Soul Sick is the second revision of Tethered which was my first attempt at writing a novel. Tethered was…lacking, full of my passion for the characters and story, but more like that first pancake. I am currently reworking the outline and can’t wait to start writing about Arc and Celeste again. Meanwhile, here’s a little taste:
I stepped out of the shower, cracked the bathroom door, and watch the steam shift and swirl in conflicting currents, as the tendrils slowly sifted out the bathroom door. I toweled my long black hair and then flipped it over, blasting it with the blow dryer, while I hung upside down. It felt good to attend to mundane things—to pretend life was normal and a sadistic killer wasn’t out there, doing…something.
I flipped my hair back over, dizzying for a few seconds as the blood rushed from my head, and stood before the full-length mirror, regarding my distorted image in the foggy glass. It exemplified how I felt—hidden, slanted. As the image sharpened with the retreating fog, I saw the true image of myself. My always-boney body now saw sharply protruding hipbones, washboard ribs and a concave belly. My face was gaunt, making my already unusual facial features seem even stranger; and I had dark circles under my eyes, accentuating the oddity of their color. I wasn’t very tasty. Arc was right.
I traced the ink of my ivy tattoo that started on the left side of my neck near my shoulder. It dipped and curled delicately around my collarbone, tracing a path from left to right, and then dropping back down and lower on my left chest, over my heart. The tattoo depicted a dying angel, falling into the sea. If you didn’t look closely, the ivy looked like it was adorned with decorative flowers, but they weren’t flowers. They were actually hands reaching and grabbing for the angel. I had gotten the tattoo on the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. I was only fourteen.
Arc had tried to stop me from going that day, but I had boarded the ferry back to the mainland, regardless, and hitchhiked to the first city large enough to have a tattoo studio listed in the phone book. When I first arrived, the tattoo guy doubted my age. Defiantly ignoring his impressive sleeves of ink and scary muscles, I produced my newly acquired fake ID, the sketch I had drawn of the exact design I wanted, and a hundred dollars in fives and tens. I donned my well-practiced aloof adult look, and waited. Whether it was the look of determination on my face or the fact that he didn’t really care how old I was, he eventually shrugged and waved me into his ink room.
Back then, I was so tall for my age and had matured fully enough that I easily passed for five years older than I was. People always remarked, rather jealously, at how young looked for my age now. I was even carded on occasion.
“An angel. How original,” he had taunted while he pricked and pierced ink into my skin.
“My mother called me her angel,” I challenged with the fiercest glare I could muster through the discomfort.
He paused at his painful work, regarded me with knowing, then nodded, and muttered, “Decent.”
I winced and squeezed my eyes as the needle began to dance into the tender flesh of my newly developed cleavage. He asked me if it was too painful, but I gritted my teeth in answer. Mr. Tattoo and I had an understanding. We had both known that exquisite loss. He completed the rest of the tattoo in reverent silence, understanding it to be the memorial I had intended. I liked him.
Arc, in his verve to stop me, had Slid carelessly into the shop, popping miraculously into the studio out of thin air. To say he scared the tattoo artist and his two waiting customers would be a complete understatement. Still a Fledgling, Arc had yet to master his new skills, and should not have Slid in public like that, let alone to leave the island. Fortunately, I had already paid when he caused the commotion, so I grabbed him and we fled, laughing at the astonished expressions we left in our wake.
“How did you convince him to let you get the tattoo? Don’t you have to be eighteen to get a tattoo?” Arc had asked, once we were far enough down the leaf-strewn road to stop running. He pulled my shirt aside and regarded the artwork. I had felt both uncomfortable and excited by him looking at my body.
I laughed at him. “Dude, I’m taller than most guys. I put on some make-up and padded my bra,” I said and stuck out my chest. He had given me an odd look when I did that. I hadn’t understood his look, I was still too young, but I knew I liked it. While we had kissed once or twice, I considered Arc to be my best friend; true passion hadn’t blossomed in me yet. Arc, three years older than I, was in a different place in that department.
“Oh,” Arc said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat, mysteriously serious all of a sudden in a way my fourteen year old self couldn’t understand, and then he took off running. “Come on, let’s catch a bus! I’ve always wanted to ride one!”
