Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Every Day Is the Full Moon

There are things you know and things you don’t know. You find it helpful to make lists. For example:

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • A Wrinkle in Time is bullshit. You don’t care if it’s Riley Chu’s favorite childhood book, because she also identifies with Holden Caulfield, and thinks spiders are adorable. Riley’s opinions are not to be trusted.
  • Cafeteria food is the worst. The hamburgers taste like dog meat. You’re better off bringing food from home, or developing anorexia.
  • You tried becoming anorexic once because you wanted more visibly unhealthy coping mechanisms. It didn’t take.
  • Your father is a werewolf, but mostly he’s just an asshole.

• • • •

“It’s the night before the full moon,” your mother says. “You know how he gets.”

Your mother is a Valkyrie. Her wings are glorious, golden and impossibly large. She flies into battle, wars all over the world, and carries the valorous dead to their own particular Valhallas, bringing the same passion to the battlefield that she brings to everything in her life: teaching you to cook, watching UFC, vanquishing garden gnomes.

You want to be just like your mother when you grow up. And you don’t want to be anything like her at all.

“Just a few more days,” she says, as your father, howling, throws an entire bookcase across the room. “Just try not to upset him, okay? It’ll all be over soon.”

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • It will not all be over soon.

• • • •

School, the next day. Riley has bravely sought out lunch in the cafeteria; you and Lea, less foolish, are hanging out in the quad. Lea is short and black and gay and pretty, basically the polar opposite of you, and sometimes, when you’re feeling petty, you tell yourself that at least you have bigger boobs and a better vocabulary. Unfortunately, she’s winning in math, science, PE, dating, functional family dynamics, and general popularity, not that it’s a competition or anything. Also, she’s a faerie, which you both figured out last summer when you woke up with her newly grown green wings digging into your back.

You hate that you’re jealous of your best friend, that you’ve always been jealous, even before she became something. Sometimes, it seems like you’re the only senior left who hasn’t become anything, and maybe aren’t going to.

“Come over after school?” Lea asks, stealing a handful of your chocolate muffin. “You can explain that sonnet to me, and we can all get ready for the dance.”

“Yeah. About that—”

“Nope,” Lea says. “You’re not doing this to me again, B. We bought dresses. We bought tickets. We’re going to the dance.”

“I’m just not—”

“You’ll feel it,” Lea says, a little grimly. “When you’re at the dance.”

Apparently, you’re going to the dance.

At least Lea doesn’t ask to get ready at your house. She knows you, why you never want to invite anyone home.

THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW:

  • Why Lea wants you at the dance at all, since she’ll probably just make out with Riley the whole time.
  • How to walk in high heels without falling on your face.
  • What you want to become, when you finally, hopefully, become something. Not a werewolf, obviously, and not a faerie, either—you’d only be the mammoth faerie standing by Lea’s side. You’ve always wanted to travel, though, or at least, you wanted to leave. Maybe you could become something with wings to carry you far from home, although Mom’s wings always carry her back there, in the end. You do love to walk. Sometimes you daydream about walking out for good, taking to the open road and following it until it ends in ocean . . . and then, maybe, just walking a little further.
  • If having suicide fantasies means you ought to talk to someone, or just that you’re a teenager and you’ve probably watched Point Break too many times.

• • • •

Despite yourself, you’re having fun at the dance, especially since you tossed your size twelves into the community shoe pile. It’s comforting that even girls with tinkling laughs and delicate bone structures can’t dance in those things forever.

Riley has a delicate bone structure but doesn’t exactly tinkle. She’s wearing combat boots with a black tulle dress and eyeliner as thick as your wrist, and she’s not exactly gentle when she forcibly pulls you away from your very comfortable, very non-judgmental wall. “I had a vision of you dancing with me,” Riley says matter-of-factly, like that isn’t the biggest line of bullshit you’ve ever heard, like oracles can just go around predicting their own future. “Can’t fight fate, right?”

