Ethan knew the instant he walked into the fancy Anglecliff Country Club that he was not welcome there. One look into that lounge with all the cold, displeased glances of the men and women of the upper class society was enough to fully convince him of that.
It was built on the eastern portion of the city in 1911 at the bottom of Lake Chelsea. Its main building was large and pristinely white Victorian style beauty with countless rooms that could be set for meetings, parties and the like. It boasted a four-star restaurant, an Olympic sized swimming pool and a widespread area of various sports; tennis, squash, golf, polo and water-based ones such as canoeing with its many forms and there was even a men’s club as well, a club within the club with doors containing electronic locks that allowed only card-carrying members to enter. There was no woman’s club or any equivalent thing for some odd reason.
Ethan’s initial thoughts were that it would be fun. He didn’t play golf, its primary sport, but he enjoyed most the others and good food from a four-star restaurant could never go wrong.
He was taken there with what remained of his New England family by Margaret, who was seventy-two years old and the head of his family despite only being a member by marriage. It apparently disgusted and offended all three of her daughters, most especially the eldest who was very much an alcoholic.
They were Anne Creed, Bernadette Sanderson and Jane Hamilton. Anne was fifty, Bernadette forty-eight and Jane was forty, the youngest, prettiest and meanest of them all, which was really something considering how mean all of them were already. If Ethan had ever needed proof of women’s capacity for viciousness, the three of them gave it with a vengeance. He felt certain that getting caught between them would be like being caught between three feral tigers.
The third generation had Anne’s children, the fraternal twins Gina, who was pretty, confident and mean, and Dina who was only just mean, both of them twelve. Bernadette’s daughter Lucy was sixteen and extremely beautiful, which made Jane angry because her daughter, Agnes, was considered ugly and she no longer had the monopoly on physical beauty in the family. Agnes at fourteen was the loneliest girl Ethan ever met and probably the only one who actually seemed to want him around.
Lastly, there was Ethan himself: the one man left in his entire family. For whatever reason, he was given a provincial acceptance into the club and on one Friday in early August, in he went.
Almost instantly, everyone seemed to slip away from him as if he was diseased. Most of them wore what he thought of as preppy clothes. The older men with suits with hats, expensive cufflinks, pipes and other distinguished looks and young men in khaki pants and light-colored polo shirts with their sunglasses on their heads and sweaters wrapped around their necks. Ethan himself wore a light blue polo shirt and khaki pants, which he had been talked into wearing by his grandaunt in order to “fit in.”
Ethan owned a barely functioning 1969 Corvette Coupe that he had purchased with his bounty money after saving Tori Randal and he deeply regretted not driving it. He was clearly going to have to wait the whole thing out and suffer whatever consequences that were sure to be heading his way.
“Thanks for bringing me, Aunt Margaret,” he said. “The people outside were an absolute hoot but were well worth dealing with just to know I was this welcome on the inside.”
“There is a girl I want you to meet,” said Margaret. “Give me one moment so I can find her.” She stepped forward into the lounge.
Ethan sighed and looked over his shoulder at the window.
One of the picketers outside was looking in with a dark expression on his face. He had a thick cross painted, or possibly tattooed, onto his face. The bars were over his eyes and the stem reached from his forehead over his nose and down to his chin. He was a big, powerful man with very short wavy dark hair and eyes that were nearly black.
His group was called the Savior’s Fold and they had some sort of commune out in Bartlett Bay near the Engelstad by the Orange River. That particular man was rumored to have found his cousin Peter’s body a few weeks back under the bridge and many believed he murdered him even though the investigation proved nothing.
They protested the country club’s acceptance of their one openly gay member with signs that said, “burn ALL fags” and “God Will Punish You” and a few others that were typical of what one might have in anti-gay sentiments. The one with the cross, however, had the words, “Rip the Queer Apart” on his sign.
He was dangerous, whoever he was. Ethan could see it more in his eyes than his sign.
“Ethan,” said Margaret and he turned back. “Come with me.” She led him away down into the lounge through the room to a table where there was a pretty girl sitting alone. “Ethan, I’d like you to meet Priscilla Pennington,” she told Ethan and then she turned to the girl. “Priscilla, I’d like you to meet my grandnephew, Ethan Benedict Bartlett.”
Priscilla had short chin-length black hair that hung around her head seductively with sexy, narrow dark eyes on a model-like face. She smiled genuinely at Margaret but when she looked at Ethan, her expression soured just enough to let him know she wasn’t impressed. She wore an adorable looking light blue sweater dress with a matching skirt and a white belt, all of which Ethan thought looked incredibly preppy, and he was almost instantly struck with how she was out of his league socially and how she was very much not his type. “A pleasure to meet you,” Ethan told her.
