Love is Blind, So is Revenge
by S. Tatalias
An 83,000 word, YA light horror romance, with lots of twists. It has the magical elements of Nick Lake’s “There Will be Lies” and A.S. King’s books, as well the dynamics of friendship, family troubles, and navigating the side roads of life found in Ellen Hopkins’s novels.
Seventeen-year-old HARPER blames herself for letting her dad drive drunk and getting into a fatal accident. Seeking solace, she gravitates to ASH’S charisma, kisses, and shots of tequila. When his passion turns into jealousy and abuse, she’s in too deep to speak up. Fortunately, she has two spirit guides, RED and WOLF. Unfortunately, they’re invisible (usually) and haven’t figured out how to get along, let alone agree with how to help Harper. Things get messy when everyone’s stories intertwine, old vendetta’s surface, and Harper spies a girl in a red hood. And then there’s that wolf. Is he here to help or eat her? Love, fangs, and broken hearts ensue…until our girl gets smart, sobers up, and defends herself.
Some words sound right, but come from the wrong person. Like Granny’s I-love-you’s. Not that I don’t love her too, but by now I’d hoped to hear those three words from someone an aeon younger.
Other words may once have been right, say in the Stone Age, when some admin guru dubbed our school “the Trojans,” but are now totally wrong. It’s hard to find team spirit for a condom.
And right now, the one word that sounds right is goodbye.
Step One is school. So with the end-of-the-day bell ringing in my head, I hop on my bike, ready to ride away and never look back. But someone grabs my backpack.
“Hey, where’re you going so fast?” Josie asks, practically yelling over the army of Trojans hooting and hollering, already celebrating winter break.
“I, um…” I don’t want to lie to my best friend, but if I tell her the truth, she’ll try to stop Step Two.
“Come over,” she says. “We can plan what to wear to the party.”
“No maybes.” Josie puts her hands on her hips. “We are going to look great tonight.”
“You always look great,” I tell her. And she does. Seattle’s permanent layer of thick gray clouds doesn’t affect her brown complexion.
“And you will too tonight.”
I groan. How I look has so not mattered the last four months.
She tugs on my circa 1980s scrunchy. “If we can get your hair out of that ponytail.”
“Like it matters with this.” I tap my helmet, and then tighten the strap. For the ride I’ve got in mind, it’s probably a good idea. But then I say, “I’m going to get some coffee,” and smile because it’s not a lie. Mostly. I simply edited out the route I’m taking to the coffee shop.
“Where at?” she asks.
“Emerald City.” I inch my bike forward.
Josie’s brown eyes narrow. With her standing half a head taller than me, and her warrior posture, it’s imposing.
“Don’t do it,” she says, as if she’s the big sister I don’t have.
Leave it to her and her big brain to remember how I swore what I’d do if I made it through this term—especially when I never should’ve returned to school after last summer—that I’d go down Queen Anne Ave, the steepest hill around.
That’ll hopefully begin Step Three: goodbye to the anchor in my heart. I’ll be going too fast to carry it.
A girl stops to talk to ever-popular Josie. Perfect for my exit.
With a quick, “See you soon,” I ride away before I let her change my mind.
Pedaling hard, I pass the line of cars waiting to leave the parking lot. Sometimes the freedom of a bike beats the comfort of a car. Especially right now. It’s the first time in months I’ve felt alive. Not even the endless Seattle drizzle bugs me as it frosts my eyelashes and cools my neck, all ozone smelling—crisp and metallic.
I hop off the curb and cut across oncoming traffic. It earns me a honk, and I wave, but I don’t touch the brakes. If I don’t keep moving I’ll explode. Or implode. Or spontaneously combust. Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty, and will leave a sticky mess in the middle of the intersection.
My phone rings, probably Josie, but I can’t answer because of the huge puddle ahead. I bank left to dodge it, only to veer back and ride straight through it, the water making giant fins off my tires, splashing my calves, and dripping into my shoes.
If only facing Mom was so easy. All I need is for her to sign the papers allowing me to graduate early.
I’m sure Dad would’ve.
Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve…
Imagining I could ride fast enough to make time go backwards, I head to the top of Queen Anne Ave, the longest, steepest, straightest hill around.