“Guess not,” you say dryly, although secretly you wonder. You find fate a depressing concept, the very opposite of freedom. What if it leads you nowhere at all? What if there really is no escape?

Your maudlin must be showing, because Riley’s expression softens, her default “fight me” eyebrow slowly sinking away. “Come on, bitch,” she says gently. “Dance with me, okay?”

You do. It’s silly and a little awkward—you both keep trying to lead—but it also makes you laugh, especially when she tries to dip you and you both end up nearly falling to the floor. “We are not the most graceful people,” you say, giggling, as you eventually right yourself.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Riley says. “I’m graceful like a motherfucker.”

“Are motherfuckers especially graceful?”

“Yes,” Riley says, just to be contrary.

Lea comes back from the bathroom just as Riley goes to grab a soda, threatening a three-way slow dance upon her return that will clearly only end in disaster. Only she doesn’t return, so Lea goes after her while you head back to your wall. When Lea doesn’t come back either, you’re pretty sure they ended up in the backseat of her car. You never got the appeal of car sex. Maybe if you were a short shit like Lea, but you tower over the boys in your class, and not in a gorgeous model way, but like an extra in a Thor movie. It’s one of the reasons you hate dances: It’s impossible to find anything in your size. “Why don’t you wear a suit?” a perky store clerk once asked. “Schools are much more progressive these days. Everyone likes Modern Family, right?”

You never know what to say, when people assume you’re a lesbian or trans. Riley always knows; she just can’t turn her mouth off, which means she ends up threatening to cut a bitch, a habit that’s gotten her into plenty of trouble. Lea, less aggressive, usually just buys ice cream.

They’re good friends, even if they occasionally abandon you for gushy romantic talk and girl sex. You tell yourself that as you stand against your wall, trying to resist indulging in stupid daydreams, like looking up and meeting eyes with some kind, mysterious new student across the room.

Hating yourself, you look across the room anyway, and you do meet someone’s eyes: Lea.

Something’s wrong.

Lea, like most faeries, loves glamour, is always trying to master her control of it. She has the minor changes down, but the more she tries to hide, the more the air around her shimmers, like a mirage. The air around her now is gold, and rippling like pond water. Her brown eyes are wide and panicked.

You’re crossing the room before you realize you left your shoes and purse behind. “What—”

“Not here,” Lea says, and drags you away, out of the gym. Her hand is cold and wet.

She pulls you to the baseball field, far away from anyone. There’s no light out here save the moon, and your bare feet are freezing. “Seriously,” you say, walking by third base. “Lea, you’re kind of freaking me—”

You stop. She lets go of your hand.

The dugout is encircled in salt. Riley paces back and forth inside, hissing words you can’t understand. There’s a smear of red across her mouth. Her eyes are red, too.

Riley is an oracle. This isn’t Riley. This is something wearing Riley, something hiding between her skin and bones.

You look at Lea, and she’s no longer shimmering. Her fluffy, white ballerina dress is torn and covered in too much blood. It’s on her shoes and knees and hands.

There’s blood on your hand too.

THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW:

  • Whose blood is on your hand?
  • How the hell did Riley get possessed buying a soda?
  • What the fuck does Lea think you can do about it?

• • • •

“Jesus, Lea, are you okay? We need to get you—you need a hospital, you—“

“I’m okay,” Lea says, and she doesn’t sound hurt, despite all evidence to the contrary. “It’s not me, not mine.”

“But who—” You jump when Riley slams her hands into the metal fence. “We have to call the cops,” you say. “We have—”

“We can’t.”

“They’ve got people for this,” you insist, because they must. Mrs. MacReady who ran the deli got possessed, what, four years ago? She killed her baby, and her husband called 911, and somehow they were able to pull the demon out. Your second grade teacher got possessed, too, but better not bring that up. He didn’t survive the exorcism.