“Likewise,” she said pleasantly.
Margaret sensed Priscilla’s dislike and was clearly disappointed. “Why don’t you two go walk out into the hall and look at some of the pictures of our club’s founders? Show him the one of your great-grandfather who, if I recall correctly, began as an employee of ours at the docks?”
Priscilla frowned at her, lips pressed together.
“You know, I’m good,” said Ethan. “It was nice to meet you, Priscilla.” He turned away and then saw a girl he did like. “Claire,” he said with a smile and, almost in a daze once more, was drawn to her from across the room. From behind him, he sensed Priscilla and Margaret both frowning at him but he pretended not to notice.
Claire seemed out-of-place normal in the club wearing a dark blue short sleeveless shirt with a low neckline, a short black skirt, sexy nylons over her long legs and tall black boots. She was chatting casually with four preppy boys who, by the look of them, were trying desperately to impress her.
Robert Le Sueur suddenly appeared in front of him in a white polo shirt and slacks carrying a wine glass in his hand the phony smile on his face. “I thought I made it very—” Ethan stepped around him without a word and Le Sueur turned his head over his shoulder and Ethan glanced back to see such a look of absolute loathing it was almost astounding.
Claire slipped off the chair when she saw him, both of their eyes lighting up, and he knew whatever it was he was feeling she felt too. “Hello Ethan,” she said, breathing quickly.
“Hello Claire,” he said. “Would you like to wander off somewhere random with me?”
One of the boys looked rather annoyed. “Now wait one minute—”
“Sure!” she said and the two of them interlocked their arms as instinctively as if they’d done it a thousand times and proceeded to the next room. It was a long hall filled with paintings, the room of founders or famous members mentioned by Margaret.
“I think your cousin Robert hates me,” he told her when they were alone.
“Oh he’s not really capable of hate,” Claire told him.
Ethan felt that feeling he had for her flicker on and off like a light switch. It was one of the strangest moments in his life so far, one moment feeling something, another nothing at all, but it quickly returned back to how it was. “That was so weird.”
“I’m glad you dragged me out here,” she told him. “I couldn’t stand one more minute of those preppies trying to impress me with all their money.”
“I know what you mean,” Ethan replied and he looked around the hall of portraits casually. “My grandaunt Margaret just tried to hook me up with a girl.”
“Is she pretty?”
“If you can look past her annoying personality, yeah.” One of the paintings suddenly caught his attention and it was of a young Union regiment commander riding a horse during the Civil War. “Colonel Thomas Bartlett,” he said as he read the sign underneath. It explained that he drew up the plans for the club in 1887 but was unable to build it because the finances for its construction came only after his death in 1892. “Why have I never seen any pictures of him at the Bartlett Mansion? An architect, damn, that’s awesome.”
The man looked somehow incredibly familiar even though Ethan had never seen him before. The tower witch’s words came back to him but Ethan looked nothing like him in face, not even in a distant family way. He could not imagine a reason in hell that she would somehow confuse with that man in the photo.
The man was built short and stout and generally unattractive, almost the complete opposite. Was she alive long enough to actually know him, perhaps kept young by that orb, and then somehow associated some subconscious personality quirk he shared with him? He wanted to think it was a different Thomas she was referring to but he was suddenly certain that she wasn’t. What was it that happened that made her believe that he was long deceased Colonel Thomas Bartlett?
“Why aren’t you with that girl now?” asked Claire.
The feeling flickered again and, though he wasn’t sure why, he felt a small sense of regret when it came back. “Oh, she is so not into me,” he replied.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Some of these Connecticut girls are just plain mean.”
“Claire,” said Le Sueur from the doorway. “Some of your friends are looking for you.”
“I know. I just wanted—”
“Now?” She sighed and took out a card. “This is for you,” she said and slipped into his pocket. “I wrote down my number in case you want to call me. Call me, okay.”
“Okay,” he said and they both smiled widely. He wanted to kiss her and she definitely wanted to kiss him, he could feel it coming off of her like heat, but something about it worried him a little. “I’ve feel like I’ve known you all my life,” he told her. “It’s so weird.”
“I feel it too,” she said.
“Claire—” she looked at Robert Le Sueur “—get over here. Now.” She looked at him, took a deep breath, and then kissed Ethan quickly in the lips. “Claire!” She turned away and slipped past him into the lounge. As soon as she was gone, he gave Ethan a look of absolute base hate.
“Nice seeing you again, Bob.” His look just darkened and he left.
