Phantom (Endlessly Book 3) (7 page)

She watched my face carefully.
Oz.

The tug was strong and physical. I took a step to steady myself and looked at Ash. A single black tear rolled down her cheek.

“If you really love me, you’ll go to her,” she said.

Ash ran toward the tree and I growled loudly. I let the shift take hold as vertigo filled me. I was suddenly on all four
s as pieces of cloth dropped around me. Ash disappeared beneath the tree, and I unleashed a roar. Then I ran.

 

 

 

 

8 THE STRANGER

 

Running always took my mind off things. Some people got mad and fought, some got mad and screamed. I got mad, turned into a werewolf, and ran. There was something soothing about running through the forest, leaping and jumping off overgrown trees and sword ferns. It was freeing to be what I truly was and not think of anything else.

I ran down to the beach. I knew Ash wasn’t going to follow. When I ran out onto the wet sand no one else was there. The tide was receding
and I sat in my werewolf shift and watched the water as it rolled onto the beach. I wanted to enjoy a few minutes of solidarity with the sea.

I watched the waters churn for a long time. After a while I felt a strange sensation, as if I were being watched. I looked back toward the path up the cliff, then across the beach. I didn’t see anyone. Then I looked out at the broken rocks stretching from the shore.

A girl was on a rock, close to the water’s edge. Beautiful seemed like an insult. She was much more. The girl posed seductively on the rock and dipped her oddly shaped hand in the water. Was she wearing strange gloves? She looked up at me with large brown doe-like eyes. Her dark brown curly hair fell over her breasts and down to her waist. I’m sure that any other time I would have studied her nude body, but I couldn’t take my eyes from hers.

The sound of the ocean seemed to change, as if my heart was beating with the waves. The sound filled my head and body.

I wasn’t aware I had shifted back to human until the cold air hit my naked skin. Even then, I ignored everything around me and could only focus on the girl.

She moved slowly, but deliberately, as she sat up and slipped her feet into the water. Icy water wash
ed over my feet and I tried to look away from her. I wanted to look at my feet to see why they were getting wet. It dawned on me slowly that I was walking into the water toward her.

The rhythmic beat in my head was broken by an annoying buzz. I ignored it and treaded into the water as it washed higher up my leg and numbed my knees.

The buzz was getting louder. Suddenly, a gargoyle dropped in front of me and spread its wings, blocking my view of the girl. I saw the silver ring and knew it was Lex. Goose bumps covered her flesh around her swimsuit top as she shivered.

“Snap out of it, Jason!” Lex’s shifted voice was loud and deep.

I flinched as I realized the ocean and I were two separate beings. A hiss sounded in the distance and Lex turned to look at the girl. I stole a glimpse as she dropped her wings.

The girl now stood on the rock, crouched
, ready to attack. She bared shark-like teeth and spat in Lex’s direction. The strange gloves were fins webbing the distance between her abnormally long fingers. It was the same between her toes.

The strange woman calmed herself as her large brown eyes fixed on something beyond us. Two long slits opened ju
st under her jaw on either side — gills.

“Goddamn it!” Lex barked. “Get out of here, you stupid bitch!” Lex leapt toward the girl.

The girl hissed again and dived into the water.

“Get out of the water, Jason!” Jenny yelled from behind me.

I hadn’t known Jenny was there as I stood naked in the ocean. I shifted back into my werewolf form and ran out of the water. Lex landed on the beach. I hid behind a rock. I shifted to human. My feet were so cold they hurt. I peeked over the edge of the rock.

“What the fuck was that?”

“A mermaid,” Jenny said.

“I thought I spotted her last week,” Lex grumbled, as she folded her wings. “I should have warned everyone. No one comes to the beach alone anymore.”

“I thought they stayed more to the south, in warmer water,” I said.

Lex sighed. “Yeah, that’s why I wasn’t sure. She would have killed you, Jason. You’re an easy target.”

“What do you mean an easy target?” I asked, insulted.

