Aaahhh!! December is trucking right along! So much to do! Did you know that traditionally Christmas falls in this month? What’s that? You say that this is something you knew about, and prepared for? Well, aren’t you on top of it! This is the first year I haven’t had to contend with a school schedule and work and the holidays all at the same time. So it surprised me. You’re probably already done shopping and decorating. You know what you need now? A break. Maybe a break in which you read a small chapter of a book? Yes? Good! Here’s Chapter Four!
I run into the motel room, and grab my laptop.
“Shh! Hang on, just a sec,” I cut my sister off. I re-watch the tape of the first alleged abduction.
“Look at his feet again.” My sister looks at me like I’ve well and truly lost my mind. “You looking?”
“Yes, Summer. As before, I see that he is walking strangely.”
“I can’t freakin’ believe it….He’s a little pigeon-footed, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess. And?”
“So was the hottie with the bad shoes.”
“And this is…related you think?”
“Yes, because on top of walking with her feet pointing in, she was doing this maneuver.” I grab a pair of Lia’s shoes. While we can share clothing, her feet are a full size larger than mine. I get up and try to walk. I demonstrate the awkward gait that I can still picture the frisky girl from the party employing.
Lia watches my demonstration and then goes back through the footage. “Holy shit. And that’s what he’s doing, too. That’s what looks so ‘off’. He’s stuffing his shoes.” I nod my agreement.
“But how does that make sense? All the abductions so far have been by men.”
“Because, I don’t think that’s true. And I think I just let it get another kid. Dammit! Let me see the laptop again a sec?” Lia hands me my computer and I go to Katie’s Facebook page, scrolling through until I find the guy I’d initially thought might be the bad guy. His name is Shane. Shane Collins. On his page, I see a few conversations with what appear to be his fraternity brothers.
“Yo, u seen Mike?” Someone named “El Duche La Roche” wrote.
“Nah, think he went home again lol.” Shane replied. I keep scrolling.
A week earlier.
“Anyone sees Cody, tell him I got his phone. Again.” Reads another post by “El Duche,” with several brothers tagged.
“God dammit!” I curse.
“What? What is it?” Lia moves to peer over my shoulder, trying to find something obviously wrong on the page I’m reading.
“It was right there! It was totally that girl! I was going off incomplete information. Lia. It’s not just girls gone wild. I’ll bet Cody and Mike and now Shane are also MIA.”
“How can we have missed it that badly?”
“It’s really not that bizarre, I guess,” I say after I stop bashing my forehead with my palm. “A girl goes missing after a night with a guy, front page news. Face plastered all over Facebook land, hoping someone’s seen her. A boy goes missing after a night with a girl. Sounds like these guys sort of fall off the face of the planet on the regular. No one raises the alarm, or at least not as big an alarm.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to America. But don’t you see? It’s perfect for a monster on the prowl. Strong willed guy who’s not gonna be missed? Cody’s been gone almost three weeks—I don’t see him on the news yet.”
I punch the bed. “Dammit!” I yell again. “I could have had the thing. Stupid Ben and his stupid cigarettes! Stupid Summer!”
“Whoa, whoa, easy. You didn’t invent sexism or missing person protocols,” my sister says soothingly. “And you totally just Sherlocked the hell out of this case. Now we know whatever it is, it’s not just one guy taking girls, and that the foot thing is more than a quirk.”
“Gee, thanks. That will make me feel so much better when I’m picturing Shane dying a slow death because I didn’t think of this four hours ago.”
“Listen, rain cloud. If he’s gonna die slow, then we’ve got time to plan an attack. I’m going to go sluice off so I don’t want to crawl out of my skin, and then we can strategize. Try to relax. We’ll find it, okay?”
I nod and rub my forehead. So much for a day that started off so well. I’m exhausted and sticky and the delightful smoke of cigarettes has turned into a disgusting ashtray aura. I want to sleep but I know that I won’t be able to with at least seven people out there in the monsters’ den.
Ophelia comes back out in a few minutes.
“So, what are your thoughts, and how can I help now?” She asks from her side of the room.
“Aside from kicking myself, I’m not really sure what to do right now. I think we should find this “El Duche” guy but he probably won’t be super communicative at three o’clock.”
“Sounds reasonable. Hey. Summer.” I look over at her. “It’s not your fault. And we’re gonna find the monsters doing it. Okay?”
I nod at her, my thoughts elsewhere.
“Hey. We’ll take care of it. You can’t lose it on me now.”
