A Darkness Strange and Lovely (5 page)

Chapter Five

I screamed again, but this time I scrambled back to
run. Marcus—it had to be he!

But Mama saw him in Elijah’s body
. The thought flashed but was instantly swallowed up by another.
Yellow eyes! Run!

“Eleanor, wait!” the young man shouted.

I sprinted down the hall toward the middle of the ship, but then the boat swayed, throwing off my balance. I tangled in my petticoats and slammed into the wall.

Footsteps pounded behind, so with a shove I lurched on, charging my legs to go faster. The main stairwell was just ahead. Those steps would lead me to the first-class saloon—to people and safety. But stairs would be too hard to climb.

“Wait!” the young man shouted again.

I reached the mermaid balustrade, and, without thinking, I grabbed her tail and slung myself around, behind the stairs. I flew into the next hall. Far ahead was a bright doorway. The dining room? Somewhere that had people, at least.

I surged on, and the hammering feet rounded the stairwell behind me.

“Please, El!” he shouted. “Wait!”

El? That was my brother’s name for me.

I faltered. My skirts flew around my legs. Then the boat listed sharply right. I toppled forward. Instinctively, I threw my hands out to catch myself, but I had only one hand to stop my fall.

Agony ripped through my stump as a shriek boiled up my throat and out my mouth.

Tears sprang to my eyes, but I made myself draw in my legs—I had to keep
going
. I was too slow, though. Too winded and hurt. The footsteps were upon me.

“El, are you all right?” The young man’s cheeks were flushed scarlet.

“Stay away!” I scuttled against the wall.

His hands flew up. “I won’t hurt you. I swear, El.” He lifted a foot as if to approach.

“Get back!” I screeched.

He froze, his gaze snapping toward the door ahead and then back to me. Clearly he thought as I did: surely all this noise would draw
someone
into the hall.

I tried to blink back the tears blurring my vision. Pain screamed in my wrist, but it was from the fall—not from spiritual energy. There were no dogs howling or winds roaring.

Still, the young man had yellow eyes. That told me I was in danger.

I drew in a shaky breath, ready to scream.

“No, please!” he blurted. “Just talk to me.”

“Get away from me,” I growled. “I vowed to kill you—or did you forget that?”

He recoiled. “Kill me?” He shook his head. “I don’t mean you any harm.”

“Go to hell, Marcus.” I spat the name.

“Marcus?” The young man’s forehead wrinkled. “My name isn’t Marcus. I’m Oliver.”

“Whoever you are, I will kill you
.
” I slid my legs slowly sideways, hoping to stand and make a run for it. “Now get out of my way.”

“I swear!” he cried. “Didn’t you read about me in Elijah’s letters?”

I tensed and sucked in a breath, my fear and fury skipping a beat. There
was
an Oliver in those letters.

“You recognize me,” he said. “Oliver. My name must be in them. Your brother and I were together all the time—”

“You mean when you stole his body and started living in it?” I shook my head and bounded to my feet, my blood boiling back into a rage. “I promised I would send you to the hottest flames of hell for that.”

He skittered to the other side of the hall. “Look. I’ll stay right here. Just talk to me.
Please
.”

“I have nothing to say to you.” I slunk right. The agony in my wrist had pulled back to a distant throb, and the unbidden tears had dropped away. “Don’t you dare come near me, Marcus.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?” the young man cried. “I’m
Oliver
.”

“And you just happen to have the same yellow eyes?”

He frowned. “Yellow eyes? Is Marcus a . . . a demon? As in a creature of spirit bound to this world by a necromancer?” His hand lifted to his collar, and he slipped out a long golden chain.

My heart stopped when I saw it. So did my careful trek. I knew that round locket hanging from the chain’s end. “Where did you get that?”

His golden eyes never leaving my face, the young man dangled the chain toward me. “You know it, don’t you?”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Any words I wanted to say were trapped in my throat. I had bought that necklace for Elijah just before he went abroad. Inside was a picture of the thirteen-year-old me.

The young man let the chain and locket drop. “My name is Oliver, and I’m Elijah’s demon.”

“Demon,” I whispered, the word filling every space in my mind. “Elijah’s
demon
.” For several long seconds, I simply stared. Then my heart and body jolted into action. I staggered back into a run.