“Because you’re a horny man,” Jenny said, almost disgusted.

“Not because he’s a man,” Lex growled. “She would have gladly eaten anyone she could seduce. It’s all a mermaid does… screw and eat.”

Jenny blushed.

“So dragons aren’t the only creatures that lure you in?” Lex grinned crookedly at me.

Jenny shifted to her gargoyle form and flew away.

“What are you implying, Lex?”

“Just what everyone already knows. Ashley turns you on. That’s part of being a dragon. But no matter how bad you want to be with her, you can’t, because she’s a vampire.” Lex opened her wings.

“What if it’s not the dragon part of Ash that is pulling me? Have you thought about that? Have you considered I might actually care about her?” I sneered.

“God, this is only getting worse every time you feed after her,” she mumbled. “Get your ass off the beach, and don’t come down here alone anymore. Next time I’ll let the psycho beast eat you.”

“Thanks,” I said as she flew off.

 

It never took Ashley long to get over being mad at me. She was more forgiving than everyone else about my inability to keep my mouth shut. Whenever we had a disagreement, it never took more than a day to get back to the normal.

In the months that followed, Sarah brought Ashley more than enough blood to nurse her back to health. Sarah had also taken Abigail under her wing, falling right into the mother role. Donations were the only way the girl ate. Ash had let her kill when it was just the two of them, but no one thought it was quite right to have an eleven-year-old murderer on their hands.

I didn’t bring up the topic of becoming a hybrid again. I figured I would let Ash think it over in her own time; which meant slowly. Immortality gives you plenty of time to make decisions, but the immortal doesn’t always consider mortal time.

Winter dragged by and Ash regained her health. There was no mistaking her for Sarah now. As Ash’s hips and chest swelled, it grew harder for me to keep my eyes off her. Hiding my feelings became impossible, but it wasn’t something we discussed.

Lex and I were on good terms, but she kept her promise and never stopped at my apartment. I got antsy. I took solo trips away from the house to satisfy my needs with random girls who would have me. But when I slept with a woman it was empty, and never quite enough. I tried not to think about the growing tug in my chest. As much as I hated to admit it, Hania was right. It was becoming harder to ignore.

Sarah told me Oz had lived here once, before I arrived. I wanted to ask Josh about her, but I didn’t want to seem eager. I was determined to prove them all wrong. I had it set in my mind that I was going to stay here, and wait for Ash to accept my offer.

Every day the tug gre
w. It always came from the east — one more reason to ignore it. I loved the west coast; there was nothing east but flat farmland. I was still convinced I was not going to look for her, but I had to remind myself every day. She was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing when I fell asleep. I had strange dreams of her, but I could hardly remember them later.

One May afternoon, close to the second anniversary of Verloren’s death, I sat in the game room, playing a new video game with Josh. Hania, Lex and Jenny were in the kitchen. Abigail was watching Sarah and Ashley play a horrible game of billiards when the buzzer sounded. I looked at the other television and saw an unrecognizable figure.

“Hold up, pause it,” I told Josh.

“You’re still going to get your ass kicked when you get back,” Josh taunted.

Ash looked at me. We hadn’t planned on anyone showing up, and after the incident with the demon, we were more cautious about letting in strangers. I watched him and Ashley did the same. I shrugged. Sarah didn’t seem concerned.

“Hey guys,” I called. “We got a visitor.”

Josh studied the screen. “Never seen him.”

Ashley turned her head slightly as she listened to the man’s thoughts. “Human, scared, and confused. That’s all I’m picking up. His thoughts are too frantic.”

Sarah walked over to Abby, obviously regarding this visitor as a free meal. I wondered how he’d found us. The other three came in from the kitchen. Hania hung onto Lex’s arm as they shuffled across the game room. I returned my attention to the man on the screen. He glanced around, and shook as he pushed the button.

The other three shook their heads as they watched him fidget.

I pushed the button and spoke: “State your business.”

The man flinched. “Uh… I got a phone call from someone that gave me directions to this place.”