“Aw, come on, just Slide us home,” I called, whining. My eyes twinkled with mischief whenever I used their lingo. I thrilled at proving that I knew what they were, what they did; and I especially liked egging him into things that would get him in trouble. He was always Mr. Perfect.
“Celeste, you know we can only Slide with a human if they’re dead…” his voice dropped off. Arc looked at me sheepishly.
We tried not to talk too much about the eternal elephant in the room that was his impending, and considerable, need to feed once he came of age. It was a complete buzz kill. All the glee I felt at provoking Arc into trouble faded away, as I felt the lightness of our moods sink. Arc suddenly stood next to me, again. He wrapped me in his strong, always abnormally warm, arms and hugged me to him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said into my hair.
Arc never scared me—ever. He was my best friend, and about as frightening as a gnat. We had been inseparable ever since we discovered the gift of our private telepathy. I didn’t realize that Arc had already shifted into protective boyfriend mode. I simply hadn’t caught up, so I felt annoyed by his coddling. I didn’t like feeling weak around Arc, as if I were a little girl. That day, though, I let him hold me a little longer than I ever had before, noticing with burgeoning horror that his touch created an unfamiliar, pleasant sensation in my body.
Uncomfortable, I playfully pushed him away. “Dude, please. You think you’re such a big scary Omni monster. You’re not scary,” I called at him as I coyly pranced down the street ahead of him. New possibilities regarding Arc fluttered under my consciousness, but I was in no way ready to acknowledge the rumblings he generated in my changing body. “Your father on the other hand—he’s one scary MF!”
“No shit! He’s going to freak out when we get home,” Arc called from far down the road, before he appeared a few feet in front of me. I was so jealous that he and all of the other Omni could bend space and move like that.
We both laughed, knowing we were going to be in serious trouble for this adventure. We spent the majority of our time getting in trouble, with Arc’s parents anyway. Ava didn’t mind what I did, so long as I kept speaking, went to school, and got good grades. I effortlessly received good grades.
My mind drifted back to my bathroom, as the memory faded. A few autumn leaves fell from my memory into the reflection in the mirror in front of my naked image. I allowed the memory to drift back to the place I kept my Arc memories secreted away. If they kept creeping up like this, I would have to search for a pad lock.
I slipped on pajamas, a men’s extra-large T-shirt, and padded to the kitchen in the deafening silence of the early morning to swallow a dose of pain pills. I made a mental note to ask Dr. Lam for a prescription sleep aid. Insomnia was going to kill me before anything or anyone else got a chance. Finally able to envision sleep as a real possibility, I slipped under the sheets and sunk into my pillows. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to cease all form of thinking, but just as I expected, my mind churned.
My eyes flew open as I remembered that Diaz hadn’t called me back as he had promised. I spent the next, who knows how many minutes, ruminating over what that meant. Had he gotten too busy with legit police work or had he simply run up cold again? I desperately wished that I was there in Hope City, so I could go through the files myself. Then I had the brilliant idea to take a road trip to Utah and visit Diaz; I hadn’t been to Utah in years. I could get the information I needed on my own. Maybe I could head out to Dark Harbor from there. A thin smile spread across my lips. It felt like a plan. Maybe if I took a road trip, Arc would forget about me and leave me alone.
I awoke two hours later to the sound of birds making a racket over the arrival of the sun, feeling stiff, sore, and still bleary with exhaustion. There was always that moment when I first woke, in which I forgot that I was dying, as if sleep erased my knowledge and waking brought it crashing back. I hated that brief second. It blasted me with renewed vigor this morning, since I could add the sting of embarrassment over what had transpired between Arc and I.
“Great,” I muttered as I zombie-walked into the hall on my way to the bathroom. Just as I was about to close the bathroom door, I noticed a flurry of activity in the kitchen. I smelled coffee brewing and heard the sizzle of cooking bacon, so I stopped and stepped tentatively back into the hall. I saw a brief flash of someone passing by the doorway.
“Padma?” I whispered to myself. I figured she had let herself in and was whipping me up a real old style breakfast. Since she was vegetarian, and a damned health nut on top of it, I thought it was really sweet that she would make me bacon just because I loved it. I walked around the corner to say good morning before heading back to the bathroom and stopped short, disbelief confusing me.
