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"Dylan, what is it?" Karidon asked.

"Don't you see -- of course you don't," Dylan answered his own question.

Karidon didn't see the claw. He couldn't. Not even the other Scorchers saw the things Dylan did. And Karidon wasn't a Scorcher. He was too old. But even if Karidon was to believe him, he could never truly understand. How could anyone truly understand without witnessing the horrors that were a part of Dylan's everyday life? It was the reason he stayed at home. More than to protect his mother from his father. It was because he had made the house monster-safe. By focusing, he could keep them out. Familiar places allowed him to focus more easily. And the house that he had lived in all his life was the most familiar at all. Even if it held other horrors. But being beaten by his father was so much easier than living with the monsters that skittered and crawled.

I thought if this gig worked out that eventually I could buy a place with Lyssa. Make it safe, too. Make it familiar, he thought. Renting wouldn't work. Somehow if he didn't own it, he knew that the focusing wouldn't keep the monsters out.

The claw flexed and the point of its nail dug into the wood of the threshold. A splinter was gouged out and fell to the ground. Dylan's heart hammered in his chest like it wanted to get out.

What does it want? What do any of them want? And why tonight? Of all nights when things could finally turn around for me ... Dylan swallowed. He knew that was a selfish thing to think. Why shouldn't the monsters show themselves to him any night of the week? His life wasn't special. Not really. He just got to see the danger that came for everyone else unawares.

The monster's skin was a gray-green color and the nail was as black as pitch. From the size of that one digit, Dylan could imagine how large the rest of the creature was.

Probably over six feet and wide as a Mack truck. Butwhy is it showing up in the light? I don't understand! They only appear in the dark! Dylan thought.

"What do you see, Dylan?" Karidon asked softly. He was so close. Practically pressed up against Dylan's side. His lips were half an inch from the boy's ear. "Remember how I feel about liars, songbird. Tell me the truth no matter what."

Dylan gave a soft laugh. Karidon wanted the truth? He'd give him the truth. Though it would probably get him accused of being on drugs, or crazy, or worse, endanger the gig yet again. But he sensed that the crime lord would react even more badly if he lied. "A monster. I can only see it's -- it's claw. The rest of it's in that room."

Karidon tensed for half a second. It was so brief that Dylan thought he had imagined it.

He wasn't expecting me to say that. Then again who would? Dylan thought as he ran a hand through his hair.

More splinters flaked off and landed on the ground as the claw moved. Each splinter fell in time with Dylan's heart beat. The crime lord was suddenly moving. Towards the doorway. Towards the clawed thing. He grabbed Karidon's arm and tried to draw him away.

"Don't!" Dylan cried out. He knew it was insane. The crime lord didn't believe in monsters. Why should he? Monsters are supposed to scare children into being good. Adults don't think they're real. And he's not a child. He's the head of the Mars Crime Syndicate. He probably thinks he's seen the worst Daimon's Cross has to offer. But he hasn't.

"It's all right, Dylan," Karidon said and gently disengaged the boy's grasping hand from his arm.

"It's not! Look, I was -- I was born the year of the Scorch," Dylan explained, his mouth going dry.

Will that mean anything to him? Or will he just think I'm more than delusional about monsters? But there was something about Karidon. Something compelling. Something that made Dylan want to tell him things, confess things and oddly to keep the other man safe. Was it the fact that he didn't make Dylan's skin crawl? Or that the crime lord was the most beautiful person he had ever seen?

Karidon's sea blue eyes suddenly pierced him. "I know."

"How -- how could you know?" Dylan asked, jerking back, stunned and something moved sluggishly in his chest that felt like fear. Fear of what?

"Your age, of course," Karidon explained, cocking his head to the side as a slight smile played along his lips.

"Oh, yeah, sure, right," Dylan said and felt a stab of disappointment. What did I expect? For him to intrinsically know I'm special? Better he think of me only for my music and not for this.

A scratching sound. Perhaps the monster was annoyed at being ignored. Dylan swallowed.

"But you have the look, too," Karidon explained with a slight smile.

"What -- what look?" Dylan suddenly flushed again. The way the crime lord's eyes flowed over his face made him feel strangely hot.

"That innocence mixed with seeing too much," the crime lord answered. "What I said to you before. A single light in the darkness."

Dylan swayed towards him. His head spinning slightly as if Karidon's words held some hypnotic power. The light hit the crime lord's white hair and for a second it appeared as if a halo was around the other man's head. But then the claw scraped. A dry sound. More splinters. There was an eagerness in it. A wanting to get out. Maybe it was strong enough that the light couldn't affect it. The juxtaposition was almost too much to bear: the angelic Karidon and the monster. A giggle nearly bubbled out of Dylan's lips. He had to stop this. Get Karidon and himself away from here.

