Avenari - Chapter 1
Simone spelled his name funny. When he had first become my tutor, I’d asked him why he kept the “e” at the end. It didn’t play any significant role in pronunciation. He could have chopped it off at any time, and most people would never have known that it was missing.
“Even if I cut it off, it would always be there,” he had said. “Even if you cannot see it, and even if you cannot hear it, it is there, whether or not you want it to be. The world is filled with such things.”
I had laughed, thinking that he was just being silly. I was ten at the time, living in the simple world of a child.
Simone never really talked about himself. I knew how old he was, his birthplace, and his favorite painters. I knew his job and how he liked to spend his spare time. Really, though, that was about it. He never told me about his past, and whenever I asked him for details about our world he spoke in riddles. On rare occasions, he would tell me stories veiled in allegory and metaphor. Half the time I was sure he was just making things up. To him, I was still a child.
I wasn’t, though. I hadn’t been for a very long time.
It surprised me how stagnant life had become since taking up residence in our most recent home. Stagnant water only grew dirtier and dirtier; darkening until no moonlight could pierce the opaque, unyielding surface and shed some fresh light on what was important. Dark shapes moved through that darkness, gliding silent and invisible, eating and growing until it was too late, until some unsuspecting soul stepped into the pool and fell victim to things she never could have imagined were real.
I could still remember the beginning, how everything had been new and exciting, how I would seek the world and hold it in my hand and marvel in its beauty. I still remembered when that water was clear.
I hadn’t eaten in three nights. I hadn’t even left the womb-like confines of my room. Hours were spent just staring at the canopy above and battling the disturbing thought that perhaps my life would one day lose meaning altogether. The longer I sat still, the longer I went without something new to revive my world, the more I felt like I was slowly dying.
Then it started raining, the kind of rain I cherished. It reminded me of home, of sitting under the banyan tree and watching the world’s colors deepen around me. It reminded me of Mom and Dad, and how silly they would think I was being if they could see me today.
My first instinct was to resist the magnetic draw of the musical raindrops. I yanked the heavy black curtains around my king-size, shutting out as much sound as I could, but deep down I knew that my effort was futile. I wasn’t even allowed to be miserable anymore.
“Ivan, do you think there’s a world outside, or is it all just an elaborate illusion?”
“There has to be. We’ve seen it, haven’t we?” His voice came from behind me as I curled up tightly on the black sheets and clutched my old pillow for comfort.
I frowned at the thick panes encircling my bed, my mood subdued. Normally, I would have been out on the town at this time of night, but after fifteen years of the same old thing, home had lost its appeal. Part of it was the length of time we had spent here, but there were definitely other, more tangible factors.
“I feel like I’m dying,” I said.
“That might just be the fact that you haven’t been feeding yourself.”
“I have no appetite. Just the thought of going out...”
He sighed audibly. “Lynn, you have to leave sometime. Anyway, I only came by to pick you up. Simone wants to talk to you.”
“Can’t he wait ‘til tomorrow?” I whined, deciding not to care. At least my bedroom felt comforting. Pleading, I rolled over to look up at my long-time best friend as he sat at the edge of the bed and fussed over me.
His face settled into serious lines, those silvery blue eyes catching the muted light from an amber sconce and glinting with resolve. The sandy mop on his head needed another trim.
“He said that if you try to resist, I’m obligated to carry you to his study.”
An irritated growl escaped my lips before I could stop it, and he actually laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I demanded. The last thing I needed was someone mocking me.
“You’re so hungry that you can’t even muster enough energy to get mad at me. You should have hit me by now, but all you can do is lie there and growl,” he said, lying down on his side despite my protests. He barely moved the mattress.
I watched my friend warily. It was so hard to affect this world. That was what I wanted more than anything, but how could I when Simone’s most explicit rule was to the exact opposite effect? I just wanted a change, to be free. As a person who thrived on life, it was understandably difficult to survive in a vacuum. A change was all I desired, yet even that was forbidden.
