Read American Goth Online

Authors: J. D. Glass

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Thrillers, #Contemporary, #General, #Gothic, #Lesbians, #Goth Culture (Subculture), #Lesbian, #Love Stories

American Goth (2 page)

BOOK: American Goth
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He waited while I sipped, the glass thick and heavy in my hands, the water sliding like ice needles past my throat.

My uncle’s eyes, set under a broad forehead and a thick shock of deep brown hair that even tied severely back could not be straightened of its natural curl, were eyes I always imagined better suited to a tiger than to a man, and he held them steady on me. My father’s eyes, despite their different color, had held a similar glow, though I knew that in fact he and Uncle Cort were not blood-kin, but somehow foster-related.

Although I had faint remembrance of Cort in my childhood, he’d become a permanent fixture in my life, my legal guardian in fact, since my father, a New York City fireman, had been killed in the line of duty when I was fifteen, orphaning me. My mother had died when I was two.

I nodded in answer as the spasm in my throat eased. “Leeds,” I managed to croak out past the painful weight that had lodged in my neck—we were in Leeds, England, in the house Cort hadn’t seen more than a handful of times since I’d become his responsibility, the house I’d been told my father had summered in as a boy. He’d wanted me to get to know it before we returned to the States.

“Do you know where you were?” he asked, and the air seemed to thicken as he waited for my answer.

I stared at the glass in my hand, at the water that swirled and sloshed, the whirlpool made reality that I’d created. I knew what he asked, knew what he meant.

“Yes,” I said and squared my shoulders as I gazed back at him. I knew, with that deep knowing that comes from the very cells of the body, that I had just taken a step in a new direction; my next words would seal that fate. “The Mid-Astral.”

“What do you remember?”

I remembered…everything. It left me feeling curiously blank. I sipped some more, destroying the pattern I’d formed, then took a deep breath. How appropriate, I mused, erase one thing to form another. There could be no more stalling.

“I…I made a promise,” I said, shocked to hear the airy tone that came from my mouth.

Something flared in his eyes, a lightning strike of power or tears. When he spoke, his voice was gruff, choked, but strong.

“You’re ready.”

*

“There are tests, dear heart,”
Cort explained, “tests for every level, and each with its subsets. Fail in any one and there you must stay—but you cannot be allowed to stay in any level that leaves you—or the Circle of Light Bearers—exposed and unprotected. And so you must resolve to pass all of them. Do you understand this?”

She nodded. She was, as he’d said earlier, ready. It was ironic, she reflected, that in attempting to end her life she’d found a new one, a new path, a new way, even a new name. Ann. That’s what she’d decided. It retained the heart of ‘Samantha,’ but since those whom she’d wanted to hear call her name were no longer alive, it hurt her to hear it spoken by others.

But this…this new path…it felt like her whole life prior to this, including her walk to the Bridge, had led her here. All things considered, perhaps it had.

“Good,” Cort continued, unaware of her thoughts as he continued to monitor her with another part of his mind. She would learn how to do that too. “First, there is the Light. Do you remember?”

It was automatic, the correlation in her mind of the Light to Nina, the friend she’d allowed herself to feel so much more for. Light…it had shone out from Nina’s eyes in steady blue and silver waves, had eddied from her body and back to Samantha’s with every glancing touch, it had enveloped her when they embraced. She had even tasted it in one, perfect, kiss.

Did she remember? How could she forget? She shivered involuntarily in her seat. To think in that direction meant pain, because remembering that loss, the tearing, wrenching knowledge that Nina had returned to the Light that sourced life, had moved beyond this world…it was enough to make her want to follow—and she’d already tried once. She’d honor her promise and not try again. She forcibly shut the memories away. It was not what Cort meant, anyway.

“Yes. Yes, I do,” she answered instead. She once more closed her eyes and took another deep, perfectly controlled breath. She focused on the mental image of the perfect white light, a sphere that hung in space, until she could see it without focused concentration. She let the light mass drift, envelop her; then she absorbed it, letting it crawl up from toes to crown until she herself was not only contained in the nimbus, but also made of it. It tingled, a warm and sharp prickle under her skin.

