That first week of no school, at the summer house, this is our world: drinking Amaro and soda and spitting olive pits and dying and being reborn over and over again in the icy creek. The water is like death; once it touches you, you’re brand new. We dive and find smooth, disk-shaped stones that we throw like frisbees, skipping them across the surface. In the water, they are black, sleek, like an alien ruin, but when we leave them in the sun, they dry and turn grey and dusty, which disappoints us.
Liar stones, Arthur calls them.
And, for whatever reason, we think this is hilarious. I hold one to the sky and imagine the sun is a bright throat swallowing, inside a mouth of cornflower blue.
When we get bored of swimming, we race back up the hill, barefoot, whooping and howling, and I always lose, even when I cheat, because Arthur is three years older, ran cross-country last year for the Freshman team at Saint Catherine’s, and has the long awkward legs of a bird.
At the house, we cut fresh lemons with Arthur’s pocketknife and squeeze them with our fingers. On the table, we keep a bowl of green olives, crackers and an array of cheeses. We spit the pits in the direction of the rope swing. We make a game of it, of trying to land one in the hollow of the rubber tire. Impossible, of course, from that distance. But we keep at it.
“Almost!” cries Arthur. “Did you see that?”
Jean-Paul is the one who tells us about the girl.
“The blue house down the road, have you seen her?”
We have not.
We drink and spit pits. We swim in the creek. The bikes are still hidden under a grey tarp in the garage.
“Pretty,” Jean-Paul says, leaning back in his chair and lighting a thin, green cigarette. “Pretty girl.”
The table is lit by four white candles, each protected by a glass hurricane that curves towards the sky in the shape of a corset. I risk a glance at Arthur but it is too dark to see his face. I don’t have to see it though. I already know what he is thinking.
We’re half-brothers, Arthur and I. Not full, but half. All around us, we hear the forest, crickets and bullfrogs gulping, the industrial purr of cicadas.
Our mother appears in the ochre yellow of the lighted doorway. She has another bottle of Pinot and stumbles on the slate steps, cries out, nearly falls, but catches herself. She laughs and Jean-Paul laughs, and she takes off her heels before making her way back to the table.
“Tomorrow,” she announces, plopping into her chair and then lifting her feet up to rest in Jean-Paul’s crotch, “we’ve all been invited onto a yacht.”
Arthur objects, I object, but Mother will not hear it.
“It’s in my honor,” she says. “Goodness, you’d think I was asking you to spend the afternoon on an oil tanker. There will be drinks, you know? Hors d’oeuvres.”
“I think I’d prefer the tanker,” says Arthur.
“Me too,” I say.
“It can be arranged,” says Mother, directing her finger like a pistol.
“Will there be press?” I ask.
“No, of course not,” she says, holding out her glass while Jean-Paul dutifully pours, sipping, and then adding, “Not on the boat.”
In the ocean, we spot a school of porpoises.
Their backs are sleek black and remind me of the stones in our creek. What would they look like if they weren’t wet? I wonder. Are they liar porpoises?
Without warning, Jean-Paul dives overboard. There’s a big splash and some of the women cry out. He starts swimming towards the black fish. A sort of romantic idea, I guess.
“Jean-Paul!” mother screams. “Jean-Paul, what on earth?”
The school gets spooked and scatters.
Jean-Paul stops, treads water, then turns and swims back. He climbs the silver ladder and stands breathless on the deck, grinning at the small crowd of onlookers, a wet lock of hair curling like a leech across his cheek.
“They are very spiritual creatures,” he tells us. “It was always a dream of mine to swim with them.”
The owner of the boat is a Hemingway look-alike, barrel-chested, white beard and balloon gut. “Carmen and I swam with one in Hawaii,” he says, swirling a glass of gin. “Can’t say I thought much of it. The damn things are slimy. Plus, I’ve heard those stories. About how they try to force themselves on you if you don’t keep an eye out. Put me a bit on edge.”
I reach for another glass of champagne, carried on a silver tray by a middle-aged waiter with remarkably thin, childlike wrists.
“Are you old enough to drink?” he asks me.
“Sure,” I say, sipping. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
There is a bar below deck, but they don’t have Amaro.
“No Amaro?” Arthur says. “The only thing worth drinking this summer is Amaro.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” says the bartender. “We have port.”
“Port?” says Arthur. “Is that supposed to be a joke?”
“Sometimes there’s only port in the storm,” I say.
