I no longer recognized the man I’d become, at least not the last time I’d dared myself to turn on a light and take a long, investigative look in the mirror. The blackness was so familiar it no longer seemed dark, making me wish there was some way to keep my damned Immortal eyes from being so efficient at adjusting and compensating to my surroundings. I craved blackness, I needed blackness.
I felt black.
I suppose you could say I was in something of a funk. To put it lightly. Funk was just a gentler way of saying I’d holed myself up in a light impaired room for the better part of the summer, seeking companionship from nothing or no one but the bottom of a bottle. Speaking of my little friend . . .
Fumbling around the carpet until I found what I was searching for, I discovered every last slot save for one in my precious cardboard box was empty. Tilting my head back, I looked up at where I assumed the sky still hung behind the black ceiling. “I can hear you laughing up there,” I grumbled, twisting the cap off the bottle and tipping it back.
To say I’d become a champion chugger as of late would be like saying I was in a funk—the two went hand in hand.
Before I could enjoy the sting of the liquid making its way down my throat, the bottle was empty. I cursed under my breath, nothing I’d be proud to repeat.
“Now it’s just getting insulting,” I continued my one-sided conversation with whatever deity that might be listening. “Could you tone the laughter down an earthquake or two? You’re hurting my feelings.”
“Talking to yourself again, brother?” a voice teased as the door swung open. “That’s only a couple symptoms south of institutionalization.”
The light cutting into the room physically pained me. My eyes burned like they were going to burst into flames. “Close the bloody door,” I hollered, launching the empty bottle in the direction of the cursed light.
“Hmmm,” Joseph mused, sniffing the rim of the bottle as he caught it mid-air. “Your preferred poison, I smell.” He took another exaggerated sniff before sailing it back my way. “Root beer.”
My fingers curled around it before the bottle bounced off my forehead. I might not have been myself, but cat like reflexes to the tenth power were one of the few perks to Immortality. My senses were so fine-tuned a train could have been barreling down the tracks at me in a stone cold coma and something inside would have responded with just the right amount of cognition to stop it in its tracks.
So, yeah. I was a being of a supernatural quality. Whoop dee doo. You would have thought two hundred years of service to the cause, as a Guardian protecting Mortals from the guys in the opposite corner, the Inheritors, would have earned me a get out of mental funk free card. Perhaps I should have demanded to read the fine print before I passed from Mortality to the other side, exchanging the privileged, carefree life of a twenty year old for the responsibility and duty of Immortality. Idleness was a word that couldn’t be found in the Immortal dictionary.
“Thomas Kemper’s?” he guessed, propping a shoulder into the doorframe, giving me a condescending older brother look that perturbed me since he was the baby of the four brothers. Although I suppose my most recent behavior was more in line with infancy.
“Dad’s,” I sneered back. “You know I don’t drink that yuppie expensive stuff.
He laughed, another older brother-like response. “Why should I know that? It’s not like everything you like is expensive, right?”
“If you’re trying to cheer me up or something . . .” I said, dropping the empty bottle into the empty case, feeling like I was burying a good friend. “You suck. Not suck as in a little, but hardcore, you’ve just won the Guinness Book of World Records suck.”
“Nice to see you, too,” he replied, all cheery and sunny like today was the best day of his life and, to Joseph, it was. Everyday was the best day of his life. Stinking optimists. “Especially since it’s been a solid month since I last saw your bright, smiling face. Oh, and by the way, our mission went great. Everyone’s fine. Father, Cora, Nathanial, and Abby, too,” he jabbered on, really laying it on thick. “Not that there’d be anything to worry about in a foreign country as your family plays a deadly game of hide and seek with a band of Inheritors intent on evading us. Thanks for asking,” he deadpanned, marching through the room, straight for the window.
Back when I used to have this little thing known as dignity, this particularly nasty Alliance of Inheritors had decided they wanted to rule the world. My Alliance said hell no to that and put our money where our mouth was when they decided to kidnap one and nearly kill two of my brothers’ wives. We repaid tit for tat by killing their leader—I know, it’s ironic since we’re Immortal, but we can be killed one certain, epically painful way—and burned their headquarters to the ground, but a few of the more slippery ones snuck away. However, they wouldn’t stay “snuck away” with my family and our Alliance on their asses.
“Don’t you even think about it, little brother,” I warned needlessly. He tore the black out shade off its roller, crumbling it into a ball and sailing it into the corner where an impressive city of glass bottles had been my only pride and joy as of late. The Empire State Building, along with several other of its sky-scraping brown bottled buddies shattered to the ground.
“Hey!” I hollered, right as he tore the black out shade off of the window behind where I was sprawled out.
