When I opened my eyes, Grandfather was sitting by my bed. He looked the part of the Arkwright patriarch. For a short man, he was intimidating. He had a harsh figure, sharp cheekbones and defined muscles.
I looked nothing like him.
I carried the looks of my mother’s family, Gran’s curly hair and a lighter version of Pop’s dark complexion. I could feel his grey eyes burrowing into my soul. When I was a boy, I thought he could see all my secrets if he looked at me long enough. Was it implausible that he could read minds when Gran and I could see spirits? This was the first moment I knew, one hundred per cent that he couldn’t read my mind, or he would know my secret. He watched me for about a minute as he straightened his glasses. “You have questions?”
“I was attacked by a dem-, monster thing. I have questions.” I said. I’d had time to think, about what Gran and Pop had told me about demons. It wasn’t a lot. What we call demons are creatures from other dimensions. The fact that we weren’t overrun meant humans were amongst the few creatures that could open gates between dimensions.
“The Arkwrights’ have a strong history of magic. I was disappointed when Bennet never inherited magical ability, but your Grandma never had magic either. When two of your brothers had magical abilities despite neither of their parents having them, I was surprised. The genes are supposed to come from two sides of the family. I researched your mother’s family history and found members of the Gerstle family who were once part of our community before magic died out in their line. A great-great-grandfather is still close enough to pass on the genes when magic is strong on my side of the family.”
“Is this conversation going anywhere? I thought Eli was going to tell me about this. I know about Mason and Edwin, the snarky dickhead who helped save me let it slip.”
“You can’t tell Ralph about this.”
“How would I tell Ralph?”
“I know you never lost contact with him. You were always his favourite.”
“Does everyone know?”
“Is this why my relationship with Viola is icy at best? Because she has a grudge over me staying in contact with my brother?”
“It hurts that he’d rather contact you instead of his own kid.”
“That’s hardly my fault. I gave him Rita’s number and email. I send him photos and updates. I want him to care about his daughter.”
“I’m not here to talk about my dead-beat grandson.”
“No.” I met his eyes. “You’re here to shut me up.”
“Don’t phrase it like that.”
“I’m going to talk to Eli about this. I need a practical explanation, not waffle about magical inheritance. Hell, I didn’t even know what his job was until yesterday. He lied to me, and you lied to me. Half the people I consider my family have lied to me my whole life.”
“I told Elijah not to come, so I could be the one to tell you this.”
I shouldn’t have been angry because I was doing the same thing. If it came out, everyone would give me hell for being upset, but, there was this whole community of magical people, and I’d been isolated from it. I swallowed my next words when I realised it wasn’t them I was angry at, it was Gran. She’d been raised by a man who’d witnessed his father’s murder, and it had affected her. She was paranoid about an event that involved people long dead. There might still be people who’d use Mediums for their own gain, but surely the people closest to me could know. They could protect me.
“I’ll talk to Eli about it. You’ve never been good at talking to less than a room full of people.”
Grandfather let out a loud breath. “We were seconds from losing you yesterday, Dex. I needed this. I wanted to be the one to tell you.” For a second before he looked away from me, I swore I saw tears in his eyes. I’d never seen him cry before. It hit me like a punch to the gut.
He stood up. “I’ll see you at dinner on Tuesday.”
“I’m sorry. Please tell me what I need to know.” I tried to meet his eyes. “What do you want me to know?”
He walked out of the room; he didn’t turn around or say another word.
Tears started to form in my eyes, and I let them fall. We’d been so close when I was a kid. I struggled to breathe, as the white walls closed in on me. I closed my eyes and curled into a ball under the rough, hot pile of blankets and stiff sheets. The constant smell of disinfectant made me nauseous.
I needed to get out of here!
This room didn’t have a fucking TV and no one but Grandfather had come to visit me since Eli left me here yesterday. I’d spent the night snoozing and staring at the textured walls until I started seeing things.
I caught a taxi home. I was still in a hospital dressing gown and robe. I’d left money on my pillow to pay for it. The taxi driver had looked a bit apprehensive about picking up a man in a hospital gown with his bracelet still on, but he changed his tune when I dropped him an extra fifty from my wallet. Once in the house, I picked up the phone by the door and called Aunt Myrtle’s house again. I needed to talk to Gran. Privacy wasn’t an issue; the house was empty in the middle of the day apart from the staff. It was the same message as the other day. I slammed the phone down on the receiver.
I heard a gasp behind me. I turned around. Abigail, the elderly housekeeper, was standing behind me wheeling a sizeable wooden tea trolley.
“Please, tell me you at least signed the paperwork before you left,” Abigail said. “Eli was going to bring you a pair of clothes when he picked you up this afternoon.”
“This afternoon! I couldn’t stand another minute in that place.” I said. Where I’d been recovering hadn’t been a hospital but a small private clinic for the magical community. I still had no idea why I’d been given staples over magical healing.
“Are you okay?” She touched my shoulder gently.