“I’m not hungry.”
Naturally, Ivan sensed my lie. He saw through my jaded pain and understood, allowing me all the space I required and only occasionally coming in to say hello or to attempt to lift my spirits. He had always been that way, even before the end.
“You have until the count of three,” he said, smiling a little, melancholy smile. Years ago, I would have kissed him to taste the smile on his lips...
“I’m not getting up,” I said. “May as well carry me now.”
He seemed to consider it, and with a mildly exasperated smirk he brought his arms under my knees and around my shoulders, lifting me effortlessly and carrying me out of the darkness.
Sam, Ivan’s twin brother, was waiting just outside my door. It was a testament to my lackluster state that I hadn’t sensed him nearby. I didn’t want to starve, but fasting helped keep my thoughts clear.
“Wow, Lynn, you look like garbage,” he said, the brighter light making his bronze eyes sparkle with unbridled mischief. Despite being identical, this second life had changed their details enough to distinguish them.
Clearly, he had been having fun without me quite easily.
I didn’t reply, instead curling against the soft cotton of Ivan’s shirt. He usually smelled like laundry softener, and underneath was his own special scent. Ivan always smelled like home.
Sam smelled like burnt oak and pine, which only strengthened my suspicion that he had been causing trouble again. When I glanced out the corner of my eye, I could see flakes of white ash scattered like an early snow throughout his scruffy hair. His mop was two shades lighter than his brother’s these days.
A part of me had always wondered whether we might be noticed one day, whether someone from long ago would stumble upon our enduring existence and call us out. We were far from our roots, but if even a picture remained...
That part of me was growing steadily, hoping and hoping for something, for someone to recognize me and confirm that my dying memories weren’t just delusions.
With a heavy sigh, I returned to the homey scent of Ivan’s neck and allowed him to carry me to Simone’s study. The dim hall lamps ignited dark oak panels and fine Japanese and Chinese brush paintings every few feet. Only one painting was mine, the Breughel across from my door. The Triumph of Death was one of my favorites. I had copied it in excruciating detail under Simone’s tutelage. It seemed fitting, despite how it clashed with his Asian décor.
Simone’s study was also the third-floor library: an elongated room bordered on all four sides with cedar shelves and distinctly Renaissance architecture. At the far end was Simone’s enormous mahogany desk, diligently organized around a miniscule Sony VAIO laptop and one of those antique phones with a rotary dial and a thin, enameled handle—a clash between the ancients and moderns, I had always thought.
In the middle sat squashy leather armchairs and matching sofa. End tables marked the corners, each with a bank lamp like the one on Simone’s desk. They cast the upper half of the room in green light, while the lower half floated a pool of amber.
I loved this place. It was a sanctuary second only to my room. Inwardly, I sighed again.
When had I become so boring?
We found Simone seated in his antique wing chair from who-knew-what century, with his pale hands gracefully folded on top of the blotter on his desk. His warm gaze studied me carefully, openly calculating how far gone I was. He needed a haircut, too. I always wondered why our hair still grew. My nails grew, too, but slowly.
I rarely cut my hair, though. I liked to let it wrap around me in bed, like a soft, auburn shroud to keep the offending light away.
Ugh...now I was just being morbid. I would have killed for the effects of caffeine.
Someone was speaking, and I emerged from the comforting crook of Ivan’s neck in a slight daze. My body ached a little.
“Lynn, are you listening to me?” Simone asked gently, his face set with cautious neutrality. He knew better than anybody how easily I could read a person’s face. Thoughts were more visible in facial expressions to me, contrary to everyone else’s abilities. Ivan could, in fact, discern thousands of emotions and their variations by his sense of smell alone, as well as where you had been within the last week.
Some smells were just absurdly tenacious, he often complained.
…Oh. Simone was talking.
“Eh?” I said, blinking slowly. “Yeah, I’m listening now.”
