They told me not to tell, but I already decided I would do just that. I couldn’t really wake up. I'd been daydreaming all day about how things might have been different had I not messed up all those years ago. I’d been pretending that everything was fake and wondering what it would be like to live in a world where people were just people. It was real…even if I didn't want it to be. Everything was real: people who could use magic, Vampires, Mermaids, Dragons, and Psychics. They weren’t just a legend. The truth was that they were just really sophisticated soldiers called Mysticals. I knew all about them. My dad made them.
The gas station's bathroom lights hummed over busted tiles and moldy floors. I sat on them anyway. I pulled the broken cabinet door open and took the bottles and cans out. I locked the door. There weren’t any stalls. There was just the floor, the toilet, and the chatter in my head.
“Don't,” the spirit’s voice called from behind me.
I threw the can in my hand against the wall. I listened to the clang. It was so loud. It was so real. I could feel it. I could hear it. I could see it…and not just in my head. I had a habit of pouring things out. I'd done it for years even before the accident. It helped me think better. I was one of them. They called me a psychic even though all I could really do was talk to dead people. I couldn’t see the future. It was all kind of crazy. All of it was sort of jacked up. It wasn’t normal. We weren’t supposed to see stuff like that, but I did. At least I didn’t have to live off of blood. Still, it would have been a little nicer to be able to use magic. That’s just not what they picked for me.
“Go away,” I whispered out loud. I usually kept that stuff secret, but I didn’t care that other people could hear me then.
I heard the spirit's feet shuffle over to me even though he wasn’t supposed to be able to walk on the floor. He walked over to the wall and stared down at the busted can that was spilling purple liquid into the gray grout.
“No,” he said, “I don't think it’s a good idea to leave you alone right now.”
I gave a small laugh and twisted the cap off another bottle of cleaner. They had a lot of them there. It was purple and black like death, but it smelled so clean. I tilted it down. The liquid spilled over the floor and into a river. It tried so hard to run away from me, but I could see all of the tiny patterns it made on the floor.
“What could you do to stop me from doing anything, anyway?” I asked. “You're a ghost.”
His image flickered in and out, but he stood still. He just stared away. He was as mesmerized with the trickling chemicals as I was, but even he wasn't as crazy as me. His eyes flashed over to mine, and for a moment, he looked familiar. I didn’t know him, though. He was just another spirit. They floated around me like it was their day job. I guessed there wasn’t much to do when you were dead. Some of them even took a liking to me.
“I can still do a lot of things,” he said, “but I don’t think that this is your best idea.”
I didn’t nod. I just untwisted another bottle cap and stared down into the cleaner. The liquid swirled inside. It was gold like a sunrise, but it smelled like bleached metal. It smelled like the counters. It smelled like the knives.
“Yeah,” I said and slid the bottle across the floor. “Do what you want. I’m calling things out today regardless.”
He pushed a translucent hand through his hair and let out a frustrated sigh. He never moved much. He looked human. He stood like a human. He sounded human, and I didn’t even know his name. I made it a point to never ask. They weren’t real people.
“Go home, Makenna,” he said, “please. You’re going to get a lot of people killed.”
“Makenna,” Lilly’s voice called from the other side of the door, “are you okay in there?”
I sucked in a breath and coughed. Lilly was real. She was flesh and bone and lived off of shopping and dark eye shadows. Maybe the tiny rivers of cleaning fluid peeking out from under the door would clue her in. I wasn’t going to. No, I wasn't okay. Go home. Yeah, I guessed I could do that. I should have probably grabbed a few towels and mopped the stuff up. I could have flushed the toilet and just said that I dropped it all. I could have pretended to be normal, but I wasn’t going to. I was never normal on May 19th.
“I don’t want to go home,” I whispered to the spirit.
“Oh,” Lilly called through the crack, “okay. I’ll just look for a few things. Take your time.”
“You need to go home,” the tall ghost slid to the bathroom floor in front of me.
Tears slid down my cheeks. Go home. Yeah, it was definitely home. I was living with Mom and Alice's ghosts, my always-gone older brother, a broken T.V., and roaches swimming in left-over spaghetti. Still, it wasn’t so bad. I had socks and microwavable mac n' cheese. We used to get bill money on the fourth of each month. I had music. At least they never asked me too many things. They never bothered me when I turned all the mirrors in the house around. Ghosts were cool like that. They were just happy to still see you, but they weren’t as good as the originals. They were just reminders.