That makes me smile briefly. There have been a few near misses in that department. “I haven’t yet, have I?” I reply wryly.
“Miraculously, no. Let’s keep it that way. So…can anything else happen right now?”
“No. No, don’t think so.”
“Okay, then…” she turns on the television and turns out her light. “Then I’m gonna get my strength for tomorrow. You should do the same.”
I act like I’m going to follow her advice, changing into pajamas, brushing my teeth. But when my sister’s eyes close and her breathing shifts into the rhythm of sleep, I continue researching. I read through months and months of all the public profiles on Facebook of the fraternity and sorority members. I Google more about the various monsters I can think of that might fit the bill. And, when I get really desperate, I try to find ways to beat insomnia that maybe I haven’t tried before. As suspected, all that’s left now is medicine or sleep studies. Unhelpful, internet.
“Summer. Hey. Summer. It’s just a dream, wake up.”
I bolt upright and brandish the knife I keep under my pillow at the air in front of me, finding my sister at the edge of my bed, hand on my foot. So. I guess I fell asleep at some point. I groan.
“What time is it?” I ask, leaning back against the headboard.
“About seven thirty.”
I groan again. I distinctly remember hearing birds chirping while I was still up, which means I got somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours of sleep. “Then why’d you wake me up?”
“You were having another nightmare. Looked pretty bad. You were freakin’ me out, even.” She looks at me as if she’s trying to diagnose me. “Do you remember it?”
“Why, did I say something?”
“Nope. As usual, you just sort of thrashed around and looked like you were screaming but no sound came out.”
I smile wanly. “No, Lia. Sorry I woke you up. You know I never remember.”
The nightmares started shortly after I realized that Lia’s memories were being stolen by one of the fae. She was little, maybe nine, so I was around twelve. My current theory is that they are either a curse put on me by the fae that tormented Lia, or that they’re the manifestations of my subconscious turning to mush when it tries to process my life experiences. Whatever they are, I try not to dwell on them. Most of the time I honestly don’t remember when I wake up, but the ones I do are always about Lia. I’ve decided that she doesn’t need to know that.
“’Kay, well, I’m up now. I’ll go get us coffee,” my sister offers, getting up and throwing on a hoodie.
I start picking up the room a little and going over what clean things I have to wear. I don’t want to shower until I know she’s back. I know. I’m a total mom. Deal with it.
We’ve got bar work tonight, and case work today. What time to do normal people our age wake up after a party? Ten? Noon? Noon sounds safe, which means we’ve got four hours until we can do much. I check my email to see if any of our contacts have gotten back to me in the…three hours since I sent out the requests. Unsurprisingly, my inbox is still empty. Most of them either aren’t up yet, because their circadian rhythms work, or they are still working and haven’t gone to bed yet.
“Think I wanna go for a run,” I say to Lia when she gets back.
“After that night? Okay…have fun.”
“You should too,” I cajole in a sing-song to her. “You’re gonna regret it if you don’t get moving.”
“Sleep burns calories, I’ll just do that some more.”
In the end, we find something on YouTube after our coffee and do a halfhearted workout for about thirty minutes. Still better than nothing, I try to tell myself as I head to the shower.
We kill time for a couple hours—going to the laundromat, restocking on protein bars. It’s big news when we learn that our favorite brand has a new flavor.
It’s ten o’clock and we’re back in our room, flipping channels.
“Think I’m just going to take a small nap,” Lia says, eyes already closed.
“Yeah, getting up this early was dumb. And stupid,” I mutter, laying down myself.
“Yeah. This world is poo, with the waking up on weekends and the monsters.”
I sink into blissful oblivion, only to wake up precisely twenty minutes later. Fuck my life. I can’t help but agree with Ophelia. This world is poo.
I spend the next hour quietly resting, hoping at least to recuperate enough energy to get me through a shift at Finnegan’s. I let my mind wander but it obsessively keeps circling back to feet.
Pigeon-footed. High boots. Seductive. A race of monster that has both males and females and preys on both males and females. I can feel it staring me in the face and I still can’t see it.
I let Lia sleep as long as possible. At noon, we drive over to Alpha Psi Mu’s house on Greek Row, the fraternity that “El Duche” belongs to.
Lia rings the doorbell, and a bleary eyed guy answers the door.
“Yeah?” He says by way of greeting. Ugh. The girls at Chi Kappa Kappa have way better manners.
“Umm, we’re looking for a Mr. La Roche?” I query. The guy looks over his shoulder.