"I've seen a lot. I see things all the time. And I swear to you that I'm seeing something now," Dylan said. "That's why we can't go down this hallway. We have to -- to go back."

Never told this to anyone except Mom and she never looked at me the same way again. But that was only after she figured out what I was saying was true, he thought. Karidon won't believe me. He can't!

"But your friends are this way," Karidon said, pointing down the hallway. "The stage -- where you want to be -- is through this hallway."

"We can go through the front!" Dylan protested.

"But the monsters ... couldn't they be there, too? They live in the darkness, don't they, Dylan?" Karidon's eyes seemed to glow.

"How did you know that they are in the darkness?" Dylan asked, mesmerized by the glow. It had to be a trick of the light.

"Monsters always are," the crime lord said as he shifted slightly into the low spotlight.

Scratch. Scratch. Scccccrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaatttttttttttcccccccccccchhhhhhhhhh.

Perspiration burst out on Dylan's upper lip. "We have to get out of here."

"What do the monsters do?" Karidon asked. His back was to the claw. The thing could come trundling out into the hallway and he wouldn't see.

He wouldn't see if he was facing towards it! But I'd see. I'd know!

"They -- they're just there!"

Karidon gripped Dylan's shoulders. "So they exist. Is that enough to terrify you?"

"You don't know what I see! You don't know what they're like!" Dylan nearly shouted.

Was the claw farther out into the hall? Was the whole hand wagging in the air? Was it going to finally come out into the light? Didn't I want to see earlier tonight?

"Tell me," Karidon ordered and increased the strength of his grip.

"Flame eyes. Long teeth. Tails. And wings --"

"Wings? Those horrify you?" Karidon asked, and there was something in his expression for a moment. A flicker of pain.

"Leathery wings -- ragged -- claw tipped," Dylan whispered out. "They're hungry. Always hungry. And reaching. Reaching for me and -- and everything living. They hate us."

"You can't be sure of what they want or what they hate," Karidon said. "Have you ever talked to one?"

"Talked? To a monster?" Dylan gave out a dry wheeze. "That's insane."

"Why don't we try," he said.

"What? No! No! I'm not making up about the monster! It's there! It's really there!" Dylan was shaking.

Karidon ran a finger down Dylan's cheek. "I know that, too."

Dylan's breath stuttered in his chest. The touch left a streak of heat on his cheek. He was so stunned by the caress that he stood there stupidly as Karidon turned and stepped in front of the door. The claw flexed then froze. Karidon had to be staring directly at the claw's owner. Perhaps into it's eyes.

The doorway will look empty to him, but it isn't.

The crime lord leaned forward until his head was obscured from view by the door jam. A snapshot of his grandmother's vacant, lifeless expression flashed before Dylan's mind's eye. Would that happen to Karidon if he got too close to the monster? The other man could be millimeters from death.

And I'm just standing here ...

Dylan was moving before he consciously thought about it. Time slowed to a molasses-like crawl as he launched himself towards Karidon, intent on pulling the other man away from the monster. The doorway suddenly came in view and Dylan could see the rest of the creature. It was like something out of his worse nightmares: flame-slitted eyes, a long snout with a line of razor-sharp teeth and leathery, cracked skin. A set of ragged wings stretched out behind it into the darkness.

But then his gaze was drawn to Karidon's face. The crime lord's eyes were narrowed at the thing. He looked annoyed. Not afraid. Irritated. As if the monster's appearance was getting in the way of his plans. Karidon's lips were moving.

He's talking. To the monster. But that's impossible.

All of this went through Dylan's mind in the seconds it took to fly across the hallway and tackle the crime lord to the ground. Or rather, he should have been tackling Karidon. Only the crime lord somehow turned too fast to see and he caught Dylan in his arms instead. The boy let out a startled oomph sound as he impacted against the Karidon's solidly muscled chest.

"Lucky for me you aren't built like a linebacker," Karidon laughed as he lightly patted Dylan's back. "Otherwise we'd both be sprawled on the ground."

He didn't move an inch. Didn't totter. Didn't sway. Nothing. It was like I weighed no more than a feather! Dylan realized.

Dylan's mouth and nose were pressed against Karidon's skin. The man's shirt had pulled open as Dylan had run into him. His skin was silky and firm. He smelled of cinnamon and cloves and smoke. If Dylan just extended his tongue a few millimeters he would be enough for him to taste Karidon. His cock jerked and Dylan wrenched himself away. He twisted around to face the doorway.

