My mother didn't come home last night.
Did you contact the police?
I did. I called her doctor, too. The last thing she said to me was that she had an appointment that she'd forgotten about and would be home late.
But her doctor had no record of her having an appointment yesterday.
I called the police late last night.
I don't think they're going to be able to do anything for me.
They couldn't find my sister.
What if the two are related?
Meifeng could have just run away, but my mother wouldn't have done that.
You think someone kidnapped them?
I don't know.
// MARSCAPONE SUMMER HOME //
KEVIN feels a surge of pain ripple through his skull. He blinks a few times and notices a chromatic spot in the center of his vision. Looking at it intensifies a feeling of disorientation.
He’s having a visual migraine. Keeping his attention on his friend’s stream of texts is difficult, but he takes it slowly. His mind wanders.
His father’s voice brings him back to center.
Offer your services as a cleric.
OFFER MY SERVICES AS A CLERIC?
WHAT CAN I DO THAT WILL HELP HIM?
Do what Straud does.
I CAN’T DO WHAT STRAUD DOES.
Are you suggesting that you don't believe?
You know that's not true.
I BELIEVE. OR I BELIEVE I BELIEVE.
BUT I CAN’T. I DON’T. I HAVEN’T EVER…
Everyone has doubts, Kevin. Even the most devout question their faith.
You don't allow your doubt to become a new faith. That is what makes you a believer.
I’M AFRAID OF THE HAUNT.
I am too.
The pulsating kaleidoscope in his vision has grown, now unable to be ignored. It has been some time since the most recent of these episodes; for that he is grateful. They used to be much more common.
KEVIN reclines against the side of the couch and scrolls through the most recent messages from his friend.
If he is to follow his father’s suggestion, there is but one way he can get to the city; he’s in no condition to drive today. Life was always about measuring one risk against another.
Teleportation. It is yet another one of his fears.
I can come over and see if there's anything I can figure out.
I just need some time to get on the train.
// MARSCAPONE SCHOOL OF MAGIC //
In a quiet bedroom near the center of the building, a spark sets a cluster of dust aglow. A crackle sends through the air and in an instant is materialized a young man in a long blue jacket. It is KEVIN MARSCAPONE, kneeling on the bed, knees pressing into the aged mattress.
He coughs, breathless from his exercise.
(thinking) Yeah… I just hate…
(thinking) Whatever stupid name Mom came up with for it.
KEVIN still wheezes, bent over the dusty bed.
He reaches out an arm and flips over the corner of the bed, now sitting upright with his feet on the floor.
It was in this room he’d spent countless hours, face-to-face with his Curse. A heavy curtain hangs on the window, though it had been pushed aside at some point, and light now spilled into the room, illuminating the brown and burgundy tones of the walls and bedclothes.
He’d before ransacked the bookshelves, leaving the remains haphazard, leaning against themselves at gaping angles. Many of these books now made their home out east at the summer home. He’d especially chosen the ones with illustrations…
His mind, for a moment, seems empty, as if his father were holding his tongue.
The hollow in the bottom of his lungs subsides as oxygen once again makes its way through his circulation. He rests, taking stock of the familiar room, before standing once again.
He opens the deadbolt on the door, turns the knob, and pulls it inward.
The hallway is darkened and slightly musty with disuse.
George Henry is meditating and Summer Holiday...
She must be at work.
Time to get on the train.
KEVIN walks downstairs, and, blinking, steps into the sun.
There's something I need to tell you before you get here.
(thinking) Angela is the last thing on my mind right now.
(thinking) But I guess it’s nice that he gave me a heads-up.
But it was nice of him.
// TANG HOUSE //
On the outskirts of Williamsburg is a trim, modern construction. One of the most striking characteristics of the house is that it is almost completely symmetrical, right down to the flower bushes decorating the front of the home.
The sky is overcast and illuminated in a bright, if drab, grey.
He used to bring his mother here on occasion to play mahjong. She often had made her own way, rarely taking the train, more commonly taking a private taxi. But from time to time she’d roped in her son to give her a free ride down to Brooklyn with her lucky cards in hand.
They never played for keeps.
KEVIN knocks on the door. A man just slightly younger than himself answers. By the rosey hue of his cheeks, KEVIN supposes he’s been drinking alcohol.
PLEASE, COME IN.
The entrance is spacious and welcoming. KEVIN removes his leather shoes and places them with the others off to the side of the front door.
Standing awkwardly before them, cupping one arm with the other, is KEVIN’s ex-girlfriend, ANGELA PLEASANT. She has bright coppery hair and wears merry pastels, much the same as she always had.
Has she gained weight?
KEVIN tries to pay little attention to his father’s catty crosstalk.
HI KEVIN. IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU.
I’M JUST ON MY WAY OUT.
She walks over to ZHANGWEI and delivers a chaste kiss upon his cheek.
I’LL TALK TO YOU LATER, ZHANGWEI.
LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED ME.
She moves to the shoe rack, retreives a pair of sneakers and slips them on.
Soon, the door closes and the entrance is empty except for the two men.
YOU HAVEN’T TOLD HER, HAVE YOU.
A suggestion hangs unsaid.
YOU DIDN’T TELL HER EITHER.
Oof, he's got you there.
I SHOULD HAVE.
I JUST NEVER FELT SHE WAS READY.
I’M GOING TO TELL HER.