“Are you ready?” Cort’s voice sounded gentle, and to her physical ears, slightly faint.

“Um…how will I know?” she asked, uncertain in this new—and yet familiar—space.

Cort chuckled softly. “Because you’ll look like a soft white lightbulb.”

She felt herself smile even as she drifted further from the physical. “Guess I’m ready, then.”

“Good.”

Suddenly her awareness, her environment, changed. She stood on the same high plains she’d stood before, Cort beside her. He seemed…different…somehow, his hair longer, even darker, if that were possible, his features sharper.

“You must be able to bridge—walk and balance—between worlds,” he told her as she found herself reflexively performing defensive and attack postures, the katas her father had taught her, with her guardian.

“I don’t understand,” she said as the forms changed, flowed, to push-hand techniques.

“As above, so below, dear heart,” her uncle said gravely as push-hands gave way to sparring. “What happens here will manifest in the flesh, the material world. Beings, what you’ve known before as monsters, demons, and angels, all appear on the Astral in true form, the soul represented and revealed, but they seem as ordinary people on the Material, the Mundane. Events on the Astral, on any of the many Plains, are followed by events in your daily, physical life. This,” he warned her as he swept her leg and she stumbled to avoid it, “is one of the many reasons you must learn to see every level, even when you’re fully on the Material—this is one small part of how you’ll be tested.”

She nodded from the ground. So far, she understood. The Aethyr was the energy, the soul or spirit level as some called it, of the Material, the place most minds drifted to in dreams, where haunts “lived.” The Astral…was something altogether different, and yet not, since it too had its ties to the physical. But while there was only one Aethyr, the levels of Astral, the Plains of existence, were infinite.

A message from the Aethyr could be delivered to the Material as a vivid dream, the sudden and unexpected fall of a cup from a counter, the coincidental meeting, the unexplained “lucky accident”; but one from the Astral took such energy to send, it might manifest as a flare of flame in a fire, the sudden flight of a bird, or a feeling, a mere sense, of possibility.

“You cannot be forced to battle, not yet,” he said, holding a hand out to her, “not before you’re ready. Of course,” he grinned as he circled her, “they’ll try to trick you into it, and they’ll try to turn you.” He feinted and she successfully dodged.

“Who do you mean, ‘they’? What do you mean, ‘turn’?” She almost missed the side kick and blocked just in time.

“The Dark, love. They’ll want you to be one of them—you’ve ability, power, and you’re linked to the Circle, the perfect entrance to destroy it. That…they want more than anything. To devour, to destroy the Light.”

The volley he levied at her was sudden and fast and while she retreated, she held her stance and blocked effectively. “I would never do something like that,” she said, horrified at the thought that anything of that nature existed.

She managed it, finally, the first blow that got past his guard.

“Nice,” he told her, admiration evident in his tone. “Maybe you’ll be ready for your weapon sooner,
rather than later.”

*

Dizzy. I felt dizzy and nauseous as I opened my eyes on the floor of the study.
Oh…this…sucks!
I thought as I tried to roll over. One moment, I’d been on the Astral, the next—

“Here.” Cort handed me a glass of milk and a nut-studded brioche. “Shut the systems down.”

At the first sip, I instantly cleared and after a few ravenous bites, I felt human again.

“Did you say a weapon?” I asked with real curiosity. I’d thought this was all head stuff, ethics and intentions, a new way, almost, of reading the environment.

“Yes,” Cort said slowly, “one that will carry,
cut
, as it were, through worlds.” He sighed heavily. “For now, its function is mostly ceremonial, but there have been times…well, not before you’re ready, anyway.”