“Yeah,” I said, “guess I’ll go home first. I want to tell them bye before I do this.”
The spirit hovered over the colored lake I'd made on the floor. I stood back up. I pressed the gritty, silver handle down on the toilet and unlatched the door. My yellow shoes dipped down into the puddles as I walked out and down the aisles of motor oil and candy bars. Water trailed behind me like blood.
“Kind of worried about you, girl,” Lilly said with a half-smile. We walked out of the store and past the ding of a bell. The store clerk was still yelling over us not buying anything.
I shrugged and let the wind hit my face. What was there to worry about? We were Mysticals. We had a death sentence on our heads anyway. I wasn’t the one going around killing Mysticals. Ratting out our location wasn’t the same as murder. It wasn’t like it really mattered, anyway. If you were lucky, you got to live life, barely pay your bills, and die. They’d put you in a tiny box and toss you in the ground…whether you were a Mystical or not. Still, people scared easily—especially people like Lilly.
“Sorry,” I smiled. “I’m just a little stressed.”
She winced and slung her purse over her shoulder. She had the misfortune of walking home from school with me every day. We lived in the same district. We lived on the same street. We were both stuck there on planet Earth next to each other…whether we liked it or not.
“You’re cool,” she said and lit the cigarette she’d slid out of her bag. Her cigarettes were one of the other things that made her normal. No matter how pretty she looked, she always stunk like smoke and ashes. “When’s your brother coming home?”
I bit my lip and watched the sun set as we walked. Lilly had the hots for Tristan. She was a regular human girl, and it was kind of her thing. It was the only reason she ever even hung around. She worshiped his every move, and he had no idea she even existed. He was too busy being a vampire. He was too busy farming D.N.A. and deleting criminals for the League. Somebody had to do it. If I had anything, though, it was because of Tristan. He was always gone, but he always came home with food from somewhere…even if he was actually starting to like blood. I didn't really know where he went every day, and I just never asked.
“Not a clue,” I said.
We passed the little Italian restaurant on the corner and some other run-down places. Twenty or so minutes later, we turned onto our street. Lilly threw a hand up and went her way. I went mine. There were only a few hours left. The drive way was empty…like it always was. The porch was damp from the rain, and the windows hung beneath dripping ivy. If anyone else lived there, it might have been pretty.
“Home,” I called out as I stepped inside and left the random tag-along spirit on the street corner.
Alice’s ghost flopped down on the couch beside me and said, “What's up, kiddo?”
Part of me wanted to groan; the other part wanted to hit something. I sighed and flipped past the sappy soap operas and corny reality shows with just a little guilt. I should have been hurrying. Light shimmered off my ring, and I sunk further into the sofa. The ring was purple. It was the kind of purple the sky was at eight o'clock or the purple that used to be beneath my mother's eyes at ten. I twisted it on my finger gingerly. It'd become a habit. Some days were hard, and some days you didn't feel like talking to your bubble-infused sister. Her perfectly frosted toenails and blond hair always gleamed the right way. She always wore that skin-tight white shirt and dark jeans. That overly-dressy jade necklace was always around her delicate neck, and her make-up was always flawless. She was gorgeous, but she wasn’t real. She never looked messy. She never had her hair in a sweaty, sloppy ponytail like she did when she was alive.
“Go away,” I mumbled.
“Jerk,” she laughed. “What flew up your nose?”
I shrugged. Alice knew when I was aggravated, upset, or anything really. She was pesky like that in both life and death.
“A bug,” I said and punched the remote until it surrendered.
Alice slid her dainty feet beneath her legs and popped open a see-through pack of “cream cheese and chives” crackers.
“Yeah, a bug named Damon.”
I could feel my lips purse, and rather than say something stupid, I just sat there. I stared at the cars flashing across the screen. Prices polluted the commercial like ants, and ants were pesky, too. I flipped to channel thirty-six where they played the ghost shows. At least that was a little more interesting than cars to me. It wasn't Damon I was worried about at all. Dad was gone. He left me there with Tristan. To make matters worse, someone started hunting Mysticals. They called him Rain. Whoever he was, Rain knew enough about us to murder us. I learned to stop asking too many questions at the ripe-old age of six, but that was different. I needed to know if dad was okay. It was my fault he left.