Riley will, though. Riley’s strong: she takes kickboxing classes, and can actually do a pull-up, and was the only one on the aquarium field trip who ate at Teddy’s Tex-Mex and didn’t suffer brutal food poisoning. Once you go to the cops—

“We can’t,” Lea says again, and drags you to the bleachers. There’s a body underneath, although it doesn’t really look like a person anymore. It looks like . . . laundry, a big pile of it, red and shapeless and soaking wet. Your brain doesn’t want to see it, keeps trying to puzzle it out: Who would leave all these rags here? Why do they smell so bad?

You blink, and the rags give way to flesh, piles and piles of discarded meat. There’s no frame, no bones. Where—where are the bones?

“It’s Carter,” Lea says, and you stare at her.

“How can you—”

“The necklace.”

You turn back and spot the dark cross in the middle of human goop. There’s only one person in the whole school who wears such a large and laughably inaccurate statement of abstinence: Carter Laughton. You’ve never liked Carter; he’s rich and wears endless sweater vests and actually thinks student council is important, but. Jesus. Nobody deserves this.

Carter and Riley used to date, way back in freshman year, some kind of weird, opposites attract thing. It ended when Riley caught Carter making out with some cheerleader and promptly set his backpack on fire. But that was ages ago, and anyway, it’s obvious that Riley’s possessed. The cops can’t arrest her, not when she wasn’t in control—

“Don’t you remember Mrs. MacReady?” Lea asks.

“Yeah. And they exorcised her—”

“No, after.”

After. Yes, you remember after. But that’s not—

“Lea!” a voice singsongs. Riley, obviously, but her voice is wrong, uncharacteristically high-pitched. “I’m waaaiting!”

Lea inhales and brushes past you, and you really don’t want to follow. You just want to go home, and when have you ever wanted that before? But you don’t have a choice. You’ve been friends with Riley for three years, ever since she let you cheat on a math test you forgot to study for. And Lea, Lea’s been your best friend since you were six and playing monsters at recess. She’d wanted to become a centaur then, and you did, too, because you wanted whatever Lea wanted.

There’s no choice but to follow.

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • Nobody pressed charges against Mrs. MacReady, but the whole town turned against her. “Not my child,” people said, refusing to sell her food, stamps, gasoline. “I’d have fought harder, if it’d been my child.” Even your asshole werewolf father said this, and the thing is, he meant it.
  • Mrs. MacReady drowned in her bathtub after swallowing an entire bottle of expired Vicodin. No note. None needed.
  • You don’t want Riley to die.
  • You don’t want Lea to die.
  • You don’t want to die.
  • This isn’t going to end well for anybody.

• • • •

Riley’s eyes are still red, but you wouldn’t be fooled even if they were brown; nothing sane, nothing human, smiles like that. Her blood-spattered skin seems pale in the moonlight, and there’s some kind of white dust on her mouth and fingers. “B, you made it!”

“Riley,” you say, which is a mistake. This isn’t Riley. “What do you want?”

“Oh,” Riley says. “Destruction, dismemberment.” She grins wider, and you see some of her teeth are cracked. “Bones.”

You think about the pile of red laundry that used to be Carter, the white dust around Riley’s mouth, and suppose you can add one more bullet point to the Things You Know.

Riley laughs, like she knows what you’re thinking. Probably does. Lea teases you about your lists, but Riley never has, and you figure it’s not a coincidence that you guys never hang out at her house, either. “Oh, B. Always trying to classify things, keep them in order. Make sense of this senseless world.” She shakes her head. “Tonight must suck for you.”

“Riley,” Lea says, stepping closer. “I know you’re in there somewhere—”

“Oh, are we at this part already?” Riley claps her hands and leans forward, eyes trailing up and down Lea’s thin arms, her slim shoulders. Her prominent, exposed collarbone.