 

Oliver did not follow me.

I reached the doorway at the end of the hall, and it
did
lead to the dining room. Only a handful of guests remained, sitting at a table that spanned the middle of the room. Judging by their sloppy posture, they were thoroughly drunk.

Demon
,
demon
,
demon.
The word pounded in my mind with each step.

A black-uniformed waiter glided to a stop in front of me. “May I help you?”

Demon
,
demon
,
demon . . .


Mademoiselle
, may I help you?”

I gaped at him, tongue-tied. I couldn’t say “Help! A necromancer who claims he’s a demon is following me.” Especially because Oliver—or Marcus, if his yellow eyes meant what I
thought
they might mean—was nowhere to be seen.

I finally stammered, “F-food?” and the waiter nodded, guiding me to a table against the wall. I dropped onto a red-upholstered chair and ordered a plate of buttered toast.

Then, trying to slow my breathing, I massaged my wrist and watched the door.

“A demon,” I whispered. Would that make sense in the context of Elijah’s letters? I couldn’t remember. The only thing I knew about demons was that they were supposedly bad, and it was probably in my best interest to avoid them.

Laughter erupted from the group of drinkers, and while I watched with mild interest and disgust, they all lifted their glasses in a wild French cheer.

I glanced back at the entrance and started.

Oliver had ambled in, his jaw set and his hands in his pockets.

I sat, rod straight, as he sauntered almost casually to the table of drinkers and bellowed,
“Vive la France!”

As they all roared their approval, he swiped a bottle off their table and then strolled toward me.

“Stop,” I ordered once he was ten paces away. “Not an inch closer.”

He nodded. “All right. I’m stopping. I am not coming a single inch closer.” He strode to a table nearby and dragged a chair to the precise spot I’d told him to stop. Then he plunked down, yanked his stolen bottle to his chest, and turned his yellow eyes on me. “I intend to drink all of this gin.”

My eyes narrowed. “All right.”

He frowned. “Well, you could at least protest a little. I thought you didn’t like it when Elijah drank. He said you got all worked up when he sipped your father’s whiskey.”

Somehow my spine straightened even more. I
had
done that, but the only person who would know was Elijah. “For one,” I said carefully, “I was more worried about Elijah getting caught than getting drunk. For two, I don’t care in the slightest about
you
.” I dipped my head toward the bottle. “Drink up.”

His lips twitched down. “You’re just as bossy as he is.”

“As he
was
,” I snapped. “Elijah’s dead.”

His face paled. “Dead?” He clapped a hand over his mouth and turned away.

“Yes,” I said. “He’s
dead
, and Marcus stole his body.”

“Blessed Eternity.” The young man grabbed at his hair. “No wonder I can’t find him. If he’s dead and his body has been possessed . . .” He popped off the bottle’s top and gulped back a long swig. Then he dropped his head in his hands and began to weep.

I blinked, completely stunned. Either he was trying to catch me off guard or he was genuinely crushed to learn of Elijah’s death. But I was saved from deciding which by the arrival of my toast.

The waiter looked as horrified as I was by Oliver’s tears—especially when Oliver suddenly roused himself enough to latch on to the waiter’s sleeve. “Another bottle of gin, please.”

“Your cabin and name?”

“I’m with them.” He motioned to the inebriated Frenchmen.

The waiter’s eyebrows arched with disbelief.

Oliver, his eyes now bloodshot and nose puffy, shouted,
“Vive la France!”
And again the table burst into cheers.

“See?” Oliver demanded.

The waiter glowered but didn’t argue.

And all the while, I watched in sick fascination. “You’re not Marcus,” I said at last.

“No.” Oliver rubbed at his eyes with his sleeve. “Is this Marcus the one who . . .” His voice cracked. “Who took Elijah’s body?”

“Yes.”

“I should’ve been there.” His jaw clenched. “Oh God, if
only
I had been there.”

My eyes narrowed, and in a wary tone, I said, “I thought that demons could not say the Lord’s name.”

He gave me a look halfway between a repulsed sneer and an amused smile. “Then you clearly know very little about demons. The myth is actually that I cannot say ‘Jesus’ and yet the name just crossed my lips, did it not?”

“Yes, it most assuredly did.” My words came out harsh. “So, pray tell, why should I believe you’re a demon then?”