Priscilla stepped in before the door shut. “Hi, Priscilla.”
She walked up to him, looked him over and said, “I don’t like you.”
“I don’t care,” he replied and her face shifted to one of surprise. “I guess you’re used to guys thinking because you have a pair of tits that you can do what you want. Maybe you’re special out here in Connecticut but in Los Angeles, pretty spoiled bitches are more common than Vegas street whores.”
Priscilla frowned at him for several minutes, stunned into silence, and then slapped him across the face.
“The best preparatory school education in New England and that is your response?” She slapped him again and he sighed. “I guess that Bartlett-Pennington connection thing isn’t happening.”
“We Penningtons will never let a fucking Jew in our family no matter what their name is.”
“I’m non-practicing, Mr. Gibson, but I understand.” He knew about anti-Semitism of course, he was raised in a Jewish household after all, but it was only in Bartlett Bay where he first truly felt it. This place is a fucking sewer, he thought.
Priscilla gave him a look of such abject loathing. “I hate you,” she said with a sneer.
“Any particular reason why?”
“That woman thinks she can replace Julian with you. Julian was my boyfriend and you are not half the man he was.”
“Would that be the same guy who held Linus Coughlan down and forced alcohol down his throat until he died?” That was what the old fisherman who sold Ethan his car told him and Priscilla’s tight, very uncomfortable look made Ethan think the man probably wasn’t lying.
“You don’t know a goddamn thing, Ethan Bartlett! Screw you!”
“Oh you’re just sad because you miss your boyfriend,” he replied and then he snapped his fingers. “Perhaps if I go out and torture someone who just wants to be my friend then you’ll see me just like the spoiled psychotic he was and in your mind, it will be like he never died.”
Her eyes turned dark. “Ethan,” she said slowly, “You are not welcome here.”
“Really?” he replied with wide eyes. “Oh my God it’s true and you were hiding it sooo well! You know you should be so damn proud of your uncanny and near-genius level ability to explain to me what is plainly obvious. So damn proud.” He laughed. “All joking aside,” he added in a serious voice, “I know these smarts couldn’t come cheap. I’m curious but how much was it for those great and difficult courses that came at the end of your small bus ride’s journey.”
“Witty retort,” he replied with a smile and she scoffed, turned around and left. “What a bitch and oh look here comes another.”
Lana Creed, Lucy’s clique leader stepped into the room with Lucy and her friends behind her. He had seen her once or twice, an extremely beautiful blond, but extremely unpleasant, girl who liked to push other girls around. For some reason, she always seemed very interested in him.
“Was that hard for you?” asked Lana.
“I can make something hard for you.”
“Do me a favor Lana and don’t try any alpha female moves on me.” He looked at the one unattractive friend, an overweight girl with a bad case of acne named Trisha. “Hi Trisha,” he said and she blushed heavily.
Lana smiled widely and looked him over. “You’re doing so well with women,” she said with a half-smile. “You’re just a, what was it they used to say? A California dreamboat?”
“I prefer mage-hunk,” he told her and she laughed. That was the wrong move, apparently, but Ethan didn’t care. He was never very good at playing the kinds of games girls like her were good at.
“Who are you? You just—who are you, Ethan? You come out of nowhere and nobody likes you. Nobody. Is it true no one came to your bar mitzvah?”
That particular incident, and the consequential mental separation from Jewish society, was one of the few subjects he never wanted to talk about but it did not mean he wouldn’t or was scared to. “No one who counted came,” he said simply and he smiled joylessly. “You know it’s a wonderful thing to know that the middle-class half of my Jewish family and the upper-class half of my Protestant Christian family have managed to put aside their differences to hate me in equal measure.”
The pretty, Hispanic friend, he didn’t know her name so he thought of her as the “Hispanic girl,” looked at him sympathetically. “That sucks,” she said and then Lana gave her a look of such venom that she lowered her eyes uncomfortably. “Sorry, Lana. Jesus.”
“It does,” Ethan replied.
Lana looked back at Ethan. “So I guess you’re, uh—” she grinned “—the mage-hunk all us girls dream about.”
“And you’re apparently the New England hole all us dreamboats stick our dicks into while we’re waiting around for a woman we’re actually willing to date.”
Lana’s face had shifted to remarkable shock. Even though she was supposed to be some kind of alpha-female super bitch, it was clear no one ever spoke to her like that.
“Don’t you play games with me, kid,” he told her. “I don’t play by the same rules most men do.”
She put her hands on her hips. “I’m not afraid of men.”