“Riley, it doesn’t matter what you did,” Lea says. Her voice is unsteady, her green wings fluttering uselessly behind her. “I know you didn’t mean to. I know, and I love you. You can defeat this, Riley. You—”

“Wow,” Riley says. “That was terrible. You’ll have to try harder than that, if you wanna save Riley through the Power of Love.” She turns to you, now eyeing your limbs, your big Norse bones. “B, I know you didn’t sign off on this plan. A Wrinkle in Time is bullshit, remember?”

You’re shaking, and it’s not just the cold autumn night or your bare feet in the damp grass. “Stop it.”

“Why? I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Love can’t save anyone in real life, remember? Love is the thing that keeps you prisoner. Love is the thing that breaks your bones. Love, and the light of the moon.” Riley looks up at the sky. “How long has she been trying to save him with love, B? Only thing she needs is a silver bullet. You must have imagined it, shooting him. You’d be free. Don’t you want to be free?”

You have, and you do. But he’s still your father, even if he’s an asshole, even if he’s why your amazing, battle maiden mother is always apologizing or why you had to find a dress with long sleeves. He’s your father, and your mother isn’t the only one who loves him, because sometimes he loves you, too, because not every day is the full moon.

Freedom isn’t a silver bullet. Freedom isn’t even wings. Freedom is your feet, and the welcoming blue of the cold, patient sea.

But you don’t want to die right now, not at the hands of your friend and in a stupid dress that makes you look like a giant blueberry.

“We have to call 911. We can’t fix this, Lea.”

Lea shakes her head. “They’ll—she’ll—”

“Die,” Riley says happily. “You know how many hosts die during exorcisms? It’s pretty ugly, B. You should look at the statistics. Even if Riley did survive, let’s face it: She’s not exactly a good girl. All this black, all these piercings. The fights, the mouthing off, the backpack incident. Be honest: Didn’t she all but invite me in?”

“Riley didn’t—”

“Are you sure? She gets so mad sometimes, doesn’t she? It’s delicious, her fury. She wanted to become something powerful, some kind of avenger, and instead she can only wait for what’s to come. Funny she didn’t predict this. Funny she didn’t do anything to stop it.”

“That’s not how being an oracle works,” you say, angry at yourself for arguing, and arguing anyway.

“Convenient,” Riley says, grinning. “You think anyone will buy that? People only know what they want to know, and it’ll comfort them, believing that this only happens to other people, weak people, people who ask for it—”

“Riley didn’t ask for it,” Lea says. Her voice is steadier now. “Riley isn’t weak. You’re not, Riley. You’ve never been. You fight everything: jocks, internet trolls, sanctimonious calorie counters and gluten haters. You can fight this, too; I know you can. You can knock this asshole demon into next week.”

“Now, Lea. Haven’t we already—”

But Lea doesn’t stop. “Fight your way free,” she says, “and come back to me, cause we’re gonna have the most awesome life. We’re going to graduate and go to college and skinny dip our way through the Great Lakes. You’ll major in depressing poetry and write creepy kids books, and I’ll dance for Beyoncé; I’ll dance on Broadway. You’ll wear black at the wedding, just to piss off your mom, and we’ll get married under the stars. And someday, when we’re ready, we’ll adopt cute Blasian babies: three of them, and we’ll name them after your grandmother and my grandmother and Hermione Granger.”

Riley’s face twists, her fingers tightening on the chain link fence. Her eyes melt from red to dark brown to red again. “I don’t, I can’t—”

“You can,” Lea says. She’s crying, and Riley’s crying, and you’re crying, too, uselessly in the background. “You can.”

“Lea, I—”

“See that future, Riley, and cut a bitch to make it happen, because I love you. I love you.”

The red bleeds out of Riley’s eyes. “I love you, too,” she says, and then her whole body is thrown across the dugout, back and forth, slamming into the fence. She screams, or roars; it’s wordless defiance, hanging in the air, before she collapses on the ground.

For a long moment, no one moves.

Then Lea reaches forward, and her knee breaks the line of salt. You open your mouth, but Riley’s already lifting her head, and you freeze. Hold your breath.

Her eyes are brown.

“Riley?”