He sighed and closed his eyes, before gesturing to Ivan that he should set me in the armchair before his desk. Ivan complied, and Sam suppressed a chuckle when I had to grip the arms to keep myself upright. I suddenly felt helpless in my nightgown.
“Lynn, I am sending you out with Ivan and Sam tonight,” Simone said with rare paternal authority. “You have no choice in this matter, and I would be grateful if you at least attempted to feed yourself. It concerns me immensely to see you in such a listless state.”
I felt my eyes harden before I spoke. “I’m fine.”
He wasn’t deterred in the least. “That’s what you say, but I know you well enough to see that you are struggling with something over which I have no power. Why are you so depressed?”
“Boredom,” I replied simply, sighing yet again. Maybe if I sighed hard enough, my soul would leave me. Not a bad idea, actually...
One of my mentor’s eyebrows quirked up in interest despite itself. “Would you care to expound upon that? Boredom could mean so many things.”
I took an unnecessary breath and elaborated: “Nothing ever changes. We stay here, confined to the city limits or our own property, and you go off to do work for the Emperor. Jenn, Veronica, and Mitch baby-sit while you’re away, even though I’m old enough to cash in on Social Security—if I had any, of course. After all, you never even let me get a job. Then you bring home some little trinket to placate my restlessness.
“I ask for a vacation every year. You deny me.” My frown deepened. “I’m tired of it, Simone. You let everyone else do whatever they want. Ver and Mitch got to go to Canada, so why can’t I go somewhere new? I need something new or I’m going to lose it.”
“Lose what?” He was doing that thing again, where he pretended that he didn’t understand my cabin fever.
My expression turned sour. “In the beginning it was great. We moved around so much—you were always kind of stressed when we did, but I liked it anyway. Things changed back then. Now, it’s like there’s nothing left to do, so what’s the point of even going out? We’ve been here for fifteen years! That’s forever to me, and I wish something different would happen. I don’t even care if I have to move again, or if aliens abduct me and the Bogeyman comes to get me...”
I pulled my bare feet up onto the seat and hugged my knees through the red cotton, watching intently as the tightness at the corners of his eyes grew more pronounced.
At length, he said cautiously, “So you wish to leave home?”
“I want a vacation, a change of scenery,” I clarified. “You promised an awful lot of things that I’ve yet to receive.”
He seemed to consider this a little more thoroughly than the average person would, as though there were dangers involved. I scoffed at the thought. Danger? Yeah, about as dangerous as petting a gerbil.
Lynn... Ivan’s warning tone echoed through my head and reminded me that, especially in the Manor, all thoughts were open to discussion—except Simone’s.
My mind automatically put up its firewalls to keep them all out. I was a firm believer in the First Amendment, and nobody could keep me from freethinking.
Finally, Simone spoke. “I should have you understand that we moved so much in the beginning because you were so young. It was dangerous to remain in one place for too long, and there was always a chance that your inexperience would put all of us at risk. Nowadays, you are all much older and wiser, and I trust that you will keep our presence here as quiet as possible—though I think Sam may be regressing a bit.” He gave Sam a look which clearly stated that he knew all the goings-on around the Manor.
“Oh, so you want me to stop playing it safe?” I demanded. “I’m being punished for following the rules?”
His gaze returned to me with a weariness that seemed to stem from something far more than my harsh words. “You are not being punished. Don’t be silly.” He nodded to the twins. “You two take her with you tonight. Do what you must to make her end this hunger strike.”
“Yes, sir.” Ivan was there in an instant, wasting no time in scooping me up and carrying me back to my room while I protested and threatened him with bodily injury—to no avail.
Simone was reading Sam the riot act as we left, but it only slightly comforted my ego.
The moment we were in my room, Ivan set me on my bed and said mock-sternly, “You’re coming with us. We miss you and we are not losing you to something as trivial as boredom, understood?”
“Oh, shut up.”
He gave me a look, leaning down and forcing me to meet his gaze. “Lynn, please, I’m not kidding. It’s not just us—I miss you. Please don’t fight me. I want you to come. Things just aren’t the same, and Sam’s misbehaving all over the place without you there to rein him in.”