Pedals spinning, chain growling, wheels humming, I pass manicured trees squatting in puddles of soil they’ve been allotted by the sidewalk. I’ve been like them for seventeen years—planted and contained. Time to uproot myself and be free. A gust of wind sends the bare branches clacking together, as if the trees are clapping for me.
I arrive at the top of Queen Anne Ave, breathing hard. The road undulates down, so steep in the middle that it disappears from view. Seattle spreads out far below, the people scurrying like ants between sugar cube buildings.
When I was little, how many times was I warned not to even go down this hill? My whole life has been rules: Eat your vegetables; Clean your room; Come home on time; Go to school right after Dad’s accident. Mom may have been okay going back to work, but she wasn’t the one who hadn’t hid Dad’s keys well enough.
Halfway down the hill, there’s a stoplight. I count the time between cycles. Estimating it’ll take me thirty seconds to reach it, the next time it turns red, I wait a bit and then push off.
Gravity takes over.
I will not touch the brakes.
It’s crazy. And it’s exactly what I need.
My eyes are hot on the stoplight, the brick apartment buildings blur in my peripheral vision.
Both knees bent, I hold my butt slightly off the seat to absorb the holes in the road where the newer skin of pavement has worn away, exposing the old cobblestone bones underneath. It burns my quads and the fire feels right, so much better than the numbness since Dad’s accident.
“Go girl!” someone shouts from the sidewalk.
I keep looking straight ahead. Got to stay focused. Stay on course. It’s been Mom’s mantra and the reason I had to return to school feeling so weighed down.
Almost to the light, and it’s still red.
But no cars are coming the opposite way, so I shoot between a fat truck and the curb, holding my elbows in. And even exhaling.
Popping out the other side of the car, the light turns green, and for a split-second I’m relieved. But when I get across the intersection, the road drops into a near vertical slope, and for a moment I’m airborne. With a thunk, my wheels reconnect with the pavement. My stomach lurches into my throat, and then I’m plunging down so fast that all too soon I’m nearing the bottom, people zooming into life-sized figures.
Time to stop.
I tap the brakes to burn off the rain. Nothing happens but a squeal.
And then I don’t see the pothole. My front wheel jerks left, and I squeal, too.
I correct right. Too much.
I lean left. Then right. Then left.
A hot, zinging surge of electricity hits to my palms, giving me strength to hold on against the speed wobbles. Going this fast, they’d be deadly.
So would crashing into the people in the crosswalk. If I learned anything from counseling, it’s that I shouldn’t take others down with me.
I squeeze the brake levers until it feels like the metal is melding with my bones, and with the rear wheel skidding, I put my right leg down to keep from totally dumping.
Somehow I manage to screech to a halt right on the white line.
The thrum of the city rushes in as if I’d been going so fast that sound itself has finally caught up.
Two bicycle couriers waiting for the red light stare. Despite the rain, one is dressed in tight racing shorts and shirt, all bare arms and bulging calves and glistening biceps. He grins at me and adjusts his bombproof backpack.
The other, a girl in knee-length, cut-off army pants, says, “My company needs another girl. You want a job?”
I shrug my shoulders, unable to think.
I’m glowing from the inside out and everyone on the street, in shades of black and grey and navy blue, the somber dress code of Seattle, looks one step away from the zombie apocalypse.
A flash of bright color catches my eye. Standing on the far corner, wide eyed and clutching a wicker basket, is a girl in a deep crimson cape, complete with hood, flouncy blue and white checkered dress, and fur boots.
And furry ears.
I blink. And blink again.
The dark brown bristly ears are still popping up behind her own.
Like a raven attracted to something bright and unique, I head for the girl. She’s dressed exactly like the Little Red Riding Hood doll that Granny made for me, and that still sits on my bookshelf (and occasionally on my bed but I won’t tell anyone that, not even Josie) — a doll that is half Red on one side, half Wolf on the other side, so that this girl across the street looks bizarrely like her.
A tall, broad shouldered man passes between me and the girl, and then I’m left staring at an empty sidewalk. Empty of her anyhow. There are lots of other people rushing by, and if it wasn’t for all the cars, I’d race diagonally across the intersection.
She (they?) can’t have just disappeared.
Unless I was imagining it all.