Riley shudders. “You bet your sweet, fairy ass.” Her voice is thick with tears, robbed of her usual sass, but Lea laughs anyway, hugging Riley for all her worth.

You release your breath and walk forward, trying to stop shaking, trying to think. It’s over. It’s over.

In the distance, somebody screams. Who

“You know,” Riley says, suddenly clear. “I’ve never had fairy bones before. What do you taste like, I wonder?”

She lifts her head, and her eyes are still brown, but she’s smiling, and Oh Christ

Lea tries to scramble back, but Riley has too good a grip on her wing, twisting it backward until there’s a sharp, cracking sound. Lea screams, and you’re there, pulling her away. “Run!“ you yell, and then you’re punched so hard you feel like there’s a hole in your chest.

You look down. Lea gasps. Riley withdraws her hand.

“Oh,” you try to say, but can’t, because there’s an actual hole in your chest.

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • You’re lying flat on your back, staring up at the sky. You don’t remember falling, but there you are, listening to sirens, facing the moon. The sirens are strange because you never called 911, but the moon, the moon you understand. You always figured you’d die on the full moon.
  • No. You never really thought you’d die at all.
  • People shouldn’t die on baseball fields. They shouldn’t die in bare feet, or before they finish their homework, or graduate, or see France, or live.
  • There’s too much blood outside you. Was it really all inside you once? You don’t know how. You don’t know. That belongs on another list, but everything’s muddling together now, blending, blurring. Maybe your lists are bleeding, too.
  • You’re cold. You’re cold. You’re

• • • •

There’s no moon, when you wake up. There’s no light at all, actually, but you’re still on your back; you don’t know where. You can’t see a thing.

You feel around, try not to panic. There are walls at both sides, enclosing you. You can’t even sit up because you hit your head on something. A ceiling. A very low ceiling. A lid.

The last thing you remember, you were dying.

Shit.

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • You’re in a coffin.
  • Either you were prematurely buried (unlikely), or you finally became something after all.

• • • •

Turns out, you’re a revenant. Exactly what kind, you’re not sure. No craving for brains, so not a zombie. No craving for blood, so not a vampire. It turns out you don’t need to eat at all, actually, although you still do because old habits die hard. Probably why you make yourself breathe, too, anytime you catch your body forgetting to bother.

You died last week. Three days ago, you rose from your grave, breaking through your coffin and climbing through six feet of wet earth. Your parents took the news pretty well, all things considered. Your father even wept, squeezing you tight and crying into your muddy, blonde hair. This morning he made your favorite: chocolate chip pancakes. You keep catching yourself thinking, Maybe it’ll be better, now that he’s buried a child. Maybe he’ll raise his fist and remember.

Hope is the worst. It’s what’s been breaking your mother’s heart for years, but a week ago you were dead. How can you turn your back on miracles now?

Turns out, you’re the only one who feels this way.

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • Kat Lopez is the Sheriff’s daughter, and also a banshee. On their way to the dance, her girlfriend rear-ended another car because Kat freaked her out by suddenly screaming. She called the Sheriff, who put his deputies on alert, and ended up giving the couple a ride. Kat had barely gotten out of the car when she screamed again, this time for you.
  • The Sheriff is the one who managed to stop the demon from eating your bones. He also saved Lea, and captured Riley alive. You should probably get him a card or something.
  • There aren’t nearly enough state sanctioned exorcists for how many demonic possessions occur per state. Riley could be waiting weeks for her exorcism, if it works at all. The demon was telling the truth: The stats are ugly.
  • It was also telling the truth about people: They only know what they want to know.

• • • •

Your mom eventually lets you leave the house, although she insists you take one of her swords. You end up wearing a trench coat to hide it. You’re not sure if it’s illegal for underage revenants to carry swords around town, but it sounds illegal.

You walk to Lea’s and endure hugs from her parents, grandparents, and brothers before finally escaping. Lea’s on her bed, staring blankly at photo albums, wearing the Tinkerbell pajamas you bought for her becoming gift. The air around her shimmers gold. You don’t call her on it.