“Who called you?” I asked.

“I
… I… don’t know. It was a guy. He called my house and told me I needed to come here. He told me to climb under this tree… I didn’t know it was going to be that far of a drop. I think I screwed up my ankle. He didn’t give me much information. It was a couple of weeks ago. I thought it might be a prank, but I figured I would come check it out, but now I can’t get out.” His eyes darted this way and that.

“What are you?” I asked.

“Huh? What do you mean?”

I let go of the button and looked at Josh. “He’s human all right.”

Josh furrowed his brow. “I say let him in. I’ll go grab the gun and we’ll have some fun.”

Josh disappeared and returned with my old Desert Eagle 500. We probably wouldn’t need it. Either one of us could snap the guy’s neck like a toothpick. The gun was security in case he had a weapon, or we might use it to scare the shit out of him. I grinned to myself.

“Lex, give us about ten seconds once we close the mudroom door, and then let him in,” I said.

Josh and I hurried into the mudroom and I closed the door behind us. Giggling like a girl, Josh aimed the gun at the outer door. I had my hand on the handle waiting for the click. Ten seconds felt like an eternity. Finally the lock clicked open.

I pulled the door open, grabbed the guy by the throat and dragged him in. He stumbled as he tried to keep up with me. I slammed him up against the wall. Josh was beside me with the gun aimed at the man’s head. The guy was a few inches shorter than me. He had a shaved head with dark stubble. His eyes were a lighter shade of brown than mine. He looked to be a couple of years younger than me. The man had a similar build, but he was much weaker. His eyes bounced between me and the gun, as he held his hands up in surrender. His body trembled with fear — scared shitless.

“Who are you?” I asked, loosening my grip on his throat.

He coughed, and said: “M-m-my name is J-Ja-Jack Xavier.”

“Sounds like a fucking superhero’s name,” Josh said, glaring at the guy.

“What’s your real name?” I yelled in his face.

“Th-th-that is my real name,” he replied.

I told Josh: “Fucking human and weak. I’m surprised he hasn’t pissed his pants.”

Josh laughed and I let go of
the guy. When he put weight on his right foot he almost fell. He balanced on his left and leaned against the wall. I backed away from him and Josh followed my lead. Josh kept the gun aimed at Jack’s head.

“How did you find this place?” I asked.

Jack panted: “I told you… I got a call…”

“Start from the beginning,” Josh said, waving the gun.

“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up again, and tried to catch his breath. “About two weeks ago, I got a call on my home phone. It was some guy…”

“Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Jack looked at me. “He was talking fast. He told me to grab a pen and paper and write down some coordinates. He said that once I got there, I needed to go under the large tree that had the ground hollowed out under it.”

Josh and I looked at each other. It was someone who had been here, or was in the know.

“Where did the call come from?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know, I don’t really use the land l
ine, and I don’t have caller ID,” Jack stammered. “B-but I could hear someone else in the background. The guy started to tell me something. All I really understood was ‘tell her’ then there was some commotion and the line went dead. At first I thought it was some kind of prank my friends were playing on me, but they swore it wasn’t them. They told me about this game that some people play, where they hide various objects and give out the coordinates, like a scavenger hunt, so I thought what the hell. I borrowed a buddy’s GPS and ended up here.”

“And you’re human?” Josh asked.

“What else would I be?” Jack asked, looking back and forth between us.

Josh and I looked at each other, wondering who sent him.

“You don’t know anything about this place, or why you’re here?” I asked.

“I told you everything
I know… I swear.”

“We’ll give him to Hania,” I told Josh.

The guy started panicking. “Look man, I-I’m sorry, I won’t say shit if you just let me go home. I don’t want any trouble. I didn’t know…” He hobbled forward.

Josh laughed at the guy and lowered the gun. “Don’t worry, dude. We’re not going to hurt you.”

He hobbled another step.

“We should get him to the sofa and have Hania take care of his ankle. We could get a donation from him, then Hania can set him up to go home,” I said.

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