“Only because you never met one willing to hurt you. All you stupid spoiled twats think you’re tough shit because you fuck with chivalrous men who never fight back who live in high social societies like this one. Ask a working-class chick from the docks how she talks to random men in her life and you’ll find a significant difference.”
“I know how to control men and I know how to control you.”
Ethan shrugged. “Good luck with that,” he told her. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
“All men have secrets,” she said with a cold, dark glance. She did not seem particularly pleased he figured her game out so quickly.
“Oh, I have secrets,” he told her, “But none of them are mine. Bother me long enough and I’ll learn yours.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
Ethan shook his head, utterly unimpressed. “I don’t recommend you try this shit with too many people,” he told her. “It’ll get you in serious trouble someday.”
“Sure it will,” she said with a smile and she turned around and left, the other girls following after. Lucy had said nothing, she never did when Lana was around, but she did give him a confused, worried look as she left.
“What is with these peo—” some boys around his age stepped inside “—what fucking now?”
The one in the front was clearly Priscilla’s brother, clear by how he looked enough like her to almost pass for her if he were to put on a dress and a wig. He wore a light blue polo shirt, white shorts, and had a pair of expensive shades on his head. “My name is Pierce Pennington IV. This is Blake Burns, Peter Wellington, Todd Sanderson, Carlton Fuller and Bobby Le Sueur.”
All six of them looked very preppy-ish and the thought of inbreeding, though likely untrue in today’s day and age, did occur to Ethan. They seemed very much alike, all slender, tall, pretty boys with perfectly combed hair with smooth almost feminine skin. The second to last’s, Carlton Fuller, was different from the others in that he was black and was much larger with buzz-cut hair but he was still one of them with their preppy clothes, general look and demeanor. The last one, Robert Le Sueur’s son, was the same as the other white ones but in addition to that, he had a greasy, unpleasant kind of smile and a very bad reputation around town. When the subject of the Le Sueurs came up with several of the girls Ethan had dated, they responded with a remarkable amount of animosity aimed specifically at him.
Ethan took a deep breath and decided to be civil. “How are you doing?” he asked and held out his hand. Pennington looked at him coldly without taking it and Ethan lowered his hand. “Well what the fuck do you want, Bif?”
“Were you bothering my sister?”
“Yes, I was!” he cried. “I did because I just can’t help myself! I did it because I’m low class and because my welfare was canceled and because I went to public schools and come from a broken home—”
“Stop being melodramatic,” Pennington said coldly. “I came here to find out why you messed with my sister.”
“If you ever gave half-a-shit about any woman, you wouldn’t be hanging around Bobby Le Sueur.”
Pennington’s expression shifted to one of guilt and all the others except Bobby looked around uncomfortably. “Excuse me,” Bobby asked. “What the hell did you just say?”
“Whatever happened to your relationship with Mary Randal?” Ethan asked. He had gone out on a date with a girl who mentioned how Tori Randal’s cousin Mary had been abused in some way sexually by him, probably raped, and ended up having some kind of serious nervous breakdown because of it. “That work out for you?”
“Which bitch is that?” he asked with a sigh. “I know so many.”
“Donkey puncher,” said Fuller half-like a joke and that made them all laugh and relax.
Bobby’s smile was like a troll’s, grinning fondly at a nasty memory. “I remember her now.” He made punching notions and chuckled about it. “I liked her just fine—” he smiled wider “—when she was new.”
“I should kick the shit out of you,” Ethan told him.
His smile poured off. “What?”
Ethan shook his head and took a step toward him. His friends moved closer as if to ward him off but Ethan didn’t care. “You little piece of shit. I would love to make you cry.” Mary Randal was just one of the many names he heard spoken of him and the things he did but he was clever enough to do what he did to women who had no legal connections. Usually poor girls from the docks who were drawn to the worry-free lifestyle of the wealthy.
Pierce grabbed Ethan’s arm. “Apologize,” he told Ethan coldly.
“Let go of my arm before you get yourself hurt,” he said.
Pierce laughed. “I was a Golden Glove hopeful for a season when I was nineteen. You best be careful.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ethan replied and he looked at the group. After a minute, he shook his head, pulled his arm free and laughed. “What’s with you losers anyway? I feel like I fell into a 1980s film about high school. There’s even a token black guy. Hey, is that whack or what, pal?”
“Fuck you, racist.”
“Make fun of one black guy and a shitload of Mexicans and suddenly everyone is calling you a racist pig,” said Ethan and he shrugged. “Life is so unfair.” Suddenly the others parted as a seventh boy stepped into the room.