“I don’t know. Every time I close my eyes, I see that dead girl.” I realised what I’d said too late. Fuck! They were never going to trust me. Thankfully, I could see it in her eyes. She knew what happened. Was it surprising that the magic family had a housekeeper in on it?
“How about you go upstairs and rest? I’ll send up Eli, so he can make sure you shower safely. Whoever you’re trying to call can wait.”
I looked down the hall and realised that Eli, his family, my brothers and a few strangers were standing in the hallway or poking their heads out the door of the downstairs sitting room. Sometimes this house made me feel like I was in a Victorian period drama.
Sometimes I just wanted to scream.
I looked away from the crowded hall. I’d have to walk through it to get to my bedroom. Sometimes I got sick of trying to accommodate everyone in my life. Sometimes I just wanted to be alone. Right now as sick as I was of the world and the people in it, I wanted Eli to hold me and sit quietly. I didn’t realise I was shaking until Abigail started rubbing my back. “Please. Go upstairs and rest. I’ll bring you some tea.”
Grandfather walked through the front door like he owned the place. He stopped walking when he saw me. “What… are…” He shook his head. “I don’t even want to know.”
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“Cleaning up your mess.”
“My mess? How the fuck is this my mess?” The drugs were wearing off, and my head was pounding. The pain was increasing with every word. “It’d be a real fucking mess if I broke that bathroom window and ran for it. Leaving that thing to rip up people. Or I could have run out the front door, and then it would have broken down that door and hey presto, the same problem.”
He pointed at the paper bag I was holding. “It’s time to take your pills.”
I felt dizzy. If I went upstairs, they won, but I needed to lay down. I walked past him and up the stairs without another word. I learnt pride from the best, after all.
I turned my laptop on, and the WiFi didn’t work. Instead of trying to get it to work, I took five extra minutes and used my phone to send an email to Aunt Myrtle about needing to talk to Gran. I needed her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want strangers to know my secret, but I was sick of keeping it from the people I cared about, especially now they would understand.
I needed her to tell me what to do.
I used the glass of water on Eli’s side table to take my pain medication, which was a sedative and antibiotic. When I went to turn off my laptop, I noticed a second browser window open. It was Eli’s inbox. I was reading the open email before I realised what I was doing.
Subject D294 was witnessed talking to Subject J591 before the incident. Possible involvement? Gate testing went wrong? Are you sure there was no one else on site at arrival? He is connected to unregulated activities through Subject E346 and Subject H372. Is Subject D294 an illegal magic-user? Any contact D294 makes with E346 must be reported. E346 reported to have passed through customs at 8 am yester-
I slammed the laptop closed when I heard someone walking down the hall.
Eli’s eyes widened when he saw me holding the laptop, the words he was about to speak died in his mouth.
I slowly tapped the laptop with a finger. “Movie?”
“Who do you keep trying to contact?”
I let out a long slow breath. “Gran.”
“Do you want that bath now?”
“You think I can even look at a bathtub? I only had one in that clinic because I was drugged.” I waved a hand towards the laptop. “I was just about to watch a movie.”
“You need to sleep.”
“Why are you acting so weird about me contacting Gran?”
“You know you can tell me anything?”
“What do you think I need to tell you?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“I’m tired from the pill I took.” I laid down and turned my back to him.
“It’s like you’re holding your breath. Like you have something you need to tell me.”
“I know your Mum’s big on the whole no secrets in this house thing, but after what you hid from me, none of you has any ground to stand on.”
“You don’t want a bath or a shower?”
“Not if you have to help,” I said. “Just stop asking.”
Eli sighed, kissed my forehead and left.
Subject D and Subject J talking before the incident. Could the sender mean Jonah and me? Subject E could be Gran, as her first name was Everlyn. Jonah and Gran didn’t know each other. Every person I’d met with ‘official’ magic attended Dunn Academy. Jonah couldn’t be a Mage, as he’d went to Tallow High with me. Who was Subject H though? I didn’t know anyone who’s name started with H.
Passed through customs… where? Did they mean Australia? Why would they be coming to visit?
When I woke up, it was dark, and the laptop was back on the desk in the office next door. I opened my phone to check the time. There was an email from Aunt Myrtle. It was a quick message; they had just landed in Tallow. She wanted to meet me for brunch. The message ended with, Gran is well and looking forward to seeing you. I locked my phone and walked over to the desk.
Did someone at the meeting suspect Gran and I of having magical abilities? Is that why they were so keen on knowing who I contacted and why? I turned on my laptop and logged out of my email. If I put a password on the computer, it would look suspicious next time Eli went to use it. Like I had something to hide. I could easily claim that my email login had expired. They couldn’t know I was going to see Gran until I could talk to her. I needed to know what to do next; if I acted on my own, I could put myself in danger. Danger Gran could have steered me from. While the glass of water sated my thirst, I was hungry.
I walked downstairs and heard a raised voice come from the sitting room as I passed. Had they been in there since two? I walked into the kitchen and heated up a tin of soup. After I ate, I went back up to my room. I didn’t think it would help my case to be caught eavesdropping. I couldn’t understand what they were saying anyhow.