A crowd has gathered on the street; it’s impossible to avoid them on the way to our car. Camera flashes, shutters snapping, and voices getting louder, more excited, the crowd pressing around us like it’s a concert, like we’re the Beetles and all of them talking all at once, all of them asking for something all at once.
The Hemingway lookalike asked one of the crewmen to escort us but he’s absolutely useless. He keeps repeating, “Okay now, let them through, okay? Let’s just let them through now.”
Someone grabs the back of my shirt and won’t let go.
“Did you have anything to do with the disappearance? Did you have anything to do with the disappearance?”
It’s raining and Arthur is restless so he takes down the machete that hangs in the hall next to a collection of African masks and the framed picture of mother standing in a sea of Ugandan school children. She’s wearing a ridiculously large, white brimmed hat, clutching the top so she doesn’t lose it to the wind. Her smile betrays the brutal force with which she is pressing the fabric to her skull. One side of the brim is turned flat towards the sky, her dress flapping like a flag.
I pitch grapefruits to him from the foyer.
Not much success.
They bounce off the blade and thud, rolling on the hardwood.
“We need melons,” he complains. “Grapefruits are too spongey.”
“We don’t have any melons,” I tell him. “Anyway, melons would be messy.”
“I’ll show you a mess,” he says. “I’ll chop your throat. I’ll cut your melon head and eat your brains.”
He chases me around the house, laughing.
“Cut it out! Hey! Cut it out!”
“I’ll cut you out!”
When he gets like this, I am afraid of him. He pushes it too far. I keep a grey couch between us, gripping the frame, breathing heavily, trying to stay calm and to keep the slight tremor in my hands from showing. Bastard. Sometimes he is such a bastard.
“Come here, my pretty!”
At last it goes on long enough that he’s had his fill, but in a fit of angst, he chops the blade into one of the downstairs banisters.
For a while, it’s so stuck that it seems we’ll have to leave it.
“Mother will throw a fit,” I say.
“I’ll tell her it was the maid,” says Arthur.
“I’ll tell her it was you.”
I feel a sudden twang of sadness for him and stop trying to argue.
In many ways he’s like a child, I remind myself.
Somehow we get it free. There’s a gash but only if you look for it. No one will notice. He returns the machete to the wall. The rain has stopped. The slate patio glistens wonderfully and the birds have started chirping, unseen from the trees. The air is fresh and sweet.
“Hey,” says Arthur. “Why don’t we go for a ride?”
The driveway leading to the blue house is covered with beautiful white pebbles. Pebbles you’d find in a glass jar, sitting on a coffee table in a corporate office in New York, just because. The porch is splintered, water-soaked, and unpainted. There is no garage and no cars in the drive.
“Come on,” says Arthur, standing tall on his bike and then dropping down, then rising again and starting up the hill.
“No,” I say.
He stops, tires crunching. He turns his head to the side, frowns but doesn’t look at me.
“What?” he says.
“I don’t want to,” I say. “I don’t like this game. Remember what happened last time?”
“What happened last time?” Arthur asks.
“The police,” I say.
“The police, yes,” says Arthur. “Who showed up and then got all googly-eyed when we told them who mother was.”
“She’s filming,” I say. “We won’t be able to get ahold of her.”
“We’ll take the police to the set,” says Arthur. “They can meet the director. Get photos with the cast and crew.”
“Arthur…” I say.
“Oh come on, don’t be a liar stone!”
I can’t help it. I smirk.
“Arthur, can we just…”
The front door is locked so we go around back. There’s an above-ground pool surrounded by a white fence, with tan umbrellas and tan cushioned chairs, spotted with black mold.
“Should we take a swim?” Arthur asks.
“I’d rather the creek.”
“Me too,” says Arthur.
We take the patio walkway and are about to try the door when a window opens and a girl’s head appears.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
Arthur steps back, calm, hand to his forehead, squinting a salute.
“Looking for you,” says Arthur. “We were wondering if you’d like to come to lunch?”
“And you are?” the girl asks. She’s blond, curly hair, silver clip pinning down one side with the metal glinting in the sun.
“Haven’t you heard?” Arthur asks.
The girl doesn’t answer.
“We’re your famous neighbors,” says Arthur. “Our mother is Una Livingston.”
The girl makes what could be a frown.
“You do know Una Livingston, don’t you?” says Arthur.
“Yes,” says the girl. She is wearing a yellow tank top. She’s thin, lissome, pretty like Jean-Paul said.
“Right,” says Arthur. “So what will it be?”
