High Voltage

Page 32

I remember thinking, God, can’t they see her in my eyes? She’s Judgment. She’s Death. I’ve seen her in the mirror since.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have multiple personalities. I learned dissociation to deal with the hunger and pain. The Other was a cooler, numb version of me. But Jada is the Other on steroids. Dani is my foundation, Jada is my fortress. Danielle was my mom’s daughter. Jada, the daughter of Morrigan, goddess of war, a mother worth having.

Danielle is the one who died.

I kept the pure heart. I kept the savage.

It was the little girl who loved Emma O’Malley that quit breathing.

The moment I was clear of the cage I kicked up, flashed into freeze-frame and ripped out their hearts, one after the next, squeezing each between my fingers until they exploded, dripping blood all over myself, all over the floor.

Then, quietly, in my threadbare, bloodstained nightgown, I walked to the kitchen, washed my hands, and ate an entire loaf of stale bread.

She hadn’t been home in three days.

I wasn’t afraid of her anymore.

I was no longer afraid of anything.

I took a long hot shower, God, the bliss, the ecstasy of a shower and soap!

God, the bliss of merely standing upright.

I dressed in my too short, too small jeans I’d outgrown last year, a faded, holey tee-shirt, and filched one of my mom’s jackets.

Then I ate every can of beans in the pantry, all three. Then I turned to the half-soured contents of the fridge.

When there was nothing left to eat, I sat at the kitchen table, folded my small hands and waited.

He came first.

The man that was supposed to pay her. He didn’t bring money. She sold me for drugs.

I killed him, too, and took them.

She came shortly after.

Saw the open cage, the dead men in the living room.

My memories of that night are crystal clear.

It was three days to Christmas, the telly was showing an old black and white version of It’s a Wonderful Life. The volume was low, the strains of “Buffalo Girls” faint but unmistakable as George Bailey flirted with Mary Hatch beneath a starry sky in a world where people lassoed the moon for each other.

She saw me sitting motionless at the table and stood in the doorway a long moment.

She didn’t try to run.

Eventually she joined me at the stained, peeling yellow Formica table trimmed with aluminum, sitting across from me in an orange melamine chair, and we looked at each other for a very long time, neither of us saying a word.

Sometimes there’s nothing to say.

Only things to do.

I removed the Baggie from my pocket.

She gave me her lighter and spoon.

I learned almost everything I know about life from TV. I watched things kids shouldn’t see.

Taking subtle cues from her eyes, a shake of her head, a nod, with eight-year-old fingers and an ancient heart I cooked my mother’s last fix and gave her the needle.

Watched her tourniquet her arm and tap the vein. Saw the tracks, the gauntness of her limbs, the flaccid skin, the emptiness in her eyes.

She cried then.

Not ugly, just eyes welling with tears. The emptiness went away for the briefest of moments.

She knew.

She knew whatever was in that needle would be her last.

If I’d understood more about heroin and fentanyl, I’d have made sure there was enough heroin in the needle to make the dying beautiful, but those sons of bitches must have brought pure fentanyl.

She closed her eyes a long moment, then opened them and poised the needle above her vein.

She spoke then, the only words she said to me, achingly slow and achingly tender. “Oh…my beautiful…beautiful little girl.”

The needle pierced her skin, the poison hit her vein.

She died ugly, seizing, puking blood.

Died with her face in a pool of crimson vomit on an aged, cracking table, in her own shit on a cheap chair.

I sat at the table for a long time before I got up and disposed of the bodies.

Lady in red


Not actually bloody. Although I briefly considered it.

Shazam hadn’t responded to any of my endless inveiglements all afternoon, or I’d have asked his advice, figuring it was fifty-fifty I’d get a brilliant answer versus a wildly emotional one. Pretty much the same spectrum of answers I was getting from myself.

