girl, babe; you don’t like being alone, do you? I can always just take a quick look around that group of ours. Tam’s a touch too feisty, but Mercy… I can see possibilities with that girl.”
“Fuck off,” I muttered.
“And die?” He finished what had been one of my catch phrases in high school.
I scowled. “It’s been two years. I’ve changed.”
“Let a certain thing inside get a little stronger?” He waited for a response; when he didn’t get one, he laughed. “You never would have taken my knife before. You weren’t even yourself in that moment; your eyes were pure amethyst. Don’t get mad if I joke about killing them; I probably stopped you from doing it for real.”
“You didn’t.” I hugged her knees. “I just wasn’t thinking, is all.”
He crawled back over to me. “You really do look sick, Vesta. Go home and sleep. Meet me here tomorrow night after your ‘rents are down. If you don’t come, you know I’ll go out looking for you.” Any other boy saying it would have made him sound lovesick; from Tristan, it was a threat.
I stood up to leave. He touched my wrist, getting my attention. “Remember. I own you. I’d rather we were dead than without each other.”
I muttered “morbid fuck” before climbing out of the hollow. Then I wished my heart would calm down and my scar would stop burning. Seeing Tristan had done nothing to assuage any of my fears. The monster was veritably thriving inside, and the more I tried to push it down, the sicker I felt.
 Jann Arden. “Could I Be Your Girl.” Living Under June. A&M, 1994.