Ethan sensed a distinct increase of quality between him and the others. He was very handsome with dark hair combed forward down around his deep green eyes and he was very athletic and muscular but those weren’t the strongest reasons why. It was something in his attitude and his individuality. He wore a long-sleeved white dress shirt with jeans and dress shoes and though it was not what Ethan would have necessarily chosen, it belonged solely to him as opposed to the others who seemed to merely imitate each other.
“You’re not one of these douchebags.”
“I’m Johnny Le Sueur. Robert’s nephew and Bobby’s cousin.”
“Of course you are.” Ethan rubbed the bridge of his nose, surprised at how many people had come just to tell him what an asshole they thought he was. “What do you want?”
“You might have killed a witch, maybe,” Johnny told him, “but you don’t appear to be able to understand the simplicity of what everyone is trying to explain, so let me make it plain to you. You stay away from Claire, you stay away from Priscilla, and you don’t talk to any of us. If you attempt any of those things, I will kick the living shit out of you.” He slapped him on the chest. “Enjoy your temporary membership. It won’t last.” He stepped out and the others followed after.
“I wonder if Alice Cooper had this kind of problem with whatever country club he joined,” he said to himself. He had been in the club for literally less than ten minutes before he offended all the men and women of his new class and age group. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, leaned up against a wall and shut his eyes. He really did not belong with his fancy upper-class Connecticut family and their friends and he wondered if it would be best for everyone if he just went back to California and disappeared.
Suddenly he felt powerful magic in the room and he opened his eyes to see something tall, humanoid and blue appear out of a bluish mist not far from where he was standing. It stood around nine feet tall, incredibly thin and bony, with skin the color of deep navy blue and black round eyes the size of billiard balls. It had flat teeth set on a wide mouth with a pointed chin, a bulbous nose almost as big as a softball, both set on a deformed head too large for its height. Its arms and legs were long and spindly and the appendages on the end, especially the hands, were oversized and meaty looking. To add to its oddity, the only thing it wore was a pair of brown pants with red suspenders.
The instant it formed it started walking toward the door to the lounge and as it passed, it only spared Ethan one uninterested glance before deciding he was not important and continued onward.
Ethan cast his Magic Armor spell, his preppy clothes tinting dark orange, and carefully followed the creature as it slipped out into the lounge.
“The Tall Man!” a woman screamed the instant it stepped into the room.
Ethan stepped in afterward and saw Claire not far away looking at him. He suddenly moved forward and kissed her, completely uncertain on what made him do it at such a time, but Claire kissed him back the same way. It was deep and passionate and suddenly they were pressed against each other, feeling a burst of powerful indefinable emotions that Ethan could only describe finding someone who had been lost for many years.
Then he saw something very strange…
* * *
He stood on the deck of a beautiful steamboat and kissed the woman he loved. The feeling of completion, one that he had lost during the rebellion somewhere, viciously overwhelmed him. He held her in his arms and looked down at what he was certain was the culmination of all that was beautiful in France looking right back at him through the eyes of a young girl.
They looked back down the Mississippi River to see the great city the French had built on the shores of the New World.
* * *
“That was New Orleans!” Claire told him, her green eyes as wide as coins. “Did you see those people? Those ships?” They smiled and kissed again but then a man’s scream jerked them out of their moment.
“Oh yeah,” Ethan said and looked over at the Tall Man. It had caught onto an older man in a suit, held him up like a doll in two hands, and squeezed his ribs until they were breaking. Then he tossed him over his shoulders like he was a piece of refuge and the man crashed onto a table and ceased to move.
Ethan started forward but Claire caught him, pulled him back and kissed him one more time. “Stay alive, mon amour,” she told him.
“Okay,” he replied and suddenly felt better than he could ever remember over his entire lifetime.
Then he turned and rushed across the room to a place with an uninterrupted view of the Tall Man who was then reaching for a pretty girl in her late teens wearing a white dress. She was clearly blind, wearing large round dark sunglasses, and swinging her white cane vainly at the creature.
Ethan fired an orange lightning bolt into its back with his left hand, then an ice shard from his right, and then repeated the action over and over again over the course of several seconds until The Tall Man finally stopped reaching for the girl and looked back over its shoulder. His spells didn’t do nearly the damage it should have, it’s back covered in sharp orange shards and lightning bolt burns as expected, but it was clearly more annoyed then hurt.
“Son of a bitch,” said Ethan and when it glared at him, his Magic Armor spell vanished suddenly. “Well, son of a bitch again.” It turned around slowly to face him and Ethan cast one of his own mostly finished spells to create orange ice katars in his hands without causing any cold on himself.