I JUST NEED MORE TIME.
The emptiness of the house strikes KEVIN all of a sudden. The TANG family did not keep any pets. The lights in the adjacent rooms are out and the large home feels very, very empty.
He didn’t suppose ZHANGWEI enjoyed living here without company.
It didn’t bother him that his old family friend was dating his ex-girlfriend. No, rather, it almost comforted him. He had dreaded the event of trying to reveal the Truth to her. He had dreaded telling her he’d once fed on the blood of Mortals. He dreaded telling her that his mind was not fully his own.
As a child he’d oft wondered about life on the Outside. But the inescapable Truth Of It All had destroyed all chance of ever grokking that nostalgia.
I ASSUME YOU HAVEN’T HEARD FROM YOUR MOTHER.
NO. NOT A WORD.
THE COPS SAID THAT THIS OFTEN HAPPENS AFTER FAMILY MEMBERS GO MISSING.
THAT THEY EXPECT…
He begins to stumble on the words caught in his throat.
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THEY THINK.
IT’S IMPORTANT THAT WE DO OUR DUE DILIGENCE BUT THESE MATTERS ARE LIKELY OUTSIDE THEIR CAPABILITY.
I WANT TO ATTEMPT AN AUGURY.
WHAT WAS THE LAST CONTACT YOU HAD WITH HER?
I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE ABLE.
KEVIN lets his lack of confidence get the better of him. His voice is somewhat quiet in tone.
I’VE… NEVER TRIED.
BUT I THINK I MIGHT BE ABLE TO SEE SOMETHING.
It was well-known that clerical magic required a firm belief in a higher power but nearly all magic-users were atheistic. Many had probably never seen a divine feat worked in their lifetimes.
In some circles, just the mention of the divine was enough to earn ire. Most did not believe that the Mortal’s gods existed. If, on the contrary, they did exist, they would be rivals to the wizards’ claim of dominance over the Earth. Little motivated the common magic-user to bow to an immortal sky-being of which they had no proof.
ZHANGWEI seems skeptical and reticent to speak.
I’M… I’M USUALLY ASLEEP WHEN SHE LEAVES THE HOUSE.
I DIDN’T TALK TO HER MUCH THE DAY BEFORE.
I JUST HAVE THE TEXT MESSAGES I SENT HER…
THAT WON’T BE OF MUCH USE.
He stops to think a moment, looking around the foyer.
His eyes land on the shoe caddy, full of three very distinct styles of shoes. It was easy enough to tell the owner of each pair just by looking at them.
PEIYUN had a predictable, practical taste in shoes. There were a number of chunky low-set heels in neutral shades.
DO YOU KNOW WHICH OF THESE, IF ANY, SHE WAS WEARING MORE OFTEN THAN NOT?
KEVIN started to lose his patience once he believed he was on to something.
YES, HER SHOES.
THINK, MAN; THINK!
ZHANGWEI is surprised at the force of KEVIN’s speech.
He walks up toward the shelving.
UH– I DON’T KNOW.
THESE ONES HERE.
He points to a lightly scuffed pair of shoes in a color that seems to evade definition. A rosey taupe. Pink-khaki. Tan lipstick.
KEVIN moves forward to pick them up.
They feel like ordinary shoes and for a moment, he feels like an idiot.
He closes his eyes and tries to quiet his mind, but he can feel ZHANGWEI staring at him, expectantly.
Shut me out and listen to the rain.
He focuses on the ambient sound. ZHANGWEI sniffles dryly.
He cannot hear his father’s voice, but then, he can hear nothing at all. ZHANGWEI sniffles again, quieter this time.
KEVIN presses his finger into the edge of the bottom of the heel. The plastic corner is rough and uneven from scraping against city streets.
And it hits him suddenly. A forceful twinge of the eye muscles. The scent of salt from the tear ducts. It hurts; the pain surprises him but he holds steady.
The impression is of PEIYUN’s sorrow. It’s overwhelming, mother’s regret.
His mind tries to wander.
ZHANGWEI shifts in the periphery of his attention. KEVIN pushes his focus back on track.
He pushes his finger back into the jagged edge, and though he feels the pain, no longer can he feel the tearful seizure.
ZHANGWEI, concerned, reaches his hand out and touches him on the shoulder.
KEVIN jerks violently away from the intrusion on his concentration.
Without so much as a second thought, he raises the shoe to his nose and takes in the smell. There is the stale stench of human feet, but it is overwhelmed by the fragrant powder. He tries to focus on what was distinctly PEIYUN; her sweat, her blood, her tears.
The smell of mourning.
He douses himself in the feeling, trying to push words from distracting the raw emotion. When suddenly, it hits him.
His instinct tells him to raise his hand to the side of his neck but he refuses to remove his hand from the shoe. But the pain is intense, rippling through his entire body with the insistence of violent frost.
This sensation is the vampire’s bite.
His concentration is broken as he stops to gasp for air, only now cognizant that he’d not been breathing.
He’d grasped PEIYUN’s last thought.
ZHANGWEI doesn’t believe in the divination. But KEVIN doesn’t care.
YOUR MOTHER IS DEAD.
The stunned man backs away. KEVIN puts the shoe back on the rack.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE ME.
NO. THAT CAN’T BE.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE ME.
WHY OUR FAMILY?
I DON’T KNOW.
I CAN’T SAY WHY, OR HOW, I KNOW…