“He’s your brother,” I pointed out. “You do it.”
His eyes seemed to see past me for a brief moment, into an endless void that I would never witness. “Sometimes I wonder. We’re absolute opposites.”
The laugh escaped me before I could stop it.
Once it was out, and despite the glare I shot him, Ivan smiled and stood. “I’ll be waiting outside, listening to your every move. I’ll know if you try to escape to the roof, and I’ll stop you. You have three minutes.” He left before I could argue, but was true to his word and stood just outside my door, drumming his fingers against the wall to let me know that he was still out there.
I screamed into my pillow.
Seeing no point in fighting the collective efforts of both my best friends and adopted father, I used the anger to find enough energy to dig out some presentable clothing. I changed out of my nightshirt and yanked on a pair of black jeans and a burgundy top. After zipping up the sweater to just below my collarbones, I rediscovered my black sneakers, which I’d forgotten underneath my bed days ago.
Finally, I paused briefly to run a brush through my hair and study my reflection in the vanity’s mirror. Sam would have kicked me back into my room if I attempted to leave the Manor in a ragged state.
The person staring at me in blatant aggravation was a complete stranger. Lack of nourishment had left my chestnut eyes looking dull, empty of all feeling other than anger. The dark rings around my irises seemed wider than before, likely due to my absurd meal schedule.
I had never been as pale as my counterparts—and never would be. My genetic makeup left me with a pallid bronze coloring not far from that of coffee with cream. Everything else was pretty much the same, aside from my attitude. I just couldn’t put the effort into being happy.
More than any of them, I passed for human, and not just because I was so young. I still thought and felt like a human, never mind the glaring truth of the matter.
And speaking of inhuman...
“Knock it off, Ivan!” I called through the door. I knew he was using one nail to ever-so-lightly scratch down one of the wall panels.
His response was a chuckle. “Hurry up. Quit looking at yourself and come out.”
A curse upon telepathy...
I frowned at myself one last time, before turning away from the mirror. “Coming.” It was best to get these kinds of things over with quickly, like chicken pox.
* o * o *
The moment I stepped out into fresh air and felt the cold, heavy drops of rain on my face, my mood improved just a little. My eyes pierced the enclosing darkness of the cloudy night as though it were clear glass, catching each orb of water as it fell and glinted in the thin light emanating from the Manor’s windows.
My depression lifted slightly, allowing my mind to consider the possibility that maybe—just maybe—I was being an idiot.
I knew this would happen.
“Why do you look so mad?” Sam asked, a puzzled frown coloring the eternal smirk on his thin face. Ivan’s face was shaped the same, but looked gentle and friendly regardless of his mood, whereas Sam could look as standoffish as he wished.
I glared at the technically younger twin. “Why do you think?” I snapped.
Sam snorted, the puzzlement gone and instantly replaced with derision. He glanced at Ivan, sharing a brief Twin Moment with his brother before replying in an inoffensive, offhand manner, “You are an idiot.”
“Excuse me?” Was he reading my mind again?
“I can’t believe that you actually have the gall to be angry with us for not letting you wallow in your misery,” he continued melodramatically. “You should be thanking us. If you were your usual self, you’d be disappointed in your behavior.”
“You’re both lucky that I love you like brothers, or I’d beat each of you within an inch of your semi-permanent lives.”
“What did I do?” Ivan interrupted, sounding a tad injured.
“You’re an accomplice in this intervention, whether or not Simone was at the head. You have thus evoked my irritation.”
He smiled slightly and placed an arm around my shoulders, holding me against him for a brief moment. “Please at least try to enjoy yourself. You’re usually so happy when it rains, and this depression of yours is worrying all of us. Even Jenn is fighting the urge to become your surrogate mother, and we all know how you feel about mothers.”
My heart pulsed painfully against my ribs, and I winced at the mere mention of the word.