Arc waltzed about my kitchen mixing eggs, pouring coffee into mugs, the perfect picture of domestic normalcy. It was so absurd and so contrary to everything that he had done so far that I simply stood there, mouth agape. He whistled along to the radio spilling 80’s rock into the room, while wiping his hands on the plaid kitchen towel draped over his broad shoulder.
I knew the moment he sensed my presence because he froze and then slowly turned to face me. I stared at him like a fool. I could tell that, unfortunately, he was still scary Arc, only a tempered down version. He still wore all black, but it was less combat uniform and more GQ; and he had brushed his long hair back into a low ponytail. I thought he looked amazing, and then chastised myself for thinking along those lines. He still had a wild look in his eyes, but his expression said, “I dare you to find some reason to think me scary now.”
To see Arc making breakfast, when mere hours ago, he was threatening me with my life, made me question my sanity. As far as I knew, my disease shouldn’t cause hallucinations, and I had taken only the recommended dose of pain medication. Arc making breakfast did not make me feel better; it was not a nice or sweet gesture. The scene was just plain odd and creepy and it sent a chill down my back.
“Good morning,” he demanded. It was an order, not a greeting. His edgy voice didn’t mix well with pleasantries.
In my imagination, I saw myself raise my arms above my head, and run screaming from the room in terror. In reality, however, I managed to nod, still not trusting my voice.
Arc looked at me as if he was about to yell at me for insubordination, but then turned to retrieve one of the mugs of coffee and offered it to me, extending an olive branch. It worked.
“What are you doing, Arc?” I asked, moving tentatively toward him to accept his offering.
“Making you breakfast…us breakfast,” he corrected himself. He eyed the snapping bacon with disdain and then attempted a look of appeal. “So you can see how civil I am?”
“By cooking breakfast? A few hours ago you were ready to make breakfast out of me and now you’re here—“
“I don’t want to talk about a few hours ago!” he yelled, slamming his hand on the counter.
I jumped, sloshing a bit of scorching coffee onto my hand. The coffee mug teetered and slipped from my scalded hand to crash to the floor. I looked back at Arc, bracing for his reaction. When he didn’t move, I calmly turned and went into the bathroom. After shaking and holding my arms around my stomach for a long time trying to compose myself, I took care of my bathroom business, and then reentered the arena.
I found a seemingly normal scene. Arc was dumping a handful of broken mug pieces into the garbage, and the spilled coffee was gone. There was another full, steaming mug waiting for me on the island. This was all so distractingly confusing. I shook my head. I had a killer to find; I didn’t have time to figure out this one.
“Making me breakfast, cleaning up after me, and acting…like this,” I gestured to the cooking bacon and coffee pot, “doesn’t make me feel any better about…you. It’s just weird. You’re all over the place. Besides, I can take care of myself.”
“You think this is weird?” Arc asked. He looked at the food he had been preparing, then at me. “I mean to assure you, that is all.”
“Assure me of what?”
“That I do not intend to feed from you, as I may have…insinuated previously,” Arc explained matter-of-factly.
I took a seat at the island and stole a piece of crisped bacon from the plate. Bacon was something I was going to miss. I decided to add it to my bucket list: d) eat a lot of bacon.
“Arc,” I said, thrilling at the sound of his name on my lips. “Why are you really here? In light of the way you acted yesterday, I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
Arc didn’t speak at first; he regarded me, as if trying to make up his mind. It was the most human thing he had done. I raised my eyebrows wondering what he was thinking, but I was too afraid to probe his mind, and make him transform into Crazy Arc again.
I was left wanting.
“Should I make eggs?” Arc asked. He picked up another frying pan from the counter.
“No,” I sighed. “I don’t want eggs. Why did you come back, Arc?”
“You said you needed my help,” he finally replied.
“And you’re willing to give it?”
“That depends on what it is.”
“I need your help finding my mother’s killer,” I said without hesitation. This was it. He would help me or he wouldn’t. I waited impatiently, trying not to hope.
“What?” I cried. “Why? What reason could you possibly have for not helping me? Too busy?” I mocked.
“You have no idea how I spend my time, woman. I’m sure you don’t want to know.” Arc paused, considering. “I won’t help with that because it doesn’t interest me.”