Why?
Did you not see this?” He yanked out the locket, wrenching it full force against his neck. Over and over, each movement more frantic than the last, he tried to snap the chain. Soon an angry red line was scored into his flesh.

Yet still he ripped at the necklace.

“Stop!” I cried.

“Only if you believe me. Do you see this, El?” Another yank. “I am
bound
.” He flung out his hand, releasing the locket. “Simply because the rumors fail to accurately portray my kind does not make me any less
real
.”

“Though nor does a chain that won’t break,” I retorted. “If you really want to convince me, you’ll have to give a better reason than that locket.”

Oliver rubbed the bridge of his nose, and an ache flared in my chest. It was such an Elijah-like gesture—the old Elijah, the skinny, child Elijah—that I could have been sitting next to my brother at that very moment.

No wonder he seemed so familiar on the pier.

Yet of course, this similarity was not enough to make me trust him. “I’m listening,” I said. “For
now
, so you had best tell your story quickly.”

He sucked back another swig of gin, and I noticed with a start that the bottle was almost empty. Then, smacking his lips, he said, “I was . . . well,
born
isn’t the right word . . . more like
created
two hundred years ago. You see, demons are a lot like humans, only we live in the spirit realm. We grow and age and eventually go where all spirits go.”

I picked at the edge of my toast. “I thought spirits went to the spirit realm.”

“Oh no. There’s a final afterlife. First, though, your spirit has to travel through my home.”

“And your home is the spirit realm.”

“Yep. And demons”—he splayed his fingers gracefully across his chest—“start there before eventually passing into the great unknown.”

“So you’re dead.”

“No!” He snorted. “I’m very much alive. I merely come from a different realm is all. I’m made entirely of spiritual energy. Plus, I live—
exist
—a great deal longer than humans.”

Behind him, the Frenchmen burst into an animated debate. I had to lift my voice to be heard. “So if all you do is
exist
, then why are demons painted as creatures of evil?”

His eyes flashed. “Because people are scared of us. We’re creatures of pure spiritual energy—we have a lot of magic at our command. But the truth is, demons are exactly like humans: good, bad, or”—he gave me a withering smile—“neutrally disinterested.”

At that moment, the Frenchmen’s debate ended with a rousing chorus of unintelligible, off-key singing. Oliver glanced back, his body perking up. Then, with very deliberate movements, he rose and stumbled over to their table, his now-empty bottle in hand and voice chanting along.

While he swayed and sang, the waiter returned. He set the new bottle of gin on my table, shot a disapproving look at the happily drunk carolers, and then glided away.

I nibbled at my toast and waited with growing impatience. There was only so long I could maintain my veneer of calm and strength—especially when memories of Elijah hovered so close to my heart’s surface. Several moments later, though, Oliver returned with a new bottle tucked under his arm. He dropped into his seat and inspected the label. “Rum. Delightful. A personal favorite.”

“Three bottles of liquor?” I sniffed disgustedly. “And all of them stolen.”

Oliver shrugged. “They have the money. I do not.”

“No? Then how did you buy a ticket onto this ship?”

“I did not
buy
a ticket per se. I found one . . . no,
borrowed
.” He nodded as if
this
was the proper term.

“In other words,” I said, “you stole the ticket. Just like you stole the alcohol.” Even though I too had stolen my ticket, I’d at least had enough conscience to compensate the poor woman—and to feel like utter scum for taking it in the first place. Oliver obviously had no such morals.

“You’re welcome to
buy
me more alcohol,” Oliver said, smiling sadly. “I intend to get so rip-roaring drunk that I don’t remember a thing tomorrow.”

“All because Elijah died?”

He winced. “How can you say it so . . . so callously? Yes, because I just learned my best
friend
died. My master. My only—”

“Enough,” I snapped, sitting taller. He was
definitely
getting too close to topics best left alone. “I don’t care one whit about your grief or your supposed demon feelings. I want to hear how you knew Elijah. Now talk.”

Other books

Dangerous Relations by Carolyn Keene
Seeing a Large Cat by Elizabeth Peters
The Feel of Steel by Helen Garner
A Jane Austen Encounter by Donna Fletcher Crow
Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle
The Old Road by Hilaire Belloc
The Prize by Dale Russakoff


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2021