When I was ten, my mother had died in a hunting accident while hanging clothes behind our house. A stray bullet meant for a feral dog had caught her in the throat, and she had bled to death. It was the single most devastating blow in my life, leaving me all the more scarred when my father died seven years later after his horse threw him onto a large rock in our field.
Both of my parents were dead, but at least my dad had been there for me in my later years. There were plenty of kids without fathers, thanks to the War; but everyone had a mother, except for me. Simone had taken me in on the night of my father’s death, and had later given me this new life. It was a restart, another chance to have a complete family. Game over. New player.
Fathers were familiar territory, but having grown up without my mom, I just couldn’t handle the thought of relearning those feelings. The only mother I would accept was my own. I wanted to know her, not some random surrogate.
Sam’s uncomfortable fidgeting brought me back to myself, and I frowned at him with a raised brow. “What’s your malfunction?”
“You’re doing that Mommy-Daddy brooding thing again. At least you didn’t leave them while they were alive and well. Ivan and me don’t even know how our parents took our disappearance.”
“They’re better off not knowing,” his brother muttered.
“Vera’s probably still alive somewhere,” I said. “She’s what, seventy-five now?”
They shook their heads in unison, looking too identical for a split-second. “No, we couldn’t do that to her,” Ivan whispered soberly.
Sam nodded in agreement. “That’s a reality check I wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially since we haven’t aged a day past twenty. The least we could expect is her jealousy that her big brothers are more than half a century younger than she is, not to mention fear of what we had to become in order to remain young. Our family was really superstitious.”
True. As wonderful as our resilient anatomy was, there were dangers to never aging. People tended to ask questions when septuagenarians looked like college students.
“Then I guess we’re stuck with ourselves.” I glanced back at the Manor: three stories and built like a prison compound from the outside. Only the crushed marble driveway and the miniature replica of the Trevi Fountain which split it in half let onto our “free” status. The dark granite walls were plain gray in the dim illumination of the fountain’s spotlights.
Money did not bring happiness. Neither did immortality. Happiness was something a person had to pursue with all their might. I was only just beginning to understand that.
“Time to go,” Ivan announced, pulling his windbreaker around himself and nudging me gently towards the whitewashed garage where we kept the three vehicles. Grudgingly, I walked.
After much begging, Simone had finally given in and bought me a jet black 2002 BMW M5 as an early birthday present. This sat nestled between his silver Audi TT coupe and our plain communal car, a pearlescent white Camry. Last year had been the designated year for us to update our rides, and this year had been his version of splurging on his adopted daughter.
I loved my car to death, adored every inch of trim and black leather upholstery, and especially appreciated how smoothly it glided through the nighttime traffic in Marquette, where we spent most of our free time. Unfortunately, my recent mood shift had caused me to neglect my baby for about a month.
However, like magic, the moment I slid into the spacious interior and gunned the deep-throated engine, I fell back in love with the vehicle.
“Where to?” I asked my passengers as I adjusted the rear-view mirror and repositioned the seat, allowing it to fit against my body and cradle me in comfort. True love was a pipe dream now, but my car made up for that just fine.
Sam leaned in between the front seats and suggested the seediest part of town, but Ivan shook his head, barely visible in the faded glow of the center console.
“There aren’t enough people.” He thought for a moment, then said, “The Cone is open almost twenty-four-seven these days, and Lynn would prefer it this way.”
“Downtown it is, then,” Sam agreed, sitting back.
* o * o *
Impeccable senses and reaction times were probably the biggest perk of being what we were. The powerful BMW easily handled the insane speeds at which I drove through even the thickest traffic, weaving in and out of cars before they were aware of my presence. It took all of twenty minutes to leave the forest, where the Manor resided in seclusion, and reach the city’s center of life. The city streets still bustled with commuters and consumers, even at nine P.M. I parked in front of Penney’s and cut the engine. The parking lot was nice and empty at this time of night, and the land it faced was unoccupied, offering us a fair amount of privacy.