I simply stared at him. His behavior had gone from serial killer crazy to spoiled child. “It doesn’t interest you?” I spat at him. “My mother was most likely killed by an Omni. Killed by one of you, an act that I know is not tolerated on the island. So how did an Omni find her thousands of miles away and kill her. And why? Who wanted to kill her? You seriously don’t want to help me figure this out? What happened to you? We were friends once. You’re the only one who can get me the information I need from the people who have it!” I yelled at him.
Arc disappeared and the pan clattered to the floor loudly, blasting jabs of pain into my blossoming headache. When he reappeared seconds later, virtually inches from me, I jumped and slipped off the stool. I barely caught myself from falling to the floor.
“What. Makes. You. Think. It. Was. Omni?” he spoke very slowly, through clenched teeth, in a manner that frightened me more than if he yelled. I wanted to run from him, but I was incapable of movement.
I felt like saying, “Duh, she was born on an island stuffed with creatures that devour human beings, so what makes you think she was killed by anyone else, jack ass?” But I didn’t.
Instead, I said, “She might have had a scar on her throat. Star shaped.” I was quivering, and I wanted to blame it on anger, but I was simply afraid of Arc. I hated that.
“Might have the scar?” Arc’s temper sparked. “Explain.”
“I’m waiting to find out for sure, but yes, I think she had the scar.” I could tell that this interested Arc enough to temper his mood. He stared off into the distance, lost in thought, so I took advantage of his distraction and stepped away from him. His eyes snapped back to me, preventing me from getting too far before he pierced me with unspoken questions.
“How could I possibly help you, if it were an Omni?” While he deliberated internally, the beast in him loosened up slightly.
“Well, you…you know things that I can’t possibly know,” I suggested. I was afraid to say the other reason.
“And…” he prodded.
I took a deep breath. “And…you could get me back on the island.” I wasn’t sure if I had lit a fuse or tempered his beast. Considering the state of him, he clearly was not a current resident on the island, unless things had changed dramatically since I left. I wasn’t even sure he could help me.
“Hah. Maybe,” Arc snorted. He rubbed the messy strands of hair, which had slipped from his ponytail, away from his face, and started pacing. He seemed to be pondering something that made him pensive and, more importantly, amenable to my idea.
Maybe he wanted to go back as badly as I did. How long had he been gone from the island’s grip? I waited for him to stop pacing and tell me what he was thinking. His pacing made me nervous; it was very out of character. Arc had always been so attractively self-possessed. Now he presented himself as if he were a caged animal.
“What are you thinking,” I pressed, impatient.
His head snapped up, and he looked at me as if he had forgotten that I was there. “None of your business,” he barked at me.
“Fine.” I threw up my hands. “ Fine!” I yelled back. “Whatever. Just go away. This is stupid. I’ll find my own way back. Leave!” Frustration threatened to make me cry; Arc’s hot and cold act was getting old.
Before I could react, Arc pushed me to the floor, somehow seeming to perch on my chest. He took a deep, exaggerated breath, smelling me.
“It wouldn’t take much for me to finish you off, woman, so don’t push me,” Arc sneered. His black eyes bore into mine with something other than disdain. For the first time since he had returned, he seemed to be looking at me with…interest.
I realized that Arc was trembling. It seemed impossible, but I sensed that he was restraining a need for me. For a desperate, shameful moment, I let myself imagine it was his hunger for me, as a woman, that made him tremble. I closed my eyes and slipped into my reverie, forgetting that it was no longer private. Silly girl.
When I opened my eyes, Arc’s fake toothy grin greeted me. “Sorry, babe, not today. But I will think about your other proposal. I have some unfinished business on that island, too,” Arc said and then stood.
I knew he was about to disappear again, and I still had more questions. The Omni were not reckless, wild creatures that killed at will. They maintained a civilized, even elegant, way of life on the island. Arc’s behavior was atypical. Something had happened to him to make him leave the safety of the island. He acted as though he had been on his own, fending for himself, away from his people. I didn’t know how else to explain why he was so out of control.
“Where have you been all these years?” I dared ask.
As Arc looked down at me, a hatred that I could never have mustered, twisted his face. He stared at me for a long time before that hatred transformed into regret, and finally sadness. I didn’t think he was going to tell me.
“Hell,” Arc said. And then, he was gone.