Another pause, she touches her neck, stretching it one way then the other, she looks past us, down at the surface of the glittering pool.
“Not today,” she says. “My parents will be home soon and they’re bringing sandwiches from the market.”
“Ah,” says Arthur. “Too bad, our mother would have loved to meet you.”
The girl looks skeptical.
“What do you mean?” she says.
“She noticed you. When she drove past the other day,” says Arthur, motioning to nowhere in particular. “She wondered if you’d ever done any modeling.”
“Arthur…” I say, embarrassed for him. Does he think he’s Jean-Paul?
The girl looks down at us both, her expression blank.
“Have you?” Arthur asks. “Done modeling?”
“No,” says the girl.
“You should think about it,” says Arthur. “There’s good money in it and you get to travel all over.”
“People have told me I should model,” says the girl. “But I don’t know…”
“What’s not to know?” says Arthur.
“Arthur, let’s go,” I say.
He laughs, turns, scowls.
“Tell you what?” he says to the girl, saluting once more. “We’re the last house on the left, up that hill there. There’s a gate but just ring the bell and we’ll buzz you in. Come by whenever you’d like. Or don’t. It’s all the same to us.”
The girl doesn’t answer.
We turn but I can feel her eyes.
“Scaredy cat,” Arthur hisses, as we make our way.
“Psycho,” I hiss back.
I glance behind us as we turn the corner, but the girl is no longer in the window.
“What is my crime?” Jean-Paul wants to know. The hurricanes are burning. The sounds of the forest. Lamb chops gnawed down to the bone. Bowls of salsa verde and arugula salad. Two green cigarette butts. Two empty bottles of Pinot and a third, half full. “Is it that I went and got a drink? Or is it that I did not ask you if I could go to get a drink? I want to know my crime!”
They have forgotten we are still at the table, the peanut gallery, the live studio audience, watching from the safety of shadows.
“Now you’re getting ridiculous,” says Mother. “I’m not accusing you of committing a crime, Jean-Paul.”
“I am upset because after all that’s happened, I have a certain image that I must be very careful to protect.”
“Is that right? Please tell me more.”
“Is that what you need? To have it explained to you for the millionth time?”
“Yes,” Jean-Paul says, lifting his glass, swirling, sniffing, frowning, and then setting it down again. “Apparently I am too dumb to understand.”
“There are certain bars in town that have an understanding with the press.”
“Now you sound totally paranoid.”
“If they know you are there, they will send someone to try to get a story from you.”
“Good, so I’ll tell them the truth then. How we sit on the outdoor patio and drink the nice wine and eat the nice food, and then we talk and talk, all the rest of the evening, about how Jean-Paul got thirsty and went and had a drink at a bar. You think this will make the front page, Una?”
“You’re not getting it. It doesn’t matter what you say, Jean-Paul. They’ll twist it. They’ll take it out of context and make me look horrible. Oh, I despise the way you’re treating me right now. I despise the way you are trying to make me seem like some kind of…of…evil policeman!”
Arthur and I share a room on the second floor.
The window is open. I can see the moon rising over the trees. A perfectly cut slice of white melon.
“Arthur,” I whisper. “Arthur.”
He doesn’t answer. His back is turned to me. His sheets have cherries. Mine have apples. I can tell by his breathing that he is not asleep.
They are yelling at one another downstairs. Their words aren’t clear but the sentiment is.
A muffled retort, like machine gun fire, blat, blat, blat, followed by a shrieking monologue of rusted shrapnel.
The war continues on, bullets going blat, blat, blat, mortar fire, screams of the wounded.
Then, suddenly, it’s over.
I hear the front door open and slam shut. I hear footsteps outside and then a car door, then the turn of an engine. I hear the hiss of gravel under tires. I hear gears shifting and the car moving off.
“Arthur…If the girl comes by…”
I can tell by his breathing that he’s not asleep.
The silence takes us, the crescent moon is freeing itself from the jagged treetops, making a slow dash for the other side of the world. I hear the creaking steps. I hear her stumble in the hall. The door opens and she appears as a shadowed jumble of limbs and ruffled clothing.
“My boys,” she whispers. “Are you asleep?”
Neither of us moves.
“Jean-Paul has left us, I don’t think he’s coming back.”
Her words are slurred. She comes into the room, sits on the foot of Arthur’s bed, begins petting his blanketed foot like it’s a cat.
“Oh my boys, why is there wickedness in this world? Why is there so much sorrow?”
Arthur pulls his foot away, sits up and hugs the newly made teepee of knees.