“Dan!” He yells violently. We both jump a little at the sudden torrent of noise.
“What?” Comes an equally loud bellow from inside the dingy house.
“Two chicks here to see you!” Nice. Real nice. About a minute later, thuds on the stairs indicate the arrival of Dan “El Duche” La Roche. I try to hide a smile when I see he’s stopped to do his hair and throw on what was probably yesterday’s outfit, judging by the smell of fabric freshener that wafts after him.
“Sorry about that,” he apologizes, smiling at us. “Jordan can be an ass, and he’s hungover as hell.” This is obviously the moment we’re supposed to laugh, so I do. Cooperative witnesses are much less work. Lia’s laugh sounds more like she just got punched in the stomach. Laughing at things that aren’t funny is one of the niceties that I haven’t been able to re-teach her since she lost her memories.
“No problem. We actually had a few questions for you? See, Shane is my cousin…I’m Summer Collins,” I say, extending my hand. “We were at a party with him last night, he hooked up with some girl and we haven’t been able to get a hold of him since.”
Dan listens to me closely, his eyes going dark as we mention the girl.
“Sorry, ladies,” he eventually says. “Shane’s sort of a…free spirit. Kinda shitty of him to ditch his cousin like that but…”
“Well, do you know where he might be?”
He runs his hands uncomfortably through his hair. “I…don’t know where any of them go. Never been invited myself,” he says with another attempt at a reckless grin.
“Any of who?” Lia pipes up.
“Well…we’ve had a couple guys go missing. It’s pretty normal for them…Cody will sometimes disappear without his phone, and we’ll get a collect call from him a week later asking for a ride from the airport. And Mike throws like…tantrums and goes home for a while, then comes skulking back like nothing happened.”
“But…you don’t seem to think that’s the case this time?” I ask, kicking myself again for not having the sense to stick to High Boots McFrenchalot.
He shrugs and tries to look like he’s not worried. “I dunno. It’s just stretching on a little long. Even Cody’s parents have called, asking if we’ve seen him, and they’re like…real hippies. No cell phones. No cable. Spend more time in a tent than their house.”
“That’s really unsettling,” I tell him. “You can understand why I’m concerned for my cousin, then. Is there…is there some place local that he and that girl might go, if they didn’t want anyone to know?”
He snorts. “You kidding? We’ve got abandoned buildings out the ass. Hell, half the mall is empty. There are hotels and motels and trailer parks, and it’s not like it’s that hard to get from here to somewhere else….” He shrugs again. “Sorry. I wish I could help, honestly. But I don’t know where they might be, if something is even up.”
Bummer. I was hoping for more. “Well, can I give you my number, in case you hear from him or think of anything?”
We exchange numbers and I thank him for his time.
In the car, I can feel Lia glancing at me nervously.
“What is it?” I lead in.
“You’re just taking this really hard, and I’m worried about you.”
I snort. “About me? There are seven people who range somewhere between dead, undead, and dying out there.”
“And we’ll find them.”
I nod absently. “It doesn’t feel Celtic. I think I’m going to officially remove them from the list.”
“No? Don’t think they’re going under the hill?”
I shake my head. “No…the MO is wrong. If it was the Fair Folk it’d be like…people lured off from the group, or somehow ‘lost’ on their way home. Making out with a dude and taking him away is a little more vulgar than they tend to be. I’m also going to say not Hindu. I’m not seeing a connection between justice or godliness or self-actualization of any kind. I could be wrong, I guess, but if the Asura were around, they’d have friends, far as I can tell.”
“So, Mesopotamian, Nordic, Greek?” I nod slowly, trying to figure out how it adds up.
“I’m going to say not Nordic,” my sister muses.
“Similar to what you were saying about the Hindu pantheon. What’s the joke? What’s the lesson? Where’s the giant?”
“Fair enough. Which means it’s either a smaller pantheon, or Mesopotamian or Greek.”
“The smart money being on one of the big players,” she reiterates as she thinks out loud.
I nod again and park the car in front of the motel.
“So,” I turn to my sister once we’re back in our room. “Which do you want to get: the goat, or the incense and silk sheets?”
“A sentence not oft spoke. Since you’re offering, guess I’ll go for the things that don’t pee on other things.”
“A smart choice, and only fair, since you got the raven last time.”
“So much scat,” she whispers, her face tightened with pain at the memory.
I look over the pile of cash we took home from Finnegan’s two nights ago. It is very small, and it’s not because the bills are large.
“Welp. I don’t think this will buy us sheets, let alone a goat,” I comment.
