She Dies at the End (November Snow #1) (3 page)

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
2.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

  The girl’s voice took on a strangely sonorous quality as she said, “Listen carefully to me, November.  This never happened.  You’ve never met William, Zinnia, or Ben.  There’s no such thing as vampires or fairies or werewolves.”

November burst out laughing, giddy from the adrenaline and the strangeness of it all, covering her mouth and raising a quizzical eyebrow.  “I’m sorry, does that usually work?”

William swore.  “Yes, usually.  And now we’ve violated the Precepts.  Terrific.”

“Precepts?” November asked.

“We have laws, November, and one of the most important ones is to prevent the human race from learning that supernatural creatures exist,” explained the fairy.  “So we enthrall humans to erase the memories of those on whom we feed and others who discover our existence.  It seems, however, that you are immune.”

“How old are you?” William demanded.

“I’ll be eighteen on the first of November,” the girl replied.  “Why?” she asked.  

“Damn it.  You’re too young to turn for three years yet,” William muttered.  “The Reforms are such a nuisance sometimes.  Sometimes I really wonder why I wrote them.  What am I supposed to do with you?”

“We could kill her,” said Ben.  “Problem solved.  I’m hungry again.”  He leered at her.  November looked right at him, showing no fear.  She supposed she should be more alarmed.  Honestly, though, he was more irritating than scary.  Maybe that’s why he was acting like such a jerk: overcompensation. 

“Stop it, youngling,” William growled.  “Magic humans don’t grow on trees.  We’re not wasting her blood on you.  Perhaps we can make a good case for an exception, since she’s so valuable.”  He turned to November to add, “Please excuse him.  He is a toddler who hasn’t yet learned any manners.”  The blond youth glowered.

“No offense taken,” she carefully replied.  “I’m not going to tell anyone about you,” November tried to assure them.  “And who would believe me if I did?” 

“You would have been smarter to lie, to pretend you didn’t see what we were, to pretend that you’re a fraud, a con artist.”  William looked at her, almost regretfully.  “Now you’re stuck with us.  You’ll have to become part of our world.  Your fate is sealed.”

November's smile was a touch wistful.  “Oh, not to worry, Mr. Knox.  My fate was sealed quite some time ago.  I could only have perhaps delayed the inevitable.  Here, I’ll show you.”  She pulled one of the binders out of the battered army surplus trunk that contained her few prized possessions.  She’d never shown these drawings to anyone except her grandmother.  “Now, you must excuse the quality of the early ones.  I was only this many when I started drawing you,” she explained, holding up three fingers.

The three creatures gathered around her record, flipping through the drawings November had made of her visions.  Her habit was to draw all sightings that disturbed her.  It helped her process her emotions and put them out of her mind.  She kept the ones that seemed important and destroyed the rest.  This binder was labeled “My End.”

The early drawings were stick figures in crayon, sometimes labeled with misspelled words: "blu ladee, ded body, shovl."  They grew more detailed later.  Some showed the whole scene, others the faces in detail.  On some she’d jotted the spoken words she could make out, or pictures of the flowers.  There was a tenderness in the later drawings, almost like affection.  These specters that once had frightened her into madness had gradually become old friends, like any frequent visitor is apt to do.  “This is the only vision I’ve ever had about my own personal future.  I know nothing else about my fate.  I’ve tried to look, but it’s all fog and smoke.” She paused.  “I assume you know the others in the scene?” she asked as the visitors flipped through her work, stunned into silence.

“Yes,” the man in charge finally answered.  “The vampire who made me is the one you call the businessman.  The Indian woman is my sister Savita, made by the same vampire.”  He closed the book and inquired, “May I take this with me?  I will return it.”

November hesitated.  It felt like giving away a part of herself.  Then she relented, realizing that she didn’t really need it anymore.  “Sure,” she said.  “Please don’t let anyone normal see it.  I don’t want to end up back in the madhouse.”

“Do not worry about that.  I am not in the habit of consulting humans,” he said with a small smile.  “You seem awfully calm about all this.  Human beings are not usually so sanguine about their own deaths.  Nor are vampires or fairies for that matter.”

“It’s kind of a relief, honestly, that you’ve finally appeared.  I’ve spent my life waiting for the ax to fall,” she confided.  “I stopped being afraid of dying some time ago.  I know that's insane, but the world beyond is better than this one, based on what I’ve seen of both.”