He always knew one unlucky day it would come in handy but he truly wished he had finished it before that day came.
People were all around pounding and kicking the doors and windows, some hitting them with chairs, others their shoulders, but instead of breaking, they simply flashed a bright yellow color and remained perfectly intact. Some magic from somewhere was keeping everyone in the room and breaking his armor spell and it might have come from the man with the cross on his forehead who was in the same spot at the window smiling widely at them while they tried to break free.
Ethan saw Johnny appear with an ornamental sword he found somewhere and, like they were on the same wavelength, the two rushed forward in unison. Johnny jumped onto a table and leaped into the air while Ethan ducked down.
Johnny violently sliced across the Tall Man’s shoulder and Ethan slammed his katar into the Tall Man’s knee. It screamed, the katar shattering into a thousand pieces, and it grabbed a table and slammed it down at Ethan. He jumped out of the way, the table shattering into almost as many pieces as the ice katar.
The blackish-blue blood that came pouring out of the Tall Man was fouler than words creating a meant picture of maggots spilling out of a dead rotting rat filling his mind.
Ethan formed another katar as Johnny sliced the Tall Man across the side. When it turned to face Johnny Ethan began to stab it in the thighs, sides and lower back violently, poking holes in it deeply enough to make blood pour out of it almost like a water balloon.
Whatever the Tall Man was, fast was not it and it saved their lives.
The Tall Man made a fist and slammed it down at Johnny. He saw it coming, moved out of the way just in time and it struck and shattered an old wooden chair. The Tall Man then spun around and swung at Ethan who, like Johnny, saw it coming. He ducked the fist easily.
The first went over Ethan with a whoosh sound and hit a man rushing forward with a chair leg big enough to function as a club. The man was hit dead center, his chest breaking, and he was sent flying backward into the air and onto a table covered in glasses. A woman, his wife, girlfriend or sister, let out a loud, long shriek of horror.
Johnny snarled and stabbed the Tall Man in the stomach as hard as he could before he twisted and broke off the blade inside. Ethan stopped punching when he realized his katars were worn down to nubs and it was little better than hitting it with his fist.
The Tall Man’s foot suddenly shot out backward like a horse and hit Ethan in the chest. Luckily, it was a weakened hit and Ethan’s sternum was only bruised instead of being cracked or shattered.
The girlfriend, or whatever, of the man with the broken chest, rushed forward with a piece of a table and slammed it with both hands onto the Tall Man’s side, shattering it on impact. It knocked her away like a fly, sending her with a shriek across the room into a crowd of people.
Ethan reformed his katars again and Johnny looked down at his broken blade. They both shared a look of worry and then looked up at the Tall Man. It was staggering, not dead yet somehow, and glaring at both of them. How it was still alive was truly something to be confused about. If it had been something natural, it would have been dead ten times over and contrary to common belief, illusionary and summoned creatures were almost always destroyed easier than their real ones.
Suddenly there came a voice without sound and it seemed to speak within their minds. You cannot defeat us… You cannot kill us…
Everyone in the room heard that and grimaced from a feeling that was close to that of having ice water slipped under the skin of their skulls.
Give us what we want and we’ll go away… Ethan and Johnny saw the Tall Man’s hands closed into fits, taking a deep breath for one more run. Give us what we want and we’ll go awayyyyy….
Ethan and Johnny rushed forward like madmen with Johnny using the broken sword like a dagger. Over and over they stabbed as hard as they could, Johnny in the front, Ethan in the back, and somehow the Tall Man stayed alive and was still standing over the course of several minutes. It swung at them but it became slower and weaker.
Foul blue blood was everywhere on everything around them, seeming to turn the entire world that color.
The two of them stepped back over ten feet when they were exhausted, covered head to toe in blue gore. The Tall Man was still standing but the voice, whatever it was, was gone.
Ethan extended his right katar to the size of a short sword with a very piercing stalagmite point and started forward. When The Tall Man turned to face him Johnny jumped on its back and stabbed in its neck. Ethan stabbed the katar down onto the same knee as he had before with all the power, he could still muster and that time the knee was what shattered.
The Tall Man let out a loud, long booming wail and fell onto its knees, which made it scream again. Johnny twisted the blade further and the Tall Man fell forward onto the ground.
Ethan and Johnny started stabbing down violently, almost berserk at that point, and they didn’t stop until they realized they were hitting the floor and all the blood around them and on their clothes turned into a fine foul bluish powder. They both stood up and looked down at the blue stained shape of a giant on the red carpet.