As I turned away from the mirror, I tried one more time. “Shazam, I see you, Yi-yi. Please come down from wherever you are. I’m worried about you,” I told the air. “You’re the most important thing to me in the world. You’re my everything. If something’s bothering you, we can fix it together. If you want a mate, by God, we’ll go scour worlds and find you one. Please, please, just let me know you’re okay?”

Nothing. No bodiless smile, hiss, or growl, no faint rumbling assurance he still lived and breathed. Same damned silence I’d gotten all afternoon.

“Okay, this isn’t fair,” I said, fisting my hands at my waist and glaring up. “How would you feel if you couldn’t find me and were worried sick? How would you feel if you were aching for pets or brushes and I refused to answer you, or even pay you one tiny bit of attention? If your fur hurt from lack of love and kisses? If I just completely abandoned you and let your heart break all the time until you felt like you might just wither up and—”

“O-KAY!” My Hel-Cat exploded from the air above me and slammed to the closet floor on padded paws, fur spiked, back arched, hissing. “I’m here! All right?”

I dropped to my knees and held out my arms. “Shaz, baby, what’s going on? What’s wrong? Why are you avoiding me?”

He plopped back on his haunches and splayed his paws around his shaggy belly. “I’m just getting used to it!” he snarled.

“Used to what?” I asked, mystified.

“You leaving me! Alone again. You will. Everyone leaves!”

I frowned. Where had this fear come from? What had I done to make him think I might leave him? Since the day I’d met him, he’d always liked great chunks of alone-time and, although prone to vibrant, nearly paranoid emotion at times, had never voiced such a concern. To the contrary, he’d seemed to be growing more secure, happy, with our home and relationship. Until this recent Pallas cat incident. “You know better than that. You and me, we’re family, Shaz. Family is forever.”

“Nuh-uh,” he said truculently and tears started to flow. “On this planet,” he sniffed, “families hardly ever last. They die or leave for someone else.”

“Other people’s families maybe. Not us. We’re different and you know that. Have I ever given you any reason to doubt my love for you? My eternal commitment?”

He wailed, “But it’s NOT eternal! You’re not. And I am!”

I blinked. I’d never thought about it that way. Was that why he’d become obsessed with finding a mate? Because he’d begun to look ahead to a day I might no longer be here?

Even I couldn’t see that day. I never think about dying. I’m always too busy living. “Is that what this is about? You began thinking one day I’ll die and—”

“STOP!” He clamped tufted paws to his ears. “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, la, la, la, la,” he droned, tuning me out.

I reached for him, dragging his paws-dug-into-the-carpet-stoically-resisting pudge into my arms and hugged him hard and tight, trying to decide how to address this.

Actually, trying to wrap my own brain around it.

I was mortal. He wasn’t. There it was.

It hit me like a brick in the face. I’d never projected into the future on this topic, so firmly rooted in the present I’d become future-myopic.

Hel-Cats could be killed—although I had no idea what it took and couldn’t fathom it—but excluding deadly violence, Shazam would live forever.

I was mortal and he wasn’t.

Neither was Ryodan.

Or Mac.

Or Barrons.

None of my crew was.

They were all going to live forever and I’d be dead in—given the intensity and velocity at which I lived my life—probably long before a ripe old age.

As a teen I used to say I didn’t want to live long enough to get old and wrinkly and fall apart, but I had two sudden horrid images: me living until I was old and wrinkly and falling apart, hanging out with my ageless, immortal friends who were going to go on forever having epic adventures and saving the world, and me dying tomorrow and leaving Shazam alone.

He’d be lost without me. He’d go off the deep end. Who would take care of him? Who would be able to handle him? Who would love him like I did? Who would understand his quicksilver moods, his consuming depressions, his bombastic nature, his kaleidoscopic emotions?

Dancer, with his fragile heart, had refused the Queen of the Fae’s Elixir of Life that would have healed his compromised organ and bestowed immortality at the eventual price of his soul. He died once, when he was eight, had seen something, believed in something, and hadn’t been willing to sacrifice his immortal soul.

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