I won’t tell my shrink. She’d probably say I’m projecting a figure from my childhood, a time I perceive to be easier, onto the present in an effort to blahbiddy gobbly psychobabble.
Hate to admit it, but she’d sort of be right. How many times have I talked to Red, pouring out my heart? Or wished I had Wolf’s strength, like at the funeral, so I wouldn’t cry in front of everyone?
Finally at the other side, I search up and down the street. No red cape. No perky ears.
Of course. Dolls don’t come to life, full-sized.
That’s about as likely as Dad coming back, too.
I pull my cape across my chest like a shield, wishing t’was heartier protection as yet another passerby bumps me aside as if we are too many goats in a pen. “Pardon me,” I say to a gentleman, to no avail; gentleman my foot, perhaps I should bleat back at him.
T’is impossible to even glean eye contact from these drab-clothed mushrooms, until one girl on a two-wheeled contraption stares, mouth agape, right at me.
She is shining like a gold piece, and I feel attracted to her as if she is just as rare and precious, though I have no idea why for I have never laid eyes upon her. The confusion on her pretty face—one that seems familiar yet I know not where from—makes me want to reach out and console her, especially since she is half-clad in only her tights and no frock.
A herd of horseless carriages stampedes by, stinking of a blacksmith’s workshop full of iron and oil and implements of ill intentions. They add to the noise of this land, and I cover my ears, only to touch short, bristly hair and pointy ears standing at attention.
“Wolf?” I gasp, knowing full well his incisors must be a hair’s-width from sinking into my flesh—which I have already felt once upon a time, thank you very much.
“Don’t move,” he says in that oily voice like he is selling used wheelbarrows.
Of course that is exactly what I do, for he may have fooled me once, yet shame on me if he fools me twice. So I bolt, only it is like stepping in quick-mud, and I accidentally knock over a lady laden with bags.
“So sorry, madam.” I offer her a hand up, hardly able to leave her on the ground like Wolf-bait.
She ignores my hand as if I am untouchable, and barks at a kid, “You think you own the sidewalk?”
“Sidewalk?” I ask, wondering to what side I am supposed to walk.
“You can at least help me,” she says, again to the kid, as if she cannot hear me.
“T’is my fault, not the kids, let me help you.”
She still ignores me, as if she cannot see me either. So still as slow and clumsy as if burdened with a bushel of potatoes on my back, I turn this way and that, sure Wolf is about to pounce, yet the beast is nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile the intriguing girl is crossing the thoroughfare, nose crinkled, blinking and looking around. Perchance she saw Wolf; I must warn her, and maybe she can help me make sense of where I am.
I smooth my cape and smile as friendly as can be, and say, “Hello. I seem a bit lost, perchance can you give me assistance?”
Not only does she not respond, she actually bumps her wheelie contraption right into me as if I am indeed invisible.
Though I have my warmest boots on, I begin to shake. Something is very, very wrong.
In all the tales spun by traveling minstrels, never has one described a city of buildings made with a shiny material that cannot be looking glass because no one is rich enough to afford all that, not even the Queen herself.
I am a long ways from home.
“Relax my dear,” Wolf whispers in my ear. “We need to talk.”
With as steady a voice as possible, I say, “And why would I do that?”
“Because you have no choice.”
Though I hate to admit t’is true, for running from any wild beast is in the least foolish, and most certainly impossible if that creature be fleet of foot like Wolf.
I will do my best to match wits with him this time; no more falling for his tricks and big hypnotizing yellow eyes.
The girl is walking away, and though I yearn to follow, Wolf must be dealt with first, so with knees as soft as churned butter, I turn to face him, “Where are you, fiend?”
“Right here.” From behind me, he wraps his sinewy arms around my waist, the thick pads of his paws, complete with brown dirt between his claws, covering my pale and shaking hands. “All the better to grip you tightly.”
“How? Wh…wh…” I stutter. No, I must be strong. “Why can you not leave me be?”
“Getting away from you and your endless questions would be wonderful. Alas, it seems impossible. I think we are attached. To one another.”
“What do you mean?”
“Back-to-back,” he barks, as if it’s my fault. “Feel your leg. And, by the way, you made another inquiry.”
Hesitantly, I touch the front of my thigh.
“Farther back,” says Wolf.