“They don't stay here much, you know,” Alice interrupted.
“Who?” I asked.
“Ghosts,” she said and chewed on the cracker she'd pulled out. “They only stay if they're allowed to stay. Most of them just go. They don't stay around much.”
“I guess,” I said.
I pushed up from the couch and ghost shows. She didn't have anything to worry about. All of that stuff was dusty and gone. She was practically engaged to Alec when she died. That was seven years ago. She’d been dead longer than mom. Mom still looked wrong to me. I could look at Alice’s ghost, but I couldn’t look at mom’s.
The hallway was dark, and the pictures of our broken family hung on the wall like tombstones scattered out of place. Snapshots of happier times littered the dusty, thin frames my mom once leeched from the dollar store. My father's face stared out at me with placid green eyes and a fixed smile…all slapped on the backdrop of a lake. I wouldn't know which one. Alice was with him that day.
He was always with them. Any more “happy family” and I would puke. I flipped the light switch in my room and watched as the minty, green walls came into sight. I shut the door and hoped it wasn't too loud. Sometimes, you just had to be alone. Alice knew that. After all, she was perfect. They wanted you to think everything was normal, and they did a pretty good job of convincing people, too.
“Today should be burned,” I mumbled and flopped onto my messed up bed. I knew what I was going to do. Dad wanted to pretend that he was good at keeping secrets, but he wasn’t when it came to keeping them from me. I knew he had a box downstairs behind lock and key. I knew what was inside the box, and I was going to need more of it. The serum I took for my last job was wearing off fast. You could only be a Mystical for so long before the stuff wore off, and I didn’t want to be human when they came. They would swoop in on me, and I'd finally figure out where dad was. There was no way in hell I was going to sit alone in an empty house while people were being murdered, and dad was gone. Screw them and screw May 19th.
I picked up my bag and headed back out into the hallway. I slipped passed the ghosts and pictures. I finally made it to the right door. I punched in the first code: 3128**. I flipped the light switch and took the carpeted stairs two at a time until my feet hit the cement floor. I turned the three corners, took the key from the top left desk drawer, and pulled the metal box out of the cabinet. I studied the silver, rotary numbers on the front of it. That was the code dad thought I didn't know, but dad was so easy to predict.
My fingers started rolling the key pad up and down. Seven. Zero. Two. Eight. Four. Snap. Alice’s birthday. It was that easy. He should have at least made it something harder to guess. It was practically his fault that I was able to get into the box, anyway. There it was: the green bottle that I'd seen dad use a hundred times. It was everything. It was our emergency ration of Angel Serum. It was what made Mysticals: that liquid, D.N.A., and saline. Toss it all into a shot, give it to a human being, and you've instantly got a Mystical fit to turn the tide in even the hardest of human wars.
“Damn,” I whispered and shut the box back with trembling fingers. “Why does this feel so wrong?”
“Because it is,” Tristan’s voice echoed from the top of the stairs.
I let out my breath and cursed again. Screw Vampires, too. They were almost unfair. He could hear everything and pin-point someone’s blood from miles away. They were, unfortunately, the strongest of the bunch, too. They were the Mysticals chosen to delete our criminals. They sucked the blood and the serum right out of anyone who did something bad. They called it being “Deleted”. It was the Mystical equivalent of Death Row, and my brother was an executioner.
“I’m doing this, Tristan,” I barked anyway.
“No you're not,” he said and pulled a cigarette from his pocket as he stood beside me.
“So, you don't care if dad’s gone?”
He shrugged and said, “That’s his choice. He’s a grown man, Makenna, and you’re not a kid anymore. Get used to it. Learn to be a little more responsible.”
“I’m going to find him. That’s how I’m being responsible,” I spat. “Don’t you see that? You think it doesn’t bother me? You know what, never mind. I don't care what you think. Leave me alone. Go drink some blood or something. You’re cranky.”
“You’re spoiled,” he said. “Besides, I drank today anyway so save it.”
He pulled the box out of my hands and tucked it under his free arm. His eyes stared over me like half-moons for a minute. He shook his head and locked the box back into the filing cabinet.