Mother continues to pet the place where his foot once was, then she leans back and turns on her side, lifting her own knees off the floor and into a fetal position.
“I’m sure the director regrets hiring me for this role,” she says. “They are always there. Always outside, wherever I go. They ask me such horrible things. They think I know something. They think I’ve done something awful…”
Arthur extends one of his legs and pokes her.
“Don’t fall asleep,” he says. “You can’t stay here. Mother…Mother?”
She begins to snore.
Arthur gives a huff then folds back a flap of cherry bedsheet. He stands.
“Where are you going?” I ask, watching as he pads barefoot towards the doorway.
“To stab myself in the neck,” he says.
We almost miss it.
We are spitting pits at the rubber tire. We are drinking Amaro and eating cheese.
“Wait!” Arthur says, raising a finger. “Wait! Shhh!”
Had he imagined it? No. There it is again.
We hurry inside, the intercom on the wall, a flat metal rectangle with buttons, a circle of black pinpricks.
“Hello?” says Arthur.
“It’s May,” crackles the voice.
There’s a pause.
“You were at my house,” says the voice. “You told me I should come by whenever I wanted.”
Arthur and I look at one another. “Arthur…”
He buzzes her in.
There are three of them plus the girl. Clean cut, sportsman types. Broad shoulders, pastel shirts. They look older, early twenties maybe, and they move in triangle formation up the drive with the girl, May, in the middle. She’s wearing a black summer dress that’s painted with tiny red strawberries. She looks bored.
“Howdy, fellas,” says the one at the top of the triangle, the biggest one, with a hint of stubble on his chin and light brown, mossy looking curls. “Hope you don’t mind strangers just stopping by.”
“Of course not,” says Arthur. He’s got a smile on. A salesman’s smile. A politician’s smile. “The more the merrier.”
He leads them around to the patio, but only the curly-haired one sits at the table when Arthur offers.
“Got something to drink?” the curly-haired one asks.
“Well,” says Arthur. “My brother and I have been drinking Amaro.”
“Amaro?” he laughs, and when he laughs so do the other two but not the girl. “My grandmother drinks Amaro. What else do you have?”
“It’s very refreshing,” says Arthur. “We drink it with lemon and soda. You know, the New Yorker says it’s the drink of the summer.”
“Got any wine?” asks the curly-haired one. “A good bottle? Something special maybe, to mark the occasion?”
“We have wine,” says Arthur.
“Well,” says the curly-haired one, clapping his hands twice. “Chop, chop.”
Again that smile from Arthur. That TV news anchor’s grin.
He hurries away into the house.
“Is your mother home?” May asks.
“No,” I say. “She’s filming.”
“She was filming the other day too, wasn’t she?” says the curly-haired one. “Chris and I saw her in town, isn’t that right, Chris?”
Chris nods, arms folded. He has a tattoo of a tiger on his bicep. It looks vaguely Japanese but Chris looks very American. He’s wearing a WWF T-shirt.
“She films most days,” I say.
“Does she?” says the curly-haired one. “Well, that’s interesting. Hey, let me ask you something…”
He turns his chair so he’s facing me.
“That producer, the one who went missing, did your mother have anything to do with that?”
I look at the others, feel my face flush pink.
“No,” I say.
“You sure?” says the curly-haired one. “Because I read somewhere that they were having an affair, and she was the last one to see him alive.”
“Just gossip,” I say. “She barely knew him.”
The curly-haired one studies me, grinning, then puts a thumb to one nostril and blows snot out of the other.
“Just gossip, huh?” he says. “Tell me, is this your place, or are you just renting it?”
“It’s our mother’s,” I say. “We don’t come here very often though. Usually, in the summer we’re abroad. But this year Mother got a role, and they’re shooting nearby.”
“So just lucky you had the place then,” he says.
“I guess,” I say.
Arthur returns with a bottle and some glasses.
“Just the one bottle?” the curly-haired one asks. “Come on now, don’t be cheap. This is Una Livingston’s place, isn’t it? I’m sure you have a whole cellar.”
“If you finish this one, I’d be happy to get another,” says Arthur.
Now the curly-haired one stands, reaches and takes the bottle from Arthur. He picks up the corkscrew on the table, needles it into the top, and pops the cork.
“Love that sound, don’t you?” he says. He lifts and takes a long swig.
I try to catch Arthur’s eye but can’t.
“Ahhh,” says the curly-haired one, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Not really my taste. What else do you have?”
