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The guy from the alley? He was following her around! Her first instinct was to leave the bar. Go home. Get away from him. But time had passed. He'd seen what she was. He hadn't turned her in to the pixie police. And he was apparently not going to just disappear. She swallowed, squared her shoulders and marched over to the man.
"Why are you following me around?" she asked.
"Would you like to sit down?" he asked. His voice was very deep, a rich baritone.
"I do not want to sit down. I want you to go away," said Iris.
"It's a public place," he said. "Please sit down. My name's Billy Jordan. I'd like to talk with you."
"We have nothing to talk about."
"I think we do. You are Iris Tanner, aren't you?"
He knew her name? How did he know her name? "Jesus. Are you trying to blackmail me? Because I don't have any money."
"It's not about money. Are you a ghoul?"
"Oh God." He'd just said that. Out loud. She sat down. "How do you even know who I am?"
"I'm a fan. I used to watch Satin Blades play at the Rein-Bo in the city. I caught the last show, the one after you guys had been signed. I remember that you announced it from the stage. Then the album came out, and you weren't the chick in the pictures." He smiled, and he looked so friendly. "Why aren't you in the band anymore?"
So what was this guy? A crazy fan? "So that's why you're following me? You're obsessed with my music? What do you want?" He wanted something. She was sure of that. And he had dangerous information. Information that could ruin her life.
"Just to talk to you."
"Well, there's a lot to get into. It's complicated," he said, lounging back in his chair.
God. He was so smug. He knew all her secrets, and he was following her around. She didn't like it. "Just tell me."
"I'm not really sure how to start."
"Tell me, or I'm going to report you to the cops as a psycho stalker," Iris said, knowing she couldn't go to the cops.
"You're a ghoul. You can't go to the cops," said Billy. "Anyway, don't worry. I'm a witch. I understand running from the law. I'm not trying to use any of this information that I have against you."
"Ex-witch more accurately, I guess," he continued. "The pixie I shared power with and I had a falling out. I still have magic. She imbued me with all kinds of power, so it'll take a while to wear off."
Now it all made sense. "That's why you could resist my desire illusions."
"So why were you following me? I'm not buying this curiosity defense."
"Why did you leave the band? You show me yours, I'll show you mine."
She glared at him. "Black pixie dust. I got some by accident. I couldn't deal. The guys definitely couldn't deal. Now you."
He hesitated. "I have a stupid idea that I want you to help me with, because of who you are."
"What's your idea?"
"So? I still want to know what it is."
"No. You don't. Trust me. You'll be happier if you don't know."
She glared at him. "Tell me," she said.
Billy took a deep breath. "I want you to help me stop a group of daions from resurrecting an ancient monster to devour the human race."
She didn't say anything. This guy was not only an obsessed stalker. He was also insane.
"Told you it was stupid."
Stupid, yes. But she couldn't deny she was a little curious. "What's a daion?"
"Pixies. That's what pixies call themselves."
"Oh," she said. She'd heard that before, she guessed. "Um, how would I help with that?"
Billy took a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. "Want one?"
Iris took a cigarette. Billy followed suit. They lit them and each took long drags.
"Well," said Billy. "I guess that's why it's stupid idea. Daions have very powerful magic, and you and I are humans, or at least we started out that way, and we'd never stand a chance against them."
Yeah. That made sense. Wait. It didn't make sense. None of what he'd said made sense. "You really think this is gonna happen? The pixies are gonna wipe us out?"
"Not all of the pixies. But yeah, six of them. Including my former mistress. That was why she and I had a falling out. I kind of didn't want to die."
Iris didn't know a lot about pixies and magic, but she did know that there was no love lost between pixies and humans, what with the pixie police shooting pixies dead. She sucked on her cigarette and furrowed her brow. "When?"
Billy massaged the bridge of his nose. "It's probably already started. The monster—the thing they're calling—needs a huge sacrifice to come into his full power, but they've probably already summoned him. Or it. Whatever it is."
Could it be true? Iris wasn't sure. But if there was a chance it could, any chance at all, then she should definitely— "Wait. Why me?"
"Well." He laughed. "Man, if you thought I was psychotic before . . . Uh, the daions that are doing this are the, um, rock band Mischief."
A grin started to pull at Iris' mouth. "You're making this up. This is a joke."
Billy shook his head. "No," he said, smiling. "No, it's not. I wish it was."
"Mischief—the people in Mischief are . . . people."
"No, they're not."
