I wonder what it would be like to be invisible. To be able to sneak into places where I had no business being, watching life happen without me. Of course, I could make things happen—knock a vase from a shelf, throw a book across the room, even run after someone with a butcher knife. That would be something.
But I'm not invisible.
The knock comes at eleven. I'm reading in bed, a novel they assigned for school, pretending to be absorbed so I can answer the questions the teacher asks. But I'm also listening. My mother's room is down the hall, and the walls are thin enough that I can hear the soft murmur of voices, her door opening and closing. If it closes once, I'm safe. If it opens and closes again, I'm not. I don't even need the knock to know I'm screwed.
"Come in," I say.
He likes it when I invite him in. I know why—it makes it seem like I consent. Even vampires prefer an invite, from what I understand. But a vampire victim might have an excuse—a magical trance, or whatever. I don't have that protection. What I do have is the cold and certain knowledge that my mother, who hasn't left her room in two months because of the cancer, can't do what she used to with her new husband. Which leaves me, because if he left we'd lose his money.
It doesn't seem like an even trade.
The door opens, and I see him framed by the light from the hall. He's not bad looking, not really—slim, a little over six feet tall, dark haired, blue eyed. He's ten years younger than my mother. Which, when I think about it, makes him pretty close to my age. Not that it helps. No amount of rationalizing does.
He sits on the edge of my bed and reaches for the book. "What are you reading?"
He can see the damn title well enough. But I answer anyway. "Jane Eyre."
"Is it good?"
"It's okay." Actually, it was pretty good, but I don't want to share anything more than I have to. He thumbs through the first few pages before lightly tossing it back onto the bed.
"You up for this?" he asks. Another question I don't want to answer—when I've said "no" in the past, he's pouted, made enough noise walking down the hall to rouse my mother from her morphine-induced sleep, started throwing things in bags and taking them to the car. I'd had to get up and go to him, me standing on the driveway in the oversized Yankee tee-shirt that used to belong to my father, telling him I'm sorry, come back. Which he had.
He reaches for me, cupping my head in one calloused hand and bringing me towards his lap. I don't want to go, but I don't struggle. In the back of my mind, though, I'm retreating as fast as I can, going to a safe place where I can't think or feel. I think about the boring parts of American history—the founding fathers and their endless debates over what was right for the country, the fact that Dolly Madison really did invent ice cream.
He unzips his shorts, pulling my head closer.
Something slams against the side of the house. It sounds like it's right outside my room. I flinch, and his hand loosens its grip. "What the hell…"
It happens again, louder this time. I run through a mental catalogue of possibilities, come up withthings like earthquake and tornado, even though neither are likely in our part of the world. But then it happens again, and this time the slam comes with something else. Window glass cracking.
He shoves me aside, and I look up just in time to see the curtains yanked aside as if by someone's hand. And what I see then makes so little sense that I'm suddenly sure it's a dream, that stepdad coming into my bedroom to molest me is part of it, that I'll wake up and it'll be morning and Devon will be waiting in front of the house to drive me to school.
It's a creature. I can't say ghost or spirit because that wouldn't fit, although there's definitely a resemblance to what I'd consider ghostly. It's tall, taller than I am, taller than my stepfather, and it floats through the window as if it's made of mist. Which it is, or something like mist, some soft silvery substance that has no defined form. Bits of something brown cling to it, and its eyes—it has eyes—are green, a shade that seems to shift from the palest non-color to deep richness.
And it carries a weapon.
A sharpened stick.
It drives it through my stepfather's belly, pushing it as if harpooning a fish. His mouth stretches wide in agony, his eyes going huge, but before he can scream something shoots out of his mouth—a vine, it looks like, all long and brown and green, no, not a vine, maybe roots, tangling around him like ropes. The mist-thing hisses and lifts him off the bed, holding him towards the ceiling; I can't see any part of him anymore, can't hear anything but what sounds like the rustling of leaves.
The thing carries him to the window.
Drags him through it, the sharp shards of leftover glass cutting into the roots and leaving thin trails of something clear and heavy, like mucous. I fall back onto the bed, my heart pounding so hard it feels like it'll come out of my chest, and then I can't see or hear anything more.
When I wake up, the sun's shining. And the window is still broken.
I touch the clear substance left by the thing and bring it to my lips. Sweet, clear.
And I look at the floor. At the bits of brown shed by the creature.