With dread settling in my stomach like pig slop, I walk my fingers back across the loose, flowing material of my dress only to find it ends in tight stitches sewn into fur. I jerk my hand to my heart, to its wild beating, thankful I still have my own arm. “How could this be?”
“Red, your appetite for answers seems insatiable.”
“Insatiable! You’re the one who had to eat my grandma and then me, too.”
“True. True. That was a lapse of protocol. But the woodcutter saved you in the end, so let’s stay in the present."
Yes, the present…why am I even talking to this beast? I run, or try to, my feet still slow as if in molasses. "Are you really and truly attached to me?"
"It pleases me not either, my dear. I am putting my disgust aside as there is something else pressing to lend my attention to."
He's such a slick talker that I don't know if it is true or his persuasive power that suddenly makes me realize that indeed I too feel I need to pay attention to something besides the fact that I have been sewn into Wolf. Not that he needs to know that, so I say, "Ah, well, now what might that be?"
See that damsel over there?”
"As soon as he says it, and since he is not presently trying to gnaw off my arm, I follow where his claw is pointing. T’is at the girl I noticed before, peeling off her shiny, beetle-shaped hat.
He stalks towards her, forcing me to follow as our legs are indeed attached. I dig my heels in. “Whatever are you doing? You cannot eat her.”
“I know that. I just needed a closer look. She looks so good. Long, mousy, brown hair, pale skin, and slight plumpness. A tasty morsel indeed.” Wolf slurps.
His spittle hits me in the back of the throat. “Ewww. Are we sharing heads, too?”
“Do you ever stop?”
I clutch the handle of my basket tight. “Once upon a time I lived in a little cottage, and the animals lived in the woods, and—”
“For the love of Moon, stop the chatter,” Wolf barks. “I’m observing.”
“Well, observe us apart from each other, you dumb beast,” I mumble.
“I heard that, my dear Red. Have you forgotten how big my ears are?” In a high pitched voice, imitating me, he says, “My what big ears you have.”
“Yes indeed. In-fur-iating? Get it?” He half yips like a dog, half laughs like a human.
He can laugh all he wants; I will show him I can observe too, for something deep in my bones tells me I know this girl in the tights. “Wolf, I’ve got the oddest feeling, no, not a feeling, a deep knowing that I am supposed to watch over that girl.” There. I made a statement.
“It’s called instinct. I feel it too.”
“I hope your instinct does not include sizing her up for your dinner plate.”
“So you do have a sense of humor under that flouncy hood.” Wolf yip-laughs again.
“And is there anything besides a beast under your fur?”
“I take umbrage to that comment.”
“I did not know wolves knew such fancy words,” I say to cover up that I do not know what the word means.
He clears his throat and it tickles mine. “Back to the point at paw, the girl is in danger.”
I sense Wolf’s eyes, at the back of my head, scanning this strange city.
Wolf growls, and the hair on my arms prickles. I turn my head, our head, and immediately spy a boy with a tangle of dark curls.
“You see him?” asks Wolf. “The one with bright blue peepers, staring at our girl.”
My senses, unusually sharp, take in the flaring of the boy’s nostrils as he breathes, the gulp as he swallows, and, I swear, I can almost feel the heat of his blood pulsing in his neck. I sense too, though I know not how, the danger he poses to the girl.
Wolf growls and steps towards the boy. My jaw, our jaw tightens, and I picture Wolf baring his teeth and with practically nothing separating us from the boy—only a fence made of sticks that wouldn’t stay a newborn lamb—I dig my heels in. “Don’t do anything rash, Wolf.”
“You said so yourself. The girl must be protected. I’ve got a job to do.” He gnashes his teeth. “And I’ve got the tools to do it.”
Just when I thought I might be able to get along with him, I realize that I was fooled again.
“Wait, for the love of Queen,” I plead. “Don’t you have a desire to know what is going on? Why we are here? Why we are stuck back-to-back?”
For once, the question seems to have an effect on Wolf, for he has stopped.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Then, so quietly, as if he is saying it to himself, but being so close, indeed sharing heads, I hear it, he mumbles, “I do not want to eat him.”
He is one fickle beast. Instead of asking why he has changed his mind, I come up with a plan that does not involve human flesh going down my gullet.