"But pixies are little brown people with wings, and Mischief is—"
"Daions can shapeshift. Or they can make it appear that they shapeshift. Everyone knows that. It's on the PSAs."
"I thought only black pixies could—"
"No. Alghuls—black pixies—can do everything that daions can do. They used to be daions before they started eating people."
Really? That was weird.
"Why do you think you guys are called ghouls?" Billy continued. "It's a derivation."
Huh. Iris shrugged.
"Iris, if you can make people think they can't see you, or even make someone think they see someone entirely different, what makes you think a daion, who is twice as powerful as you, couldn't do the same thing?"
"I guess I never thought about it," she said. "But how can you prove that Mischief are pixies?"
"I can't. I can point to their rapid, crazy success, or their music, which seems to appeal to nearly everyone. Daions' illusions cover all five senses including sound."
"Yeah. I know that. But they could still just be a really good band."
"But they aren't. They're magic. They're too good to be true."
"Maybe. That still doesn't have anything to do with me. Why'd you want me to help?"
Billy took a drag from his cigarette. "You're Iris Tanner. You used to be in Satin Blades. Satin Blades is opening for Mischief. You're a way in."
Well, that kind of made sense. "But I don't talk to anyone in the band anymore. I don't see them."
"Never? You never talk to them?"
Billy shrugged. "Well. It was worth a shot anyway. If you do ever talk to anyone in the band, maybe you could . . . Aw, hell. It was a stupid idea, and I never had much of a plan in the first place. Sorry I bothered you."
Iris fiddled with the straw in her drink. "You really think this is going to happen?"
"I know it is."
"So have you told the pixie police?"
"I'm a witch. I can't go to them."
"Tip them off anonymously."
"You think they'd act on an anonymous tip that the members of Mischief are pixies? You think they'd just go shoot them?"
"Maybe not, but they'd investigate it."
"They wouldn't find anything. The illusion is perfect. Even if they did investigate, which I doubt they'd do, nothing would seem out of order."
"Maybe, but it's worth a try, isn't it?"
"Fine. You tip off the police."
"Me? I don't even believe you."
"Then why are you asking me these questions?"
"My point was, if this was really going to happen, you'd be doing something to try to stop it."
"I can't stop it. Talking to you was the only idea I had, and it was a stupid idea, and you can't help. So, I'm just going to enjoy the rest of my life. You know, 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.' Would you like another drink?"
"No. There has to be something you could do. You had some sort of plan, right? That's why you wanted to talk to me?"
"Not really. Look, I think knowing this is kind of like grief. I've been angry. I've been in denial. Eventually, I'll accept it. I think following you around was all part of my denial stage. Now that I've talked to you and there's nothing to be done, I can move on."
"To giving up?" Iris ground out her cigarette in the ash tray. "If you're right, and I don't totally think you are, then I think you're being pretty shitty about this. I don't want to die. Nobody else wants to die."
"The daions were here before us. They'll be here after us. It's the way it goes."
"You really are psychotic."
"I thought you'd think so."
"I can't believe I'm gonna do this, but do you have a pen?"
"I want to give you my phone number. In case you can convince me about Mischief, or you decide to try to do something about this whole situation, and you want my help."
Later that night, Iris was eating in her kitchen and trying not to think about Billy Jordan and pixies. No matter how loud she cranked her music, she couldn't get their conversation out of her head. It didn't seem rational that Mischief was a group of pixies bent on destruction of the human race. Bent on destruction . . .
She rummaged through her tape collection until she found her copy of Mischief's sophomore album. She stared at the tape's cover. In the center was a laughing skeleton. Underneath it, written on a banner, was the album's title: "Bent on Destruction."
Goddamn it. That was just a coincidence. Metal bands albums always had titles like that. Destruction. Devil. Hell. Those were just metal buzzwords. God. She wasn't going to let her chance meeting with Billy get to her. He'd screwed up the past few days of her life already. She wasn't going to let him screw up anymore of it. Of course, it wasn't as if she really had enough of a life to screw up. She just couldn't believe that pixies wanted to kill humans. Admittedly, she didn't know a lot about pixies. She hadn't even known they could shapeshift. What she knew about magical beings she'd mostly gotten from grade school assemblies and PSAs on TV. When she was small, she was taught things like, "If you ever see someone who seems out of place, like a clown on the street who wants to give you candy, run the other way and find a trusted adult." Black pixies were a very real danger for children. They liked young flesh, and they could appear to be anything or anyone in order to lure a child away. They bit people. They killed people. Ate them. They were a source of nightmares for Iris as a child, not because she'd ever seen one, but because of the warnings she'd received from her mother, her school, and the media.