“Well, that was goddamn weird,” said Ethan as he uncast his spell. His hands were in agonizing pain and were covered in his own blood, the chief problem of impact that he had yet to work out with his spell.
“Yeah,” agreed Johnny.
Ethan looked around at the mayhem that was caused, people moving around, talking, and some screaming. “That was also really fun,” he told Johnny. “We should team up sometime.”
Johnny walked up to him, put his arm around his shoulder and turned to the door into the hall where nobody was standing. He put the broken blade up near Ethan’s face and said, “You were kissing my cousin, motherfucker. Don’t do it again.”
“That could be seriously toxic, Johnny.”
“Just stay away from my cousin,” he said and he went over to the others who all cheered, thanked him, shook his hands and clapped him on the shoulder. The doors opened and the people poured out, the man with the cross was gone from the window.
No one said anything to Ethan and he felt the incredibly familiar feeling of being unappreciated. When he found Claire with his eyes, Le Sueur was taking her out of the building but before he could follow, Margaret’s arm seemed to come out of nowhere and caught his wrist tightly. “She’s not worth it,” she told him from behind.
Ethan felt lower than he had in years. He had no idea what that feeling for Claire was but he had a hard time believing it was natural and the thought of being manipulated, even if it felt really good, really bothered him.
“Let her go, Ethan—” he pulled his arm free “—don’t you go and do something stupid, nephew.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighed and shook his head. “You’re quiet. You’re never quiet.”
“Leave me alone, Aunt Margaret,” he said and he walked over to the blind girl who was on the ground reaching around for something. He picked up her cane and handed it to her.
“Thanks, Ethan Bartlett,” she said as she stood up and moved tapped a cane around to get a sense of her environment. After a moment she said, “Well, what do you want?”
“I want to know why the Tall Man was coming after you—” she whacked him with the cane just hard enough to let him know she didn’t like the conversation.
“Oh, there you are,” she said. She was another stunningly beautiful girl with long, sultry legs and a perfect figure. She was a bit tall, taller than Ethan was, and had a high cheekbone kind of sculpted figure that made her seem strong. He was not bothered one instant by her disability and would have dated her in a heartbeat if she didn’t seem to have that same automatic dislike of him everyone else had. “Thank you for your help, Ethan, but I’m not going to tell you anything about the Tall Man. This may shock you but I’m not blind enough to imagine you are a policeman.”
“Okay,” Ethan said and felt even lower. He decided he hated those people and was never going to this club again, not even if they begged him. That was when Johnny moved up beside him with a strange look on his face. “What now?”
“I thought I told you to stay away from my cousins.”
“You’re his cousin too?” asked Ethan. “Are there any pretty girls who aren’t your cousin?”
The girl moved a lock of dark brown hair behind her ear. “You think I’m pretty then?”
“Not anymore,” he replied and her smile left. “Who the fuck are you anyway?”
“Don’t talk to—”
“Shut up, Johnny.”
“Cameron Carrier,” she said. “His mother is my biological aunt.”
“Good to know,” Ethan said. “Next time a giant near unstoppable monster is trying to kill you I’ll do exactly what you want and stay away.”
She clenched her teeth together for a moment. “You don’t have to be so mean.”
“You should take your own fucking advice, sometime.”
Johnny was looking pretty angry by that point. “Bartlett—”
“Shut up, Johnny, before I kick the shit out of you.” He looked at Ethan and Cameron for a moment, shrugged in an unimpressed manner and then walked away. “Good idea,” Ethan said and then walked out of the building for hopefully the last time ever and sat down on a bench outside and waited for the police.
Once alone, he found he could still see New Orleans from that vision in his mind. The Mississippi River had been filled with paddlewheel steamboats pumping their way here and there through a world that no longer existed. It filled his mind and made him sadder because somewhere around him was the girl he shared that feeling with and he could not touch her.
* * *
Ethan was sitting in the same spot thinking about the same thing when the police were finally gone. Robert Le Sueur made the accusation that perhaps Ethan, the only capable magician in the room, wasn’t perhaps as innocent as he seemed and, as crazy as that sounded, it almost seemed like he was going to be arrested.
However, Mayor Janine Fuller been there, a pretty, thirty-something-year-old black woman who had rushed over to see the condition of her nephew, Carlton, who had been briefly trampled. “Let him go,” she had said the instant she overheard the accusation.
Robert Le Sueur looked at her angrily, then at Ethan who shrugged, and then back at her. “Mayor Fuller, with all due respect, you are not a police officer.”
“I’m closer to one than you are, Robert,” she said simply, “And if he had summoned that creature he wouldn’t have killed it, would he? He would have just pretended to crouch down in a corner with as much fear as you were in.”
