My name is Jay and over three whole months ago I entered this universe and bound myself to a magician. It’s been really weird and strange: I went from being strong to being tough, from being a weak kind-of vampire to not one at all and I got to scare a whole army invading from outside the universe mostly by accident. I am fast and tough and I can see the bindings that tie people and things together in ways even magicians can’t. I can see the space where Charlie left us to travel on her own, though I still don’t understand why she left. Humans are weird. Sometimes their bindings with each other break and they remain together, or they don’t break and they leave anyone and I don’t understand it at all.
The internet has just made it even more confusing. But from it I figured out that tonight is New Year’s Eve, and that’s sort of why the magician left me in the motel and went into a nearby bar to drink and be with human-people. And probably have sex, which is another weird human thing. I leave too, because he bound himself to me and I convince the wards he made and walked through to let me walk through them as well. I’ve been waiting for my own night, too. I take my one coat and a small flashlight and my phone and boots and I wander into the huge park near the middle of the city.
Charlie had a monster inside her but she’s gone. So that means I have to become the monster now. But if I am a bad monster, the magician will be sad in that way that doesn’t show on his face, so I just walk into the park and flick my light on after a while and call out, “Truffie?” since the name sounds small and goofy, like a little kid would name their dog. I can pass for a ten year old human boy. Or younger if I have to. I’ve learned lots in three months.
Acting is easy: you don’t break bindings as much as bend them, and I slip into the bend, calling out for the lost dog that doesn’t exist, leaving deep prints in the snow. It only takes ten minutes to be followed. Just ten: a human, male, older. A breaker of bindings. I pull out my phone, poke it, yell at it to work, shove it in my pocket and yell for Truffie. For a moment I think I’m tried too hard, then I hear his feet behind me. He smells off, like something gone sour, but he’s big and wearing Santa-red and has a smile that’s all friendly and wide.
“Hey, kid. Lost your dog?”
“Uh-huh. Have you seen one?”
“No, not yet. I don’t see any tracks, but we could look closer to the fountain,” he says, and when I follow his mitten he moves. He has done this before, a knife to the throat, had over the mouth, a growl to be silent sounding like an animal in a cage.
It takes more than a knife to hurt me, but broken knives mean questions. I’m faster than people and twist, wriggling free of my coat even as he grabs me, his blade scraping uselessly on my throat. He lunges after, expecting me to freeze with the cold, his desire only my unbinding. I knew that, but I had to be sure, so I move to the side, faster than he can see, and unbind his left leg.
It takes three whole kicks to break his knee, even hitting it in the spot the internet recommended. Sometimes being small sucks. He drops, though, and I’m at the other side, snagging his knife as his grip flatters, driving it into his right leg. Unbinding blood from flesh. He backhands me hard across the snow, because I have to slow to stab him, but the pain takes over after that, his hands flying over his wound in terror.
If I was human, I’d have offered a chance or made some kind of speech and hoped to change him. But words don’t work right for me and I’m not human at all. I wait until he bleeds out and replace the knife in the wound. I could do worse. I could leave signs about what he’d tried for people to find, but the magician wouldn’t want that. Even monsters have families, and the families might not know they’re monsters at all.
I walk back to the motel, humming softly to myself. I’m not Charlie, but I think I can make a pretty good monster when I have to.
It is morning when he threads power in his voice to wake me up. I sit up on my bed, yawn, and grin hello.
“Busy night last night?”
“I watched tv. And ate,” I say, as if the wrappers of three subs aren’t proof enough.
“Uh huh.” The magician sits down on the other bed and studies me. “We should get going; the city will be quiet after last night. Grab your coat.”
I reach beside my bed, then recall the man from last night had in his hands. “I had to throw it away –.” I pause at something from the binding between us, a thrum of tension.
“I saw the news when I got my coffee this morning. Dead man in the park, missing kid judging by the coat they had as evidence. You didn’t disrupt my ward just to get subs.” I say nothing. “You also don’t have a speck of blood on you, Jay.” His smile barely touches his face. “Is this how it is going to be, now? I take an evening off and you go murder someone.”
“No! It wathn’t like that at all!” He just waits, in the way magicians wait. “Nathen, pleathe,” I beg. He doesn’t like his name being used, even in private, but I’m too scared not to. I explain what I did, and why, struggling though esses and stumbling over words until I finish, panting for air after.
The binding between us is still and distant. “Jay. Charlie was good at being a monster, yes. You don’t have to be that.”
“Then what?” I demand, my voice shrill even to my ears.
He smiles, then, a smile that is all human and almost not the magician at all. “We can work on that, okay? You’re good at distracting and surprising; use that. Be that. Please.”
“We’ll figure stuff out.” He stands and ruffles my hair. “Now get you’re clothing. I’m driving, you pick tunes on your phone and we find out what store is open that is selling clothing. And,” he adds as he puts his things into a duffel bag he pulls out of the air, “if you ever disrupt and break through a ward I made like that again, it had better be done well enough that I don’t sense it.”