He turns the bottle on its head, lets it glug then hiss out in a virile stream of blood red. It splashes onto the patio, spitting against his bare legs and sandals, dots leaping and also catching May, who squeals and jumps back onto the grass.
“Leif,” she says. “Watch my dress.”
When the bottle is empty, Leif claps it on the table and locks a steely glare on Arthur.
“It seems you’re upset about something,” says Arthur.
“Interesting hypothesis,” says Leif. “But what is it that you think I could be upset about?”
Arthur clears his throat, risking glances at the other two silent types on either side.
“If I had to guess, I would say it has something to do with inviting your girlfriend over for lunch.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” says Leif. “She’s my cousin. And no, inviting someone to lunch would not make me upset.”
Arthur looks at me now, then scratches his head, making a show of pondering it. His smile is nowhere to be found. He bends his left knee, calling attention to his high track shorts and his bird legs, which— juxtaposed now by the legs of the other male visitors— seem especially awkward.
“I’m not sure what this is about then,” says Arthur.
Leif moves around the table, and as he does, Arthur tries to step back but the other two move in. He stops, and then Leif steps in front of him so he’s surrounded.
“You tried to get inside her house,” he says. “She saw you sneaking around in her backyard.”
“No,” says Arthur. “No, we were just seeing if anyone was home.”
“I don’t believe you,” says Leif. “You know why? Because you’re a liar.”
So again Arthur breaks out his grin.
“Look,” says Arthur. “Is this really the way you want to handle this?”
“You want to know how I know you’re a liar?” says Leif.
“Why don’t I get us another bottle of wine and we can all just sit down and…”
Leif reaches out and grabs Arthur by his periwinkle button-down. Arthur yelps and I take two long steps towards the door.
“You said that Una Livingston wanted my cousin to come to lunch, but she was filming in town that day.”
Arthur has his hands on Leif’s chest and is leaning backward, twisting his face away.
“She was supposed to come back for lunch…” Arthur gasps. “But they extended the shoot. I didn’t know, I swear.”
“Wrong!” cries Leif. “I have a friend, he works on the crew. They were shooting all day!”
Arthur twists to the right, trying to step back, his hands on Leif’s fist now, trying to pry open the grip.
“I must have made a mistake,” says Arthur. “I thought she was coming back, I swear, I thought she was!”
Leif hits him. There’s a loud ‘clap!’ A meaty open palm, whipped against the flat, pale face. Arthur squeaks, his knees go out, and as I run for it, I see one of the silent types follow after me. I make it up the steps, swing open the screen door, but he’s fast, and in the kitchen I feel his sharp fingernails on my shoulder, scraping, grasping at my shirt. It catches. I hear a tear, tiny threads popping. He has me. This is where it ends, this is how I am born anew, how I sink into nothing, like in the creek, how I lose myself. But then. No. A miracle. He slips on the tile, a bit of peeled grapefruit. He crashes down. I hear, “Oof,” and “Shit!”
I almost fall too but catch myself on the marble countertop. Steady…steady. Then a half leap, half stumble into the living room where there’s a clear shot to the front door. For a split second, I’m sure I’ll go for it, save myself, but no. We are half-brothers, Arthur and I, but we are still brothers. I will not leave him. I cannot. A strange feeling of pride rises in me. We are half-brothers, but we are still brothers. I can hear the beating he’s taking outside. Grunts and slaps. Sharp exhales. I turn. I run to the hallway. The wall of African masks. Mother in her ridiculous hat, the school children, the machete.
I’m coming, Arthur.
I take the blade from its place and turn.
He’s there, at the other end, breathing, wide-eyed, tiger on his bicep, WWF. He doesn’t come any closer though.
I point the knife at him.
“Get out,” I say.
He glances in the direction of the kitchen but doesn’t move.
“Now!” I say.
He nods, begins to back up.
I move with him, knife out in front of me.
“Leif!” he says. “Hey, Leif!”
Outside, Leif crouches like an ape, all knuckles and forearms, shoulders hunched, pulsing neck vein. He’s gripping Arthur’s shirt and Arthur has his hands raised to protect his face, blood down his neck now, the periwinkle shirt is torn. He’s trembling.
“Please,” he says. “Please…”
Leif sees me and drops Arthur like a sack of flour, straightens up, steps away, transformed back to his more human form. He lets Arthur crawl towards the house, those pitiful sounds, sniveling, weeping, Arthur’s face pink and already beginning to swell. For a moment, nothing happens, we all just watch Arthur crawling, then Leif grins, then starts laughing, only this time no one joins him.