It was empty.

"Is it gone?" Karidon asked. His breath puffed warmly against Dylan's cheek.

"Yes." Dylan took a step forward.

The room was pitch black inside. The boy thought he saw a flash of flame. Perhaps the monster wasn't gone. Just withdrawn.

I could just walk in there and see. Really see it. Would it take me? Would it hurt me? Maybe I'd find out what it wanted. Maybe I could talk to it like Karidon suggested.

Dylan stepped forward again. Karidon was the one to grasp his arm and hold him back.

"What are you doing, Dylan?" Karidon asked.

The boy shook his head. He saw that the front part of his Doc Marten boot was in the full darkness. He jerked it back into the light.

"I -- I don't know. Just wanted to see if it was -- was still there. Deeper. Farther back," Dylan explained and wiped a shaking hand across his brow.

Karidon put his fingers underneath Dylan's chin. "You're a very brave boy, songbird. You believe these things are going to hurt you yet -- yet you acted to save me. And now you want to face the beast in it's hidey hole."

"I just -- you must think I'm crazy," Dylan said suddenly. His head lowered again.

"I don't think you're crazy," Karidon said.

"Do you -- do you see them, too?" Dylan suddenly asked. He remembered Karidon's mouth moving inches away from the monster's snout.

"Why do you ask that?" Karidon asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Dylan's eyes strayed to the doorway. "I thought -- thought you were speaking to someone --"

"In there?" Karidon pointed towards the doorway.

Dylan nodded jerkily. He opened his mouth to speak against, but then Lyssa's voice rose up from the end of the hallway.

"Dylan! There you are!" Lyssa was wearing a black leather halter top. Her unnatural red hair gleamed in the low light. She ran towards him lightly even in her six-inch platforms. There was a new heart-shaped tattoo on the top of her right breast.

"Lyssa," he said and his eyes slanted towards the doorway. Still empty. But he walked swiftly towards her.

She wrapped her arms around him and jumped up and down. "You're late. Late. Late."

"We don't have anything to worry about. You got your newest lucky tattoo," he teased her, running his thumb along the still raised and scabbed flesh.

She laughed and nodded. "Of course! Had to for this gig!" Her eyes finally moved past him towards Karidon. "Oh! I didn't see --"

"Karidon Raiken," the crime lord introduced himself.

"Yeah -- I mean, yes, of course. I know who you are." Lyssa disengaged herself from Dylan and patted her hair. Dylan felt the urge to roll his eyes and a spike of jealousy went through his chest. Karidon was a beautiful man. An incredible man.

A man who talks to monsters, something in his head said.

"I was just bringing the songbird inside," Karidon said. "Can't have the concert without him."

"Songbird, huh?" Lyssa gave Dylan a raised eyebrow that spoke volumes.

He was blushing so hard it felt like all the blood had left his body and gone to his cheeks.

"Well, I don't mean to keep you from your warm-up," Karidon said casually.

Dylan looked up at him. There was a distance between them now with Lyssa here. There would be no mention of monsters. I should be glad, but I feel bereft.

"It's really nice to meet you!" Lyssa called after him as the crime lord was already walking down the hallway, his camel-haired coat swinging around his legs. "Maybe we'll see you afterward! I think Dylan would like that!"

Dylan gently hit her on the shoulder. "Lyssa!"

Karidon waved a hand and then he was gone as he turned a corner.

"You," Lyssa pointed a finger into his chest, "have some explaining to do."

"What?" Dylan asked, trying his best to sound innocent. I am innocent. What happened is not what she thinks!

"Being alone in a dark hallway with Karidon Raiken with him looking at you like you're a delectable edible?" she pointed out.

"Lyssa, it wasn't like that," he protested and scuffed the floor with his boot. His head jerked up as he thought he heard an answering scuff from the darkened room.

"Well, I think --"

"You know what? Let's do your thinking on the move," Dylan said with false levity. "Or rather your interrogating."

"No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!" she laughed.

"No, people don't expect a lot of things." Dylan couldn't help looking over his shoulder every few steps as he hustled Lyssa away from danger. He told himself it was just a trick of the light and shadow that made him think he saw the claw come out of the room again just as they left the hallway.

People in this conversation

  • haiku

    In•no•cence now scarred
    And an un•blem•ished dev•il
    Mend•ed to•geth•er love

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  • The Monty Python quote made my night XD
    I think I shall go sit in a comfy chair for a while to read

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