“I got you something,” Lea says. She can’t meet your eyes, and that scares you for some reason. “I didn’t think you’d have a becoming party, but. Call it a Happy Resurrection gift. A Sorry My Girlfriend Killed You gift. A Sorry I Was Stupid And Got You Killed gift.”

You don’t know what to say to that, so you just open the bag. It’s Night of the Living Dead pajamas.

“Inaccurate,” you tell her, “but totally awesome.”

You end up staying the night. Eventually, Lea lets the glamour fade, and you see the heavy bags under her eyes, the black bruises on her brown skin and her broken left wing, healing in a cast. You sign your full name in tiny, red letters.

“Are they letting you see her?” you ask, stealing a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s. Lea doesn’t look up, and it takes you a minute to realize why. “But . . . after the exorcism, you’ll see her then, right?”

“She killed you.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“She killed you. You were dead, B. You came back, but—”

“The demon killed me,” you say. “That wasn’t Riley. You know that.”

Lea stabs her ice cream, eyes distant. “I know Riley didn’t invite it in, not on purpose. But . . . people can fight them off. I read some survivors’ accounts, and you just have to want it enough. You just have to fight hard, and . . . she didn’t love me enough, B. She didn’t love us enough to save us.”

Lea finally looks up, eyes dark and jaw set, and you want to say something; you want so hard to say something because you know, you know she’s wrong, but all the words are jumbled up inside you. Your body feels heavy under their weight.

“Riley killed my best friend,” Lea says, “and I can’t forgive her for that. Not ever.”

In the end, you don’t say anything; you just lie by her side, silently watching Disney movies until she falls asleep, because that’s what she needs from you. You never fall asleep, though. You haven’t slept since you died. In the morning, you go home, and make breakfast for yourself. You accidentally leave a syrup smear on the counter, and your father, already stewing for one reason or another, brushes up against it. He howls, rips off the stained shirt, and backhands you across the face.

It doesn’t hurt, not really. Not your face, anyway.

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • What your mother will say later: “It was my fault, arguing last night.” Or: “He’s just been so stressed, with everything that’s happened.” Or: “It’s the werewolf in him, honey. Don’t ever forget he loves you.” Or: “You deserve so much more than me. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”
  • The full moon is still weeks away.
  • Your father is a werewolf, but mostly he’s just an asshole because the Sheriff is also a werewolf, and Kat Lopez never comes to school in long sleeves.
  • Every day is the full moon, or has the potential to be.

THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW:

  • If you can’t sleep, or just don’t need to, if the dead can walk and talk but never dream.
  • How to convince Lea that she’s wrong, that everyone’s wrong about Riley.
  • How to save Riley if love isn’t enough.

THINGS YOU HOPE:

  • Maybe, just maybe, it is.

• • • •

Sheriff Lopez isn’t happy to see you or your trench coat, though he does say thank you for the card. He makes you repeat the visitation rules at least twenty times. “I know you want to save your friend,” he says, “but that may not be possible.”

You know that. You also know there’s more than one way to save somebody.

The demon wearing Riley is sitting cross-legged on the floor. It claps her hands while you sit down across from them, salt and iron between you. “They told me you came back,” the demon says, “but brava, B. Look at you, all grown up. A monster, just like the rest of us.”

“Hey, Riley.”

“Still have that little love tap we gave you?”

You do. The hole is just above your boobs, stuffed with cotton and taped shut, effectively making you an undead teddy bear. Riley would think that was hilarious. “I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

The demon raises Riley’s eyebrow. “I kill you, and you apologize for it? Apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

That stings, but you ignore it. “That night on the field, I was talking to the demon instead of you. I shouldn’t have done that, Riley, should never have called it your name. I’m only going to talk to you now, okay?”

“Sounds like a pretty one-sided conversation.”