“Let there be light,” Joseph commanded, sounding more like the host of a cartoon channel than what I imagined a god would sound like. “And fresh air,” he said, curling his nose as he hoisted the window open.
The combination of the light and fresh air invaded my dark, stale habitat and performed a serious case of deer in the headlights syndrome on me. I covered my eyes with my forearm, crawling away from the streak of light. “It burns us, precious,” I moaned, quoting a line from a movie I’d seen, but would have never admitted to. The irony was kind of a kick though, considering I could relate to that little hobbit gone bad critter.
“In case you’ve gone nose-deaf,” Joseph said, moving to the other windows and opening them with just as much gusto. “You smell like a stack of stinky socks that have been fermenting in a jar of formaldehyde.”
“And I thought I was the dramatic one in the family,” I mumbled, sniffing my armpits without realizing it. They weren’t that bad—if you considered I was a grown man who’d gone un-showered for a couple weeks straight. Unless you count the bottle of rootbeer I’d busted open on my head when I couldn’t get the cap twisted off—a sugary, syrupy shower was better than nothing, right?
Hey, don’t judge me. I was doing the best I could with the circumstance I’d been given. Circumstance being falling in love with the girl my big brother had loved for a couple centuries and now having to spend the rest of eternity watching the two of them United—married in the language of the Mortal, but forever, not just ‘til death do us part—and all but giddy with their affection for each other. Major bummer.
My saving grace these past couple of months had been William and Bryn being gone the entire time, gallivanting around the world from one mission to the next. I loved them both, more than one person probably should, but separation made things infinitely easier right now. The wound was still fresh, and I could only hope it would heal up some as time passed.
Go figure that the first girl I would be happy to give up all the others for turns out to be my brother’s soul mate. In case you’re wondering, I’m well aware the universe is, to put it gently, f’ing with me.
“That wasn’t me being dramatic,” Joseph said, leaning against the window sill, noticeably holding his breath. “That was me understating the stench you’ve managed to generate in Cora’s and my guest room. We’re going to have to have this whole place fumigated, if not gutted, before it’s fit for any other guests.”
“Go ahead,” I sneered, curling away from the light, “keep kicking me while I’m down. It feels good.”
So, yeah. I’d holed up in my little brother’s and his wife’s house. I know what you’re thinking. I sound like a winner, don’t I? Well, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I have plenty of money to spend on plenty of houses or hotels if I wanted. If the truth set you free, here was my first step in that direction. My present address just so happened to be the same room said recently-United, former and current love interest used to lay her pretty little head in every night.
I know the next thought in your assumptions string. Pathetic, aren’t I? Again, I’m not going to disagree with you. I’m a pathetic, love-sick, luckless loser. First name, Patrick—last name, Hayward.
Round of applause for the stinky loser for telling the truth, laying it all out there. Here was the sucky thing: I didn’t feel free or like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. As a matter of fact, I actually felt worse than I had before thinking about her. Bryn, Bryn, Bryn. Even if she hadn’t had it big time bad for my brother, I was realistic enough to know she never would have gone for me. She was a certain type of girl that didn’t mix with my type of guy.
I scrubbed my hands over my face, still not used to the impressive beard I’d managed to grow in the wake of my hygiene strike. I needed to stop this train from going any further down the tracks. Bryn was United. To my brother. My best friend. There was no happy ending for me, especially if I let my mind keep being taken over by her.
“Did you guys catch them?” I asked, hoarse from the monk-like quiet in my smelly, dank temple of pity and self-deprecation.
“No,” Joseph grumbled, his fists balling. “They got away. Again. The way they stay one step ahead of us makes me think they’ve got a Finder like father in their group. It’s like they know where we’re at and when we move.”
If living forever in never aging bodies, being reborn with pale blue eyes that changed to sapphire blue on the day we were, eh-hmm, United, and following so many rules and codes I couldn’t remember half of them wasn’t enough, we were bestowed with gifts to make us even freakier. Some groovy cool like mine and some mega lame like manipulating the weather.
“Maybe you guys just blow at tracking,” I retorted, raising an eyebrow.
Joseph’s eyes fell on me in that older brother, condescending way again. That look was really getting under my skin. “Well, it sure would have been helpful to have a Teleporter with us. That would have made catching the Inheritor renegades a tad easier. But then again,” he said, curling his nose my direction, “they could have smelt you coming a hundred miles away in your present state.”
I smiled humorlessly. “I see you’re filling in my vacancy as the funny one in the family, but maybe you’d give me a hall pass to your improv as I’m in something of a fragile state.” And with that, I reached for the comforter that was starting to resemble a frayed, toddler’s security blanket and pulled it over my head.