Her guest stood up.  “Based on these drawings, you’re going to be stuck in this world even after you die, poor child.”  He studied her for a moment.  “We will be back for you.  I must make arrangements.  Do not run,” he admonished her.  “We would surely find you, and as much fun as it would be to hunt you, I really don’t have the time to waste.  Besides, if you eluded us, you could well find yourself in the hands of someone worse.  Diamonds don’t stay hidden forever. When does your little band leave town?” asked the vampire, standing up to depart.

“Day after tomorrow, at dawn,” November answered truthfully.  She had no intention of trying to evade them, knowing that it would be futile.  “Are you going to bite me?” she asked with some trepidation.

“Almost certainly,” William answered with a grin, “but not right now.  I wish we had more time to prepare, but we will have to make do.  We shall see you tomorrow night, November.  Stay out of trouble.” 

“Wait,” she cried.  “I have more questions!” And in the blink of an eye, they were gone, silently and invisibly, and she was left alone once again, with only her visions for company.

Chapter 3

November stumbled through the rest of the evening on auto-pilot, tremendously grateful when the last patron made his exit.  It didn’t seem real; it simply didn’t seem possible that she’d just met two vampires and a fairy, a dream come to life.  She wondered briefly if she was losing her mind again but quickly dismissed the notion.  In fact, she was strangely calm.   The shaking and crying would come later, when she lay down to sleep and found her mind abuzz with questions and fears and strange images from William Knox’s too long life. 

November realized she was ravenous, changed clothes quickly, turned in her cash box, and headed down to the communal supper they held together late each night.  As usual, she brought a book with her, but she found herself looking around the table rather than burying her head in its pages.  There were a few faces she’d miss: Neil, of course, and sweet Mrs. Kravitz who had made her a birthday cake the year before.  The workers chatted loudly, blowing off steam after a long day.   She kept accidentally catching Mike’s eye; he would then quickly look away.  That was odd.  The carnival owner usually avoided even glancing at her, unless her mother’s behavior made it unavoidable; November had the impression he was a little afraid of her.  Her mother was picking at her food with shaking hands.  November knew better than to get anywhere near her when she looked that desperate for a fix.

None of them knew anything of the revelations that had taken place that evening in November’s tattered tent.  None of them were aware that the world they inhabited wasn’t theirs alone.  November couldn’t imagine what their reaction would be to the idea that there were magical creatures among them, wandering the world with their own plans and their own laws.  She wondered what her own reactions would be to what was sure to be a stream of disturbing revelations to come.  Tomorrow, the troupe would pack everything up to move on to the next town, and for the first time in years, November wouldn’t be going with them.  She wondered how long it would take them to notice she was gone.  She wondered if they’d look for her.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted them to or not.

As soon as she crawled into the warmth and safety of her sleeping bag, her usual stoicism fell away, and she began crying out the shock that she’d had to keep bottled up all evening.  She held tight to her grandmother’s rosary as she confronted her fear of being taken away into the unknown, into a world she knew nothing about, into the hands of ancient and dangerous predators who would somehow lead her to an early grave.  Would she be miserable?  Would they be cruel to her?  She thought not, based on the little information in her vision, but how could she be sure?  Would her mother be able to manage without her?  What would become of that broken woman? 

After November had wrung out all her fear and trepidation, she fell into an exhausted sleep, watching William Knox forge weapons and shoe horses and bite people until the sun rose.  Her dreams that night were vivid but not horrifying or terribly violent, to her great relief.  She’d feared the scenes of war and murder she’d caught glimpses of during the reading would return in force, but she had been spared more of that for the moment. 

The next day, working all day and then striking and packing kept her occupied enough that she didn’t have too much time to think.  She filled her small suitcase and trunk and kept them aside along with her sleeping bag, not knowing whether or not she’d need them in her new life.  Once her own tent was packed up, she wandered around the camp offering a hand to those who needed some help with their gear.  After years in this nomadic life, November was stronger than she looked, wiry and hard beneath her worn clothes.

As she walked and worked, she caught snippets of conversations from the previous night.  Normally she would ignore such clutter, but there came a moment when she thought she could hear William Knox’s voice.  November had assumed that the mysterious trio had left the carnival directly after they had high-tailed it out of her tent.  It appeared she had been mistaken. 

