Faces in the Fog
Her skin was still warm. Smooth and rich beneath the drift of his fingers along her cheekbone. Her smile must have been a beautiful thing to see, spread over full lips painted a natural bronze that blended well with her dark complexion. Mel’s hand strayed out over the copper curls sprawled across the carpet, crunching them into his fist. His curious eyes watched as they sprung from his grasp on spreading his fingers. So vivacious, so insistent, just like the woman’s reaction when she first noticed him lurking in the shadows of her home.
“I’ve heard it said the moon lays his head down to sleep every morning,” Mel said. He gently gathered the woman’s head into his hands, leaning over her to brush his cool lips against her brow. “That he forgets for the day all he has seen throughout the night.” A smile touched the corner of his lips as he gave his head a subtle shake. “Don’t believe those lies. The moon neither sees nor cares what is done in the shadow.”
Shadow crept from the corners of the room. Rivulets of inky black flowed over the carpet against the moonlight filtering through the bedroom window. That liquid shadow smeared itself against the walls as if painted there by the palms of children, splashed up onto the ceiling with careless glee. An incoherent chattering echoed from the darkness, faint and repetitive. Gradually, the room grew darker inside than the world beyond the window. Shadow and fog and ink followed him as if they were no more than his adoring pets.
Sharalyn did not reply. She stared into the face of the creature that hung over her. Mel could see in her eyes what she saw of him. His moon pale beauty marred by burn scars. His river of black hair, once silken and soft, now reduced to strung ash, fragile and in danger of breaking. He loathed what he saw and shoved her from his lap. Long, lean legs extended as he pushed to his feet, brushing the human’s filth from his clothing. Blood and tears soaked into fabric pants, stained the leather of his wings. He grew tired of playing with this meal.
The house was what attracted him. The stink of magic was faint, but recognizable. Mel found no sign of the ones that had left the magic behind. The brothers that led the Hunt, that had rescued him from the fire that left him scarred, were not here.
Thin, pale fingers plucked a picture frame off the dresser, tipped into the illumination of the daring moonlight trying to force its way past the window. Mel leaned against the window sill to peer over the faces in the photograph. A woman, a man and a girl smiled up at him. The woman lay suffering on the carpet. The man was handsome but not home. The girl? Well, he could sense her asleep down the hall.
“Who is this?” Mel crouched down next to Sharalyn, his fingers grasping hold of a handful of her curls to help her lift her head. The claw at the tip of his thumb tapped against the image of the man.
Sharalyn shook her head. She was too weak to manage more than a faint shiver of motion. Mel growled and helped her. The hand embedded in her hair gave a violent shake, wrenching her head side to side. The woman sobbed out a pained breath.
“Tell me,” he said.
“M-m…” The word stuttered across stiff lips, the woman’s eyes filled with renewed fear. “Marius.”
“Marius.” Mel dropped her head back on the floor. “Is he the one then? He knows Maerenath? Gwyllynir?”
Sharalyn shook her head again. “I t-told you already. I don’t know who they are.”
“Yes, you don’t,” Mel said, tapping his thumb against the picture again. “But does he?”
A soft whimper came as her reply. She didn’t know. Mel stood and paced the room, until a decision stuck in his mind. He shattered the glass of the frame against the edge of the dresser and tugged the photograph out. The broken frame struck the floor with a thud. Mel folded the picture and tucked it into his pant pocket. He strolled back towards the prone woman. “I’ll question him later. Any idea when you expect him back?”
The shake of her head infuriated Mel. He swept her battered body up into his arms, cradling her lax head in the crook of his arm while the rest of her dangled like a ragdoll. Her bare feet dragged across the floor as he carried her towards the window, trails of blood leaking from beneath her flower printed pajamas onto the champagne coloured carpet.
His fury was cold. Everything about him was cold. Even the times he laid awake on a bed and pretended to sleep. The fire raged around him in his memories, but he no longer felt the heat of them licking at his flesh.
“Do you see out there?” Mel turned them so Sharalyn could look out the window. His palm petted over her hair. “Past the streetlights and the moonlight?”
“Please,” Sharalyn said. “Please leave us alone. I don’t know why -”
“No, you don’t know much at all, do you?” Mel exhaled loudly. She was tedious to speak with. “Simple questions and you can’t answer them.” He shifted his weight and angled Sharalyn up a touch more. “There. Now can you see?”
“Yes. Yes, I can see.”