“Going to hack us up, are you, kid?” says Leif.
I wave the blade at him.
“I’m calling the police,” I say. “You better go.”
“Okay,” he says. “I’ve said my piece anyway.”
He starts to back up, jokingly raising his hands into the air to show he won’t try anything. The others start walking too.
“Next time though,” he says. “If I hear you’ve been creeping around my cousin’s place, I know you have a knife, you understand? That’s a deadly weapon, right? So no more playing around like we did today.”
I don’t answer, and keep the knife out in front, watching as they move around the side of the house, Leif with his hands still in the air, big grin, and the rest of the group just walking.
I step carefully down the slate steps, remembering how mother always stumbles. I keep an eye on them, move towards Arthur to make sure he’s all right. They’re nearly around the back of the house now, but then the girl, May, she stops and our eyes meet.
“Did your mother really say I could be a model?” she asks.
Leif quits reaching for the sky and grabs her arm.
“Come on, May,” he says, but she shrugs him off.
“No,” says May. “I just want to know. Did she?”
I look down at Arthur who has his head in his hands, sobbing. I look back at the girl.
I shake my head, no.
“Fell off your bike, huh?” says Jean-Paul. “Looks like you were in a scrap. That’s what you should tell people. Sounds more manly.”
“What if I don’t want to sound more manly?” says Arthur. “What if I just want to tell people I fell off my bike?”
“Then this is your choice,” says Jean-Paul. He takes another drink of wine.
To celebrate his return, Mother has hired a private chef. We eat scallops and fennel soup. We eat mini hotdogs, sliced cucumber topped with a dollop of tartar, and for the main course, Beef Wellington, Jean-Paul’s favorite.
Dessert is cheesecake.
Mother is inside talking with the chef.
“I thought you were gone,” Arthur says, his face grotesque in the candlelight, right eye nearly swollen shut, lip and cheek protruding like he’s the Elephant Man.
“We had a little disagreement, your mother and I,” says Jean-Paul. “But of course I am not gone. We are family, no? I was angry, but I would not just leave like that.”
The cheesecake is brought out with mother and the chef. The cheesecake is strawberry, molded to resemble a budding lotus flower. There are chunks of fruit preserves hidden inside the pink petals, sweet cream with lemon zest. The gingerbread crust is set atop a thin pool of gleaming chocolate. We all clap. The chef, a stocky, adroit-looking Russian woman, asks us how we liked everything, and Mother gasps and uses phrases like “to die for” and “better than Paris.” She’s next to Jean-Paul, holding hands and stroking the back of his neck with her fingers. They kiss and she snuggles closer, laying her head on his shoulder.
“When the movie is done filming,” says Mother. “Jean-Paul and I were thinking of taking a trip, just the two of us. What do you think of that?”
She reaches for her glass of wine and sips.
“You two could stay here or maybe you could do a trip of your own? To Europe or New York or wherever you’d like.”
We both nod silently, forks scraping against the glass plates. Delicious.
Arthur’s face is still swollen and he refuses to swim.
There is a breeze, and the water looks silver, almost metallic. I jump to my death, sink through and burst out the other side. I return over and over to the mercuric surface. I crash into it, unafraid, a friend to eternity, my soul unreal in that place, a thing not yet known to the universe. I search the creek bed for stones. My fingers stir up mud that twists like a fresh drop of ink, stringy and ethereal. I find one so black it reminds me of eel skin. I take it and kick back into the world: another life, another person.
On the shore, I place the black stone beside the others, lined up and warming in the new day. I lie supine, feeling the moss, soft and springy against my back, the dappled light through the swaying trees, streaking the inside of my eyelids with orange dancing, with psychedelic explosions.
I blink and turn to look at the line of flat and rounded stones, greying in the sun, the blackest still wet and sleek.
An image flashes through my mind.
Hands grabbing at a pale throat, a struggle in a bright room. Cornflower blue eyes.
It makes me smile.
We would catch the girl. My way. The way we did it those times before. The way that worked. We would make her understand that it was a mistake to tell anyone about us. We would make her see who we are. Who we really are and what we are capable of.
While mother is away. While Arthur remembers why he should listen to me and not try to make his own games. While we still have the summer and the creek and the rope swing.
Again I smile.
The breeze is so pleasant, moving through the trees.
I turn my head back to the sky, blinking orange fire, blinking worlds I can glimpse but do not fully understand, blinking until I drift like a leaf, cut free, off into something akin to sleep.