“I’m not hungry,” I reiterated the moment I left my car’s familiar comfort and diligently locked the doors.
Ivan appeared at my side in an instant, setting his arm around my shoulders again and leading us across the street. “You don’t have to feed, though we would prefer it if you didn’t put it off too long. Let’s walk around for a little while, just for the heck of it, okay?”
“I’m not a child,” I grumbled. “I’m old enough to be a grandmother, sonny-boy.”
“No, but you act like one a lot more often than you’d like us to think,” Sam freely informed me. “We’re all adults, yet you insist on clinging to your infantile beliefs.”
I pouted at both of them. “You guys are such jerks. I just want to be left alone.”
“That’s impossible,” laughed Ivan, taking his arm back and strolling along on my right.
“You’re the boss’s fledgling. Solitude is forbidden to you.” Sam walked on my left. I couldn’t help but feel a bit cornered.
The city was nothing like the Manor. Surrounded by humans, the heat in my cold veins sparked to life, as though embers ran through my flesh to send a tingling burn along my nerve endings. My throat itched with the scent, making my breaths come in short, inaudible gasps.
“Hurts now, don’t it?” Sam chuckled, possessed of all his faculties due to the fact that he had fed earlier tonight. Both of them had already gone out, before returning to spirit me away to the nearest center of human activity.
“You conniving bastards!” I gasped, refusing my thirst’s desperate pleas for satiation. “You’ve been plotting against me this whole time!”
“That should have been obvious from the beginning,” Ivan said with a smile.
Simmering pain crept throughout my body, and I leaned against a light post to hold myself up, breathing hard and wincing at every beat of my heart. Concentration was the key. My blood would do as I commanded, and my will would not sway. It would hold the thirst.
It whispered in my head, an echo for my mind alone.
None of the others heard the blood’s voice. I didn’t know what the statistics were for that particular ability, but the fact that I could hear and respond so easily gave me nearly endless control over my urges. Only once had I ever totally lost control. Only once had I ever actually killed a human. Youth in the blood made fledglings reckless.
I would not lose control again. I would not kill again.
“Not yet,” I whispered to myself, closing my eyes and focusing all of my will on that one command. “Not yet...but soon.”
The pain flickered and subsided to a dull throb, a second heartbeat tainted with spice.
When I looked up at the twins again, they wore identical frowns.
“Damn,” they sighed in unison, before resuming their individualities.
“That’s so not fair,” said Sam. “If I skip even one night, Simone has to be there to control me the next.”
Ivan smiled at his brother’s envy, but watched me in curiosity. “I have to admit that your abilities are odd. Even Simone has a strict bimonthly schedule, but you can do what you want.”
I snorted. “And that’s how it’s always going to be. I do what I want to in my little prison; push-ups, pull-ups, and maybe even jumping jacks when I’m feeling adventurous.”
“Spoilt brat,” Sam muttered, still on his little jealousy stint. “Not just Simone’s favorite—oh, no, that wasn’t good enough. You just had to get the thirst that listens to what you say. There is no justice in this world.” He said that last with the air of one lamenting the death of chivalry.
“Drama queen,” I said, for once not fighting the smile that threatened my expression. It felt good to smile after so much frowning, not that I would admit this without a fight.
Sam noticed the smile with a hint of satisfaction. “Whatever keeps you from abandoning us for something as stupid as your so-called ‘depression’ is okay in my book,” he said.
I shook my head, still smirking. “C’mon, you old coots. Let’s go down to The Cone and watch all the humans living their ephemeral little lives. You guys game?”
“Feels like old times,” Ivan laughed, pocketing his hands and turning down the road.
Sam grinned. “I’ve got five on Ivan. Your weakened state is bound to interfere.”
“Game on, then, boys.” I shrugged away from the pole and took a deep, cool breath, letting the steady rain drip down my face and ignoring the nagging burn of the thirst as I followed them along. Maybe things would improve. Even if I never changed, the world around me was in constant flux. Something was bound to happen, sooner or later.