“Do you think the Greek pantheon would accept mutton as a sacrifice?”
“Only if it was nice and lean,” I joke.
“Knew you were gonna say that.”
“But in all sincerity, I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”
“Say it, I know you want to.”
“Iocaine powder!” I assert in a bad British accent. If you don’t know why that’s hilarious, I am adding you to my List of Things To Inspect In My Down Time, because you might be nonhuman.
“Is that out of your system now?”
“For the moment, yes. And onto the grim game plan. We still don’t know what it is. We don’t have any money for the banishing ritual it will need when we do know what it is. So, I think we have to let the victims linger another day in limbo and work like hell for a good take tonight so we can end this ASAP.”
“You can really see why other people in the biz take to thievery. It’d be like playing Sims with the infinite money mod—just…way more enjoyable, with less waiting,” Ophelia grumbles.
“Yes, but I’m not ready to enter in the necessary cheat code for that particular mod into our actual life, though.”
“I am weak…”
“No, no. Don’t go there, sister-face. Come on. Have some self-respect. Put on your onesie.”
A few hours and energy drinks later, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be for our first official night as beer tub girls. We head over to Finnegan’s and help the rest of the staff set up for the Saturday crowd.
Everything starts off pretty standard. In order to be a successful beer tub girl, one must stand behind a huge keg and pour beer with maximum cleavage exposed at all times. This is apparently critical to the sale and consumption of alcohol. Lia and I are positioned directly across from each other, which is nice—it means I get to keep an eye on her without having to work too hard. I am able to perform the enormous task given to me and still adequately worry about the thing we’re chasing. I even start to get into the job a little. The energy is good in tonight’s crowd and it feels nice to be part of someone’s normal day. I’m cracking lame jokes and smiling at lamer come-ons by patrons frequenting my tub, no insinuation intended.
After a couple of hours warming to our new jobs, we’re feeling pretty good. I can tell Lia’s doing well, enjoying a little attention from the safety of her pedestal. It’s sort of intoxicating, being one of these people who have no idea what could go bump in the night. It’s loud, people are happy and ridiculous, and my sister is safe. I let myself relax a little.
Then, one of our favorite songs comes on.
I catch Lia grooving a little bit. When she eventually meets my eye, I start dancing too, a little more purposefully, if mockingly.
She issues me a nonverbal challenge and amps it up. Her keg gets a little more popular as people notice her dances moves and begin cheering her on.
Appropriate escalation is a crucial part of all fights. Dance offs are no exception. She finishes her piece and waves me back in. I stand, one foot on the stool, one foot on the keg and really start putting on a show, popping and locking, getting low. I almost forget for a second that people are watching us—really, this is just a private war between my sister and me. But then I look into the sea of faces staring at me with a mix of awe and judgment and start laughing. I tag Lia back in.
While I’ve learned most of my dance moves from television and parties, she was actually a dancer as a kid. She can’t remember going to competition or the hours she spent perfecting routines, and that causes me a twinge of regret. But she still has the muscle memory, and I’ve made sure to re-expose her to all of the dance forms she knew. So, she gets up on the keg and starts tap dancing like a modern, female, Fred Astaire—so I guess like Ginger Rogers. The crowd goes wild. I admit defeat, raising my hands in submission. She shoots me a victorious grin, arms above her head. Her cheering public bursts again into raucous applause. I’m about to step down and get back to being scenery but she makes the universal expression to ask me what I’m doing. Only then do I realize what she’s intending.
“No…no, that’s okay!” I try to communicate with her. She stomps a foot on the keg. The bridge of the song starts up and people are looking at us expectantly. She looks so happy and reckless, like the wash of faces I see staring back. My good sense wavers. Damn you, Lia. Then I laugh again and stand fully on the keg, warming up the crowd a little.
“Well then come on!” I motion to her.
Feeling a little ridiculous, I begin our syncopated routine, performed to date only in motel rooms and cornfields. After a rhythmic sequence of shakes, rolls, and claps we both step onto our kegs. Getting our footing is a little weird—motel beds give, but they are not rounded. She begins pirouetting on hers, while I go into a bridge followed by kicks and headstands. As the song ends, she is standing one foot on the keg, one foot straight up beside her head, and I pull up into a grueling one-armed handstand on my good side. We stick it, the bar roaring as the song ends. We get both feet back onto our barrels, and bow, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of our public exhibition.
Which is when I first notice Gregor, live and in person, standing in the throng of people with a stupid grin on his mangled face.