Sharp claws sank into her flesh. Fingers closed hard around her throat, strangling back the scream that rose in her. Skin gave way under the cut and force of his clawed hand, allowing him to crush her windpipe in his brutal grip. Her eyes bulged and her lips spread uselessly. Mel smirked and lowered his head until his mouth found hers. Her body shuddered in his arms, limbs twitching.
He kissed her. The draw in of his breath came slowly. Beneath his hands, he could feel her spirit peel from her bones, her skin; like paint forced from the walls with a chisel. Long, strips of fear and confusion flavoured energy which he drank in eagerly.
The corpse thumped on the floor. Mel pushed his fingers over his lips, her blood lapped from their tips. His eyes slid closed and he breathed with deliberate calm. A rush of excitement coursed through his chest, leaving him trembling where he stood. One hand braced against the wall, his head bowing forwards. The toe of his boot nudged against the woman’s body as the foot scuffed ahead a half step. His skin tingled, his blood thundered in his ears and he kept licking across his lips. None of it helped him process her any faster. Her memories, her fears, her loves, all laid bare for him to experience the moment she slipped across his tongue.
Mel shoved away from the window, staggering back a couple of paces. Long hair was tossed over his shoulder as he lifted his head and cracked open liquid black eyes. His figure shimmered. A soft gasp from behind him brought his head around sharply. The creak of the floorboard in the hallway called a warning to his pointed ear.
Greed lurched through him, his grin rising over bloodied lips. A droplet of black liquid dripped from the ceiling overhead, caught by the shadows swimming around his feet. Mel took a step towards the doorway, the darkness rushing ahead of him as clouds of cloying fog. The substance, born of his magic, echoed back the heartbeat of the only living thing still within the house he haunted. Small feet stumbled on the wood floor of the hallway.
“Tick tock, tick tock,” Mel said, his voice woven within the shadows created a dreamlike harmony. His steps continued across the bedroom. “A mouse ran up the clock.”
Long fingers curled around the doorframe. Bloodied claws ground against the wood and dug into the framework. Mel pulled himself around the corner. His smile crawled higher as his eyes landed on the child kneeling frozen in the hallway. A soft coo issued from his pursed lips, a soothing sound in his ears. The girl stared with wide brown eyes, scrambling the rest of the way to her feet. She flinched away from the curious touch of the liquid shadow, one foot placed carefully behind the other.
What had she seen?
“The clock struck one,” he said, bare feet gracing the hallway floor in pursuit. He made no sound when he moved, cushioned by the unnatural shadow. His presence overflowed the narrow space. The girl choked on air that grew thick and stagnant. Somewhere in the depths of the house below them, the single lonely chime of the hour sung on a grandfather clock. Mel reached a hand out towards the girl, his fingers crooking in invitation for her to take it. “And down the mouse ran.”
The staircase surprised her. Her retreating step found nothing but air beneath her heel. She tumbled in disarray over the edge of the stair. Her limbs sprawled in desperation. The girl’s breath exploded out of her mouth as she struck the wall on the landing. He poured down the hallway after her, lingering at the top of the steps to watch the display with a marble gaze that lit with ghastly curiosity.
A pained groan told him she lived, her fear he could taste in the churning shadows around them. He descended the stairs to where she lay. His tall figure loomed over her until he sank into a crouch at her side. A second hollow chime of the clock resounded through the house, reverberating in the growing fog of shadows that steadily clogged the home.
“At the stroke of two,” Mel said. Her head jerked to the side, trying to block out the sight of him. Small lips parted on a scream that never escaped her. The shadows seeped into her mouth and pushed their way down her throat. She choked on her next breath. Her hand lashed out, smacking hard into Mel’s shoulder. She struggled against him as he cowed her into the corner. Mel angled his head to the side, watching her succumb to the shadow stealing her breath. “The night will swallow you.”
Mel lifted the limp child. Dozens of soft, slim braids tumbled over his elbow as the girl’s head rolled against his arm. He strode from the house with his slumbering prize. The shadow remained in his absence, washing through the rooms and halls. The inky liquid gouged into the walls and the floors, carving claw marks into the wood. It etched him into the fibre of the house, ensuring his nursery rhyme resonated from every dark place within the home. His song lay in wait to greet this Marius whenever he deigned to return.
The early morning fog in the woodlands across the street eagerly swallowed Mel and the child. From within the deep green of the trees, a lone wolf howled.
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