I crossed my arms over my chest and looked away from him. He didn't get it. He didn't have to live there with daily reminders that mom and Alice were dead and gone. He got to get out of the house. I got to go to Westmore High and pretend everything in English Literature and Algebra actually mattered.
“Fine,” I said back.
“Try it again, and I’m locking you in your room until you’re twenty-five,” he said as he went back up the stairs. “Though, I’d love to get rid of you. What a little pest.”
I listened to the silence refill the basement for a minute and pulled out dad's old work chair. I fell into it and slammed my head on top of the desk.
“Stupid bastard took the key,” I mumbled.
“Heard that,” Tristan called from upstairs.
“Good,” I shot back.
“Watch your mouth.”
I slid the top drawer open and pulled out dad's journal. He didn’t write about Mysticals. He never wrote about work, but he did keep pages here and there about his kids. He’d tucked Alice’s baby picture between pages seventeen and eighteen. I flipped open to it. She was really gone.
“Dad,” I whispered his name and threw the book across the room.
The book landed in the corner with pages sticking out in every direction like splinters. It’d been years since that day, and all the book did was remind me that he was once there. We were a real family once. I wasn’t brave enough to fight my own brother let alone infiltrate the League.
I’d pushed out from the desk and started up the stairs before the guilt hit. I groaned and went back down to pick up the book. I stooped over it and scooped it into my hands. I began tucking the pages back into the journal with my fingers—until I saw that one page.
The page was smooth. It laid on the desk where I’d put it, and the ink almost seemed to breath. On the surface, it looked like a sappy writing about flowers, but it'd been coated with magic ink. Being able to see spirits meant that you could also see energy. That was all it took for me.
My hands cupped my mouth, and I stared at it. My sides began to sweat, and my face turned red. That was it. That was my way out of everything. It was my “Plan B”. He had it right under our noses that whole time. It wasn’t even locked up.
“This,” I whispered but shut my mouth before I said the rest.
I folded the paper with shaking hands. I started to stuff it into my bag before deciding it’d be better hidden in my bra. I had to hurry. I needed to get out fast.
The stairs flew underneath me. Tristan was in the kitchen unknowingly cooking next to mom's ghost. Maybe, the pots and pans would be enough for him not to hear me. It would at least give me a head start.
I twisted the knob on our front door, slid out onto the porch, and twisted the knob again so that it would shut without making noise. The moon watched me from behind the trees, and I ran as fast as I could.
I was running out of time. The fifteenth floor of the Sapphire building in downtown was three-hundred times prettier than where we stayed. It shouldn’t have been that nice. Dad used to take us here when he worked late nights…on Thursday’s to see Icarus. He was one of dad's co-workers noted for his passionate breaking of League rules, but he was dad's friend. He was also one hell of a soldier. I had to see him.
“Hello, gorgeous!” he gestured as I stepped through his apartment door. “My wind to the cherry blossoms, I have not seen you since you were a budding flower.”
I smiled and hurried over to the red chair in the living room. No one ever said he wasn’t weird. Still, he loved my dad and had a soft spot for his kids even if he didn’t openly admit it.
“I need your help, Icarus,” I said.
The smile cooled his face, and he started to look a little more serious. He pulled up on his shimmering robe and sat down across from me. Magic users were tricky. It didn’t look like he had any serum in him, though.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” he asked.
I glanced around at the thick carpet and red-striped rug. Pictures of a little boy with gold hair decorated his mantle in delicate, black frames. He was so easy to talk to, but there was no guarantee he’d help me. Still, I had to try. He’d definitely help me more than Tristan ever would. That little boy was his nephew, and he was missing. Icarus knew how I felt. He’d lost people, too. I'd pestered him every day after dad left, but even Icarus didn't know where my dad went. I was going to find out.
“I’m going to find dad,” I said carefully.
Icarus wrinkled his eyebrows a little and picked up a glass of wine from his coffee table. He swirled the liquid around before taking a sip, and I could tell he was thinking things through. Icarus was a Mystical, too, but he was just as crafty when he was human.
“And what is it you want me to do?” he said as he lowered the shiny glass down to his crossed legs. He looked so normal when the serum was out of his system. It only lasted so long. It only lasted long enough to do the job, and then, it had to be injected again. He didn't have any serum in him then. He just looked old and a little scary.