I laughed at that. Less than three weeks ago I had tried to kill myself, had found myself in the strangest, most familiar place I’d ever known, then had woken back to my body to find that the cuts on my wrist had been overlaid with a brand, an ankh melted into my skin. That had been part of the net, the spell Cort had literally cast to keep me alive, because it was the physical proof of my promise and my choice. That ankh now hung from my neck, above the sword pendant I wore.

“Try me,” I said, now fully revived after eating. “Let’s find out.”

*

It had been almost a week since our discussion about a sword, and had my plans not changed within the first few days of our arrival, I would have already been back home, back in the States, packing for freshman orientation at Princeton University.

Instead, in addition to the new world my uncle carefully and meticulously guided me through, there was the one we actually lived in: Whitkirk, a suburb of Leeds. Everything was strange, from the brick house that seemed older than the country I’d come from, to the way the town was laid out—groups of houses clustered together, their backs facing rolling greens, highways that suddenly became winding roads that ended in small squares, the pub that seemed to be an old factory in the middle of nowhere, then the sudden heavy bustle of Leeds proper as soon as you crossed into it…

I explored the house itself. The entire first floor was split into three parts: the front half was divided between a sitting room and the kitchen—that took up the front quarter, and while the building was old, the amenities in there were not. I only knew that because Uncle Cort had told me, not because I spent any real time in there. The back half, with a ceiling that rose to the second floor, was filled with carefully placed and arranged items of craft, of large sheets of metal pressed together between huge vises, delicately curved gold wires held with the tiniest of clamps, workbenches with weapons and armor covered in flaking dirt and rust, with brushes, oils, and whatever other mysterious tools would be used to examine and reclaim them.

The walls themselves were mostly exposed stone painted over in the palest apple green with furring strips fitted and wedged to their height to support the sturdy wooden shelves built onto them. These too were filled with more artifacts and weapons in various states of construction or recovery.

My uncle’s work had obviously backlogged while he was in the States, taking care of me.

There was a small, perhaps six foot by six foot black iron oven that sat in the back corner, mounded over the top and sides with brick. I never saw it fired up, but Uncle Cort said he had a bigger one in his shop in town and preferred to use that.

When I wasn’t watching him and the focused attention he spent on each ancient piece he rescued and carefully restored, I mostly spent time in the study, which took up the entire second floor—books lined every wall except for the one that held the fireplace, and I had a favorite spot, almost a corner really, where the sun would pop in and spend the day over my head. Occasionally, I’d walk up the stairs from the third floor, where all the bedrooms—including mine—were, to exit onto the flat roof and smoke the occasional cigarette while gazing around, either over the town or just up into the sky, watching the clouds or the stars.

Mostly, though, I played my guitar—or, rather, guitars, one acoustic the other electric, but this was an exercise largely in skill maintenance rather than joy; it reminded me of things and people I didn’t want to think about—or read any of what seemed like a thousand texts on history, lore, religion. I had
On A History of Symbols
in my hands when Uncle Cort found me in the study.

“You know…there’s a bit of work I’ve got at the shop in town that I need to get to so I thought, well, I’d like you to work with a tutor during the day while I’m out,” he said, wasting no time when he walked into the room.

I stared at him in surprise as he set down the small box he’d carried under his arm. “Is this the very nice, polite, British way of telling me I need a babysitter?” I asked and gestured with my arm, revealing the healing lines and brand.

“If I thought you needed that, you’d have a nurse and wouldn’t need a scholar, now would you?” he asked dryly.

“I suppose,” I agreed reluctantly.

He took a slow and heavy breath. “Annie, can you tell me exactly what went through your head that day?” He studied me carefully as he waited for my answer.

I tried to remember well enough to answer honestly,

“After the…after the phone call,” I began, then hesitated. I was unprepared for the rush of pure hurt that raced through me as the preceding events played through my mind.

“After that,” he prompted softly, “what happened?”

Anger, disbelief, sorrow, rage had all flowed through me before they turned into something…cold…a disconnect…a chill with a voice that made me want to argue with God, Fate, whatever it was that had ordered my life in this way.

BOOK: American Goth
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