She began to listen more deliberately: it seemed that her new friends had been asking around, gathering information about her: “Frigid little witch, that one . . . Nice girl.  Too bad about her mom . . . Nose in a book all the time . . . I hear she spent time in a hospital . . . Works hard, never causes trouble . . . Did you see what her mother did to her arm?”  She spied Ben talking up the girl who ran the cotton candy stand, her hair dyed the same pink as her wares.  She saw Zinnia deep in conversation with Neil, and she caught a glimpse of William having a quiet talk with Mike, but she couldn’t make out more than a few words. 
What was that all about?

As the night wore on and she had no more work to keep her busy, November grew ever more anxious.  Everyone else gathered to eat and celebrate the successful run.  November hung back.  Her appetite had left her; she was increasingly nervous, and she didn’t think she could manage acting normal in front of the others while they feasted.

She wondered how long she would have to wait.  Maybe the vampires would change their minds and leave her alone?  She knew in her heart that this was highly unlikely.  Would she have a chance to say goodbye to her mother?  Did she even want to?  What would she say?  She didn’t imagine the woman would be happy to lose a source of income.  November turned to the always helpful coping mechanism of indulging her nerdiness and sat reading on her trunk for the next hour, waiting for the hangman.

“You didn’t run.  I’m a little disappointed,” Ben whispered in her ear with no warning whatsoever.

“Jesus!” cried November, jumping up and away from him.  “What is it with you guys and the sneaking up on people?”  She was thoroughly creeped out.

“Sorry,” he replied with a grin that said he wasn't.  “It’s kind of our whole bag.”

“You seem to be in a much better mood today,” November said grudgingly as she willed herself to calm down. 
Stop shaking
, she told herself sternly.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he allowed.  “Baby vampires get cranky when they’re hungry.”  He shrugged. 

“So you’re not hungry now, then?” she asked hesitatingly, keeping a wary distance.

“Nope.  You can thank the young ladies of Laney College for that.  I ate before we left Oakland.”  He looked awfully pleased with himself.

November wondered if these college students had survived being Ben’s dinner.

Ben must have caught her expression, as he added, “Relax.  I didn’t kill them or anything.  We don’t kill every time we eat.  It’s wasteful, and what would we do with all the bodies?  We try to avoid killing warmbloods, actually.”

“Good to know,” November said, a bit awkwardly.  “So, now what?”

“Come with me,” Ben replied mysteriously.  “There’s something Lord William wants you to see.”

William?” she asked incredulously, both eyebrows and arms akimbo.

“I know; it’s ridiculous.  Vampires have a rather antiquated governmental structure.  They’re crazy old fashioned,” Ben explained as they walked.  “It takes some serious getting used to.”

Ben stopped her as they came up behind Julia’s trailer.  November’s stomach filled with butterflies when she saw William Knox deep in conversation with her mother, their backs turned to the young eavesdroppers.  Ben and November stood in the shadow of a tree, close enough to hear their conversation without being noticed by Mrs. Snow.  November listened closely, fighting a feeling of foreboding.  Was the vampire going to harm her mother?  To enthrall her into not calling the police once her daughter disappeared? 

“I’ll give you five hundred dollars for her,” William coldly proposed.  Julia was twitching, unable to keep still.  Her dealer had raised his prices, and she was in a really bad way.  November’s eyes widened in horror.  She pressed her lips together to keep herself silent.  She knew at once how this was going to go, but she refused to believe it.

“She’s my daughter,” Julia protested unconvincingly.  “What kind of monster do you think I am?”

“Don’t insult me by pretending you care enough about her to refuse,” William answered.  “Do you have a counteroffer?”

Julia hesitated, but only for a moment, such a painfully short moment.  “A thousand.  And the watch.”  She pointed at William’s Rolex.

November had to lean on the tree to keep from falling to the ground.  She knew she had a bad mother, but this betrayal was a knife in her stomach.  Her injured arm began to throb anew.  She pressed her fist against her mouth to keep from sobbing out loud, but she couldn’t stop the tears from pouring down her face.  That Ben was standing there watching her only made it worse, one humiliation on top of another.  She had no desire to have an audience for her agony, especially that cocky man-child.  She tried to hide behind her hair. 
Why do I feel so ashamed when I'm not the one doing something shameful?
  Part of her wanted to confront the woman she could no longer call her mother.  The rest of her wanted to flee, to find a dark hole to climb in and never come out.