I rubbed my elbow and tried not to meet his eyes. I was a terrible liar, but if I could get Icarus to send out what was on that paper somehow, then the League wouldn’t have a choice but to arrest me. It was a better plan. It was a faster plan, but I’d have to lay it on thick.
“I want you to help me post some of dad’s writing. It’s nothing important, really. It's a story he wrote about a garden he was keeping, but I’m sure if I can get it out there, he’ll recognize it. Maybe then, he’ll come back home. I know it seems silly, but you know how this day makes me a little nuts. This will at least help me feel better,” I said with downcast eyes and a bitten lip for just a little extra sympathy.
Icarus took another sip as he considered my case, and all I could do was hope he didn’t know that I was lying through my teeth. After a minute, he sat his perfect glass back on the table. He made up his mind.
“Alright,” he said, “give it here, and I’ll post it to the channels from my account.”
“No!” I yelped. “No, I mean, I want to create my own account. The writing is at home, anyway. Dad never got the chance to register me like he did Tristan and Alice. I kind of want to have my own name on it so that he can see it’s from me.”
Icarus nodded, “Okay. Let’s set you up an account.”
I smiled as we stood back up and headed down the burgundy and gold hall to his tiny office. Every Mystical was registered online. I kid you not, it was like a Facebook for our little secret society. We had to have a way to communicate news and keep up with each other without civilians finding out. That was the easiest way to do it—not that the high chancellor didn’t monitor its every move. That was what I was counting on, though.
“Thanks,” I said as we stepped inside. “I knew I could count on you.”
Icarus smiled and said, “That’s what I’m here for, babe.”
Mic was sitting in the corner of the room staring a hole through us. He was a lot younger than Icarus and closer to my age. He was dangerous, though. Mic was one of the most advanced magic-using Mysticals in our state. He was better than Icarus. When he had the serum inside of him, he was his own thunderstorm. They said he could even stop time itself. I wouldn’t have put it past him to have hexes on the entire room. He probably knew I was lying like a snake. Unlike Icarus, he did have the serum inside of him, and his skin was as smooth as a god's.
I looked away from him and pointed to the right tab for Icarus to click. Don’t you dare say anything, Mic. I swear I’ll never forgive you.
“Yeah,” I smiled at Icarus, “that’s right: 09-10-96 and 241 V-I-L-L street.”
Icarus slid his ghost-white fingers across the keys like an angel. Mic finally shook his head and looked back down at the book in his hand. It wasn't long before the account was set up, and I had my user name and password jotted down on a yellow sticky note.
“All done, sweets,” Icarus said and he pushed out from the desk.
I shrunk under the hand he'd clapped onto my shoulder, but I tried my best to smile back at him. We walked back out into the living room, and I tried to say my goodbyes.
“Thanks so much, Icarus. I’ve gotta get back, though. It’s late, and Tristan will be starting to worry about me, ya know. I didn’t exactly tell him where I was going.”
Icarus nodded and Mic slipped out into the hallway. He leaned against the door frame with crossed arms and stinging stares. He had to know, but he wasn’t saying anything at least.
“I understand. Thanks for dropping by, Makenna, dear. Come back and see an old man some time.”
“Yeah,” Mic voiced through the room. “Don't go getting yourself arrested or nothing. Pretty faces like yours aren’t meant to be deleted.”
Icarus laughed a little, but Mic and I stared at each other. He did know.
“I’ll do my best,” I said and finally escaped their apartment.
It didn’t take long to type up the real writing on the paper from dad’s journal. I'd told Tristan I went for a walk, and I must have been so upset earlier that he believed me. At least, he acted like he did. Not that it really mattered. It was my decision then. I stared at the screen. It was glowing into my face on my dark bed. Did I really want to do it?
“He’s not dead,” Alice sighed behind me. “He left for a reason.”
I jumped even though I didn't mean to. I took my fingers off the keypad and looked up to her thin, translucent figure. I knew why dad left. Dad left because he took the blame for what I did all those years ago. It was either that, or he left to find Rain. That was why I had to find him. It didn’t matter.