“Yeah,” you say. “I know you probably won’t be able to talk back, and that’s okay. You can still hear me, and I need to say some things, things that other people should be saying, that Lea doesn’t know and maybe you don’t know, but that I know.”

The demon snorts. “You’re going to read me your list?”

“Yeah,” you say. “This is my list, Ri.”

THINGS I KNOW:

  • You can’t make a person do whatever you want just because you love them. And a person can’t do whatever you want just because they love you. Love isn’t magic, and it isn’t big speeches or swelling music or miracles, either. Love is constancy, dependability. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.
  • Love isn’t always healthy. Sometimes, love is broken bones. Sometimes, it’s not worth fighting for. But you can’t decide that for other people. You can only be ready when they decide it for themselves.
  • You didn’t ask for this, Riley. You don’t deserve what’s happened to you. It doesn’t matter how many fights you’ve been in or how you dress. That’s a lie they tell, that they have a type, that the people imprisoned are responsible for their imprisonment. Monsters can happen to anyone. You have nothing to apologize for.
  • You’re scared, you’re hurt, and you’re lonely. Maybe you’re still fighting, and just can’t get free, or maybe you think the best thing you can do is appease it, try not to make it angrier. I wish I had the answers for you, but I don’t. I can’t exorcise you, Ri.
  • This is what I can do: I can sit here and remind you that you’re not the monster, you’re not the demon, you’re not the asshole, or the creature of the moon. I’m just going to sit here and keep reminding you until you’re ready to hear it, until you can come out and tell me you understand. ’Cause I’m scared, Riley. I think Mrs. MacReady must have forgotten who the real monster was, and my teacher, I don’t know if he knew; I think maybe he just didn’t want to survive the exorcism. Sometimes my mom says I’d be better off without her, and it scares me so much, I think . . . I just don’t want to lose you. I refuse to lose you.
  • You’re my friend, Riley. I love you, and you sure as hell are worth fighting for.

• • • •

You talk to Riley for about an hour before going home to pack. The demon taunts you, of course, laughs at you for thinking you can help at all, and maybe you can’t, but love is about the trying, not the results. You’ll go back tomorrow.

Your mom looks at the red mark on your cheek and hugs you. “This is my fault,” she says. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Gently, you pull away.

“I talked to Lea’s parents. They said I could stay there. I’ve always said no before, but . . . I’m going, and. You could come with me, if you want?”

Your mother buries her face in her hands and cries.

You swallow, because you knew that would be her answer, even if you hoped otherwise. It’s okay. It hurts, but it’s okay.

Try again tomorrow.

“We’ll figure it out together,” you say, kissing your mother on the forehead. “When you’re finally ready, we’ll make it work without him.”

You don’t say goodbye to your father. Some things aren’t worth fighting for, even if you love them, even if they love you. You won’t turn your back on miracles, but sometimes enough is fucking enough.

THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW:

  • Will your mom ever leave your father? Will Riley survive the exorcism? Will she and Lea fix what’s broken between them?
  • Are you a draugr, maybe, or a different, less Nordic species of undead? You’ve been doing research on Wikipedia, since sleeping isn’t your thing anymore. You think of your grave sometimes, and shudder, overcome with dread. Is this a clue to who you are, or just a sign of PTSD?
  • Were you always meant to be undead, or were you supposed to become something else? Did another destiny once await you?
  • Would you just sink, if you walked into the ocean now? Would you sit there forever, alone at the bottom of the cold, patient sea?

THINGS YOU KNOW:

  • Dying sucks. It’s not freedom at all. Fuck that sea.

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Carlie St. George

Carlie St. George

Carlie St. George is a Clarion West graduate whose work has been published in Strange Horizons, The Book Smugglers, Shimmer, and other magazines. She overanalyzes pop culture tropes in her column Trope Anatomy 101, and otherwise spends her time writing snarky movie and TV reviews at her blog My Geek Blasphemy. She has not yet decided what she hopes to become.