The only other magic she knew about was pixie dust, and she hadn't started to hear warnings about that until she was a teenager. Pixie dust, despite its fluffy name, was actually made of pixies. Pixies were caught, bled dry, left to wither, and crushed into a powdery substance, which could then be put in pills. You could ingest pixie dust, snort it, or even smoke it. Ingesting produced the most intense effects. Pixie dust created magical hallucinations for all the senses. It differed from your run-of-the-mill chemical hallucinogen in that while you were "dusting," you couldn't tell the difference between reality and your hallucination.
For that reason alone, it was dangerous. Iris had seen after school specials in which the characters did terrible things under its influence. Once, a guy had killed his best friend because in his hallucination, his best friend had been a monster. The special had ended with the boy crying behind bars as the credits rolled. Had it not been for the terrible acting, perhaps the program would have had more of an effect on Iris. As it was, she ended up trying pixie dust anyway. She didn't see any monsters while dusting.
But pixie dust was dangerous for another, more terrifying, reason, one that Iris wished she'd taken more seriously. It was dangerous because of the chance of getting black pixie dust. In their natural forms, black pixies and normal pixies were virtually identical. They were both no taller than a foot, brownish in skin color, and decorated with gossamer wings. Black pixies had sharper teeth. That was really the only discernible difference. Since they were so similar, black pixies sometimes got caught by accident and turned into dust. But black pixie dust didn't give anyone nifty hallucinations. Instead, it turned him or her into a ghoul.
Ghouls became ghouls by eating black pixie flesh. In the past, most ghouls had become ghouls on purpose. There were perks. The magic was kind of cool. Those ghouls were willing to accept the gross downside—eating dead people.
But recently, more and more ghouls got that way by accident. That was what had happened to Iris. She'd gotten a pill of pixie dust, taken it, waited for it to kick in. It never had. And the next morning, she was very hungry, but she couldn't keep her breakfast down. She didn't know what she was craving, but . . . The sickening thing about it was that she and Rhett had gotten two pills from the same guy. His had been real pixie dust. Hers hadn't. Sometimes, in her darker moments, she wished Rhett would have gotten the black pixie dust instead of her.
But that was neither here nor there. She guessed, in light of all of that, some pixies might really hate humans. After all, pixies mostly minded their own business, and humans were trying to kill them to turn them into drugs. The pixie police killed them on sight. She could understand how they might get pissed off. She lit a cigarette and hunted through some papers she had stuffed into one of her notebooks until she found Satin Blades' itinerary. Rhett had given it to her so she could contact the band if she needed to. It had the phone numbers for the hotels they were staying in. She was going to call him. If he wasn't out drinking or passed out, he'd pick up the phone.
Iris picked up the phone, stared at it, and asked herself if she were sure she really wanted to do this. She wasn’t, but she started to dial anyway. She got all the numbers dialed before she could think, and then the phone began to ring. The phone rang nine times. She was about to hang up, when someone picked up.
"Rhett?" asked Iris.
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"Iris?" He sounded happy to hear from her. "Hey. Look, Max and I raised hell about those checks. If they aren't—"
"No, no. That's fine. Everything's fine with that. I'm actually calling about something else. This is gonna sound weird, but I wanted to ask you about Mischief."
"What about them?"
"Well, you're on tour with them. Do you ever like, get to hang out with them?"
"It's weird. Just . . . do you?"
"Not too much. They're big news, you know, and plus they're a sober band, so they don't party."
"Yeah. Apparently, they used to do a lot of drugs and it fucked them all up, so now they don't do anything."
"Huh. Well, that's kind of strange."
"I think it's why they're so focused. I mean—"
"No partying? Does that mean no groupies?"
"Iris, what is this about? I'm not fucking Ros, if that's what you're getting at."
God. That ass. Of course he was fucking Ros. Well, he probably was, but . . . She didn't care anyway. "Mischief, Rhett. That's what this is about. Do they seem . . . normal to you?"
"Well, not for a rock band, but they're really good."
"Never mind. No partying. No chicks, huh? Thanks Rhett." She hung up.
She was shaking. She always shook after she talked to him anymore. She didn't know why. It used to be so easy to talk to him. Like breathing or dreaming or . . . writing fucking songs. She sighed. For once that evening, she was happy to distract herself with thoughts of pixies. A sober, celibate rock band. That was definitely odd. Not odd enough to mean they were going to destroy the human race, but it certainly didn't help their case.