“I’m sure he did,” I sighed, “but I don’t care. I already lost you and mom. I’m going to tell them what really happened. It’s not his fault, Alice. You know it’s mine. Besides, is it so wrong to want to find him? Is it wrong to want to make sure he's really okay?”
Alice smiled back at me, sauntered down onto the foot of my bed, and said, “Of course not, silly. Still, you’ve got to respect that he made this choice because he thinks it's the best for you. Did you ever stop to think that maybe dad doesn’t want to lose you the way he lost us? In some way, he’s trying to do things better this time around. Oh, I know it hurts. Believe me, I wish I could be there right now.”
I hovered my fingers over the computer mouse ready to submit the notes. Dad didn’t get to make that choice, and they couldn’t make it from beneath the dirt.
“But you’re not here,” I said and slammed my fingers down on the button.
I closed my computer and tried to stop my arms from trembling. I did it. I submitted my dad’s notes to the entire Mystical online community, but it wasn't notes on how to create them…or anything like that. It was about the new killer, Rain. I read them over again:
Mystical Male. Black hair. Green eyes. Wanted for the deaths of : Rex Lancaster, Carmen Lamillo, Ysive Stanley, Mario Dennis. Armed and dangerous. Kill count expected to rise.
It was all out there after that. The League wouldn’t be able to pretend it was okay anymore. Everyone would know there really was someone out there killing Mysticals. They’d have to take me inside the League. It was the only way I could get in. Well, the only way I wanted to get in.
“I did it,” I whispered.
The whirring noise of computer fans cut off and left me in dead silence. I pushed the computer away from me and ducked my face under the covers. I let tears fall into the fabric. I could feel the tingle that came with the serum leaving my body. Alice, what have I done?
“They’re coming for me.”
They came. There was a loud sound, and the screen door screeched like a dying bird. They tore into our house with their voices invading our walls like termites. None of it took very long.
“It is under the authorization of code 102 section 4.5,” the voices droned their version of a jacked-up Miranda Rights. Collectors.
I could feel my heart throbbing inside my throat. I wanted to scream. Instead, I jumped up from my bed to my door. I couldn’t help it. With trembling fingers, I tried to slide the lock. Collectors were the ones who showed up on the doorsteps of the less-fortunate. They were our police officers, but they were far from human. They didn’t need guns. Some still carried them. Even though I deserved it, my hands couldn’t let them in.
“No good,” I swore and the knob jiggled beneath my hands.
The door flung open as if it hadn’t even been locked. Their hands were fast. My arms were held tightly between the gloved fingers of grown men. Behind them, Damon stood gazing at our pictures and dismissing other officers with a wave of his hands.
I felt my face get hot. It burned, but I lifted my head up to see him better. Damon was a mystical, too? There he stood in all of his rich, tan, latte-drinking glory, but we were the same age. He was in my class for crying out loud. He wasn't a Collector.
“Makenna,” he said. His sharp eyes brushed over the frames on the wall. My mother's ghost was rounding the hallway fast.
“We filed our papers,” she was saying, but no one else could hear her. I tried not to look at her. I made it a point to block her ghost out as much as I could. I focused on Alice instead. She stood behind us looking at the Collectors with wide eyes. They flickered in and out like pixelated waves because the serum was just about gone. I couldn't hear Alice anymore. I couldn't see her glassy eyes. Damon pulled out his cell phone and punched buttons casually as the men began to usher me outside.
“I know,” he said. “You weren't expecting me.”
My feet stumbled over the doorway, and I heard Tristan come flying out behind us. I wanted to say something else, but I didn't know what to say. How could I? Hey, you there, let me go? I'd wanted that. I thought. In our world, they were the law. I broke it, and I was being arrested for it. I deserved it.
Street lights flickered on and off. Our next door neighbors stood on their black lawns with their hands on their hips. They shook their heads and mumbled over the evening wind. Damon walked ahead towards the slick cars they were going to take me in. He sighed and twisted his hand over to see his watch. He walked and ignored my yelling brother.
“What the hell? You can’t do this,” Tristan said as he jogged up to the car. He still had a half-lit cigarette in his hand. Damon shoved the cell phone into his pocket and spun around on his heels towards him. He put his hands against his ears and shook his head. He smiled and held his arms out in a shrug.
“I already have.”