“Done,” William replied, counting out the cash and taking off his watch.  “You will leave the carnival and have nothing to do with any of these people ever again.  You know they will turn you in to the police if they see you with this kind of money after your child goes missing.  I told the owner that Child Protective Services was taking her away, and you’d best let them continue to believe that.  Listen carefully: you don’t remember what I look like,” he said, his voice suddenly different as he enthralled her to cover his tracks.  The he swiftly turned and began to walk away.  The former blacksmith turned back to add, “You didn’t even ask me what I want her for.  How do you live with yourself?”  He strode away, shaking his head in disgust.    

  November turned to run, unthinking, just desperate to get away.  Ben stopped her, grabbing her by the shoulders.  “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was what he wanted you to see.”  His face and voice were earnest.

She looked at him for a moment, silent and uncomprehending. Then she let Ben take her by her gloved hand and lead her away.  She was too dazed to argue.  They found Knox standing by her meager pile of belongings.  When she saw him, her pain turned to anger. 

“Why did you make me see that?” she cried.  “What did I do to make you want to hurt me?”

William turned to face her rage.  “It was not my desire to cause you pain, child, but I needed you to see the truth.  I need you to understand that there is no coming back to this place for you.  You will be homesick in the coming days; you will grieve for the life you left behind.  You will miss your mother, God knows why.  But you will.  You will think of running away. That is normal for someone entering our world.  Such dramatic change is bound be difficult.  But you need to understand that there is nothing here for you.  There is no home for you here.  That woman isn’t worthy of you.  You owe her nothing.  She doesn’t deserve your worry or your love.”

William paused.  “I also needed to be sure she wouldn’t go to the police after you disappeared,” he admitted.  “You have every right to be angry with me.  I hope that in time you’ll forgive me and come to understand my reasons.  I hope you’ll be able to turn your anger to your mother who deserves it, and that in time you’ll let go of that burden and make a clean break with your human life.  And I assure you that we will take better care of you than she ever has.  Now, we must go.” 

"You're a monster," she spat.

"Sometimes."  He reached for her hand.  “Come.”

November refused to let him touch her, but she walked with them, silent and calm, too numb to fight or to feel much of anything.  She let William help her into the back seat of a black sedan, not even registering the swanky brand and the leather seats.  She took the handkerchief he offered and wiped her face of tears.  Ben took the wheel, and Zinnia turned from the front passenger side to give her a sympathetic look.

“That must have been awful.  I could feel it all the way from here.  I'm sorry.”  The fairy reached for her hand to give it a squeeze.  November let her.  Zinnia looked at the bandage peeking out of November’s sleeve.  “Hey, would it be okay if I healed your arm in the morning?  So it doesn’t scar?”  She glanced at both November and William for approval.

“Good idea, Zin,” William replied.  “And Ben, we’ll need to stop at the ranch on the way.  I haven’t fed in days.”

“Livermore it is, boss,” Ben said with a grin as he pulled out of the dusty parking lot.  “I can always use a snack.”

“Just roll up your sleeve so I can see it, November.  If it’s really bad, we’ll have to ask someone else to take care of it.  Healing isn’t my best gift.” 

Zinnia winced as the wounds came into view, three burns across her forearm about an inch wide and an inch apart.  For an instant, November could see fury fill William’s eyes as he looked at the swollen welts.  In that moment, she softened a bit toward him.  His anger at her suffering seemed genuine.

“What happened?” Zinnia asked in a near whisper.

November was reluctant to answer at first, but seeing the concern in Zinnia’s eyes gave her the courage to come out with it. 
What the hell?  Let's give having friends a try.
  “She thought I was hiding money.  She needed it for drugs, and she wanted me to tell her where I was keeping it.  I had the curling iron out.  My hair had dried funny, and I was trying to get ready for the customers that afternoon.”  November hesitated.  “So, when I wouldn’t tell her where it was, she just picked it up and . . . It was impulsive.  She didn't plan it or anything.  She's not as bad as that.  She just . . .” November trailed off, unable to say the words.

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
2.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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