The policemen looked at her, then at Le Sueur and then left nervously. Clearly, the policemen did not like being caught between them.
Fuller shook her head and walked away with Le Sueur’s eyes following her coldly. He looked at Ethan again, his eyes full of incredibly hate and then left. Soon, almost everyone else was gone and Ethan was left alone with his thoughts and Margaret.
“Did you even try to make a connection with Priscilla Pennington?” asked Margaret.
“You really have no idea what’s going on with me?” he asked and she put her hands on her hips. “Aunt Margaret, she hates me.”
“I don’t think so. She was giving you cow eyes after the—” she swallowed “—the thing that just happened.”
She did and she even tried to speak to him once while he was sitting there on the bench. She had asked, “Are you okay?” and tried to touch his head where he somehow or another got a cut. He slapped her hand away without even looking at her and ignored her until she left.
“She and I will never be happy together, Aunt Margaret,” he told her.
“You cannot have Claire,” she told him bluntly, “And I’ll disown if you try.”
“Why wait?” he replied.
Margaret’s face filled with shock. “What did you just say?”
“You heard me,” he replied and he looked at her. “Do it.”
“Don’t risk it, boy. You don’t know what an honor and privilege to be a part of this family.”
“Is that what my grandfather thought?” he asked. “Is that why all the people here hate us and don’t want me near their daughters—”
“That’s just the Le Sueurs!” Margaret hissed and then she calmed herself. “Priscilla Pennington was dating your cousin Julian when he was alive.”
He scoffed. “Yeah, she told me. It explains why she hates me.”
“She likes strong men,” said Margaret.
“Then why did she like Julian?”
“You don’t know him!” she hissed. “Why are you being so rude all of sudden anyway?”
“Because I’m not welcome here, Aunt Margaret,” he told her. “Your family doesn’t like me, none of your friends like me and if Julian was alive, I would never have even been allowed to meet you.”
“You’re upset,” said Margaret. “You need to calm down and relax.”
“Look, it’s not working out here.” She raised her eyebrows. “I know all about the Los Angeles branch of the business. I could relocate out there and—”
“No!” she stated in a voice like stone.
Ethan sighed and stood up. “Fuck this place,” he said and started walking.
“Careful, Ethan,” she told him. “I will leave you with nothing.”
“You said that already,” Ethan replied.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” he replied and kept on walking. He walked out of the country club down its long, winding road, and turned west down Edmonton St. To the south, there was the golf course, another part of the country club that he would never go to.
He didn’t stop walking through the streets of the city, spending most of his time in the Bay City Mall north of Mandy’s Diner until it closed. He didn’t really stop anywhere except to eat a hot dog, fries and soda at a Duchess restaurant in the mall.
He wanted to leave behind the whole mess.
He had been disliked irrationally enough times to know the signs and he knew it would never change. Like Romeo and Juliet, Ethan and Claire would only end badly but it would be mostly for him. People never change unless someone made them change and these people all had way too much power and wealth to be made to change anything. He had never changed his uncles, aunts or his parents to loving him, no matter how much better he was at anything than their special kids, their chosen heroes in the stories of their love.
They had labeled a villain and they would never have the nerve to admit they were wrong.
It was for the money that he would stay but he suspected that wasn’t as good as it appeared. Ethan imagined himself to be some sort of breeding tool for him. He would have a son, probably named Julian Bartlett III, and suddenly he would be sent away with nothing while they would keep the child and finally have the Bartlett they really wanted. There was no love in that house, not even from Margaret who seemed to care more than the others, and Agnes liked him only out of loneliness.
He wondered perhaps he should just keep walking and not stop until he hit California and there maybe he could see if he could get his old job back and maybe pay rent at his uncle’s house until he got enough money to get an apartment. Maybe he could go back to his old life of hunting and forget about these miserable excuses for New Englanders.
It seemed like a good plan since the number Claire gave him ended up being a pizzeria in New Haven. If she didn’t want him around what was the point? He could not imagine why he felt so connected to her and he really, really, didn’t want to be. He hated that feeling, even though he also loved it, and he was growing more and more certain it wasn’t natural.
But it wasn’t magic either or he would have known.
Ethan found himself walking through the streetlights of Worthington St in the dark Connecticut night and saw a pretty, blond girl approaching him from the other direction. Her face was covered by her hair but he could tell she was crying. He smiled sadly as he approached her and said, “Are you o—” he felt a small knife go into the meat of his right side just above his hip “—kay?” The girl rushed out of the lamplight out into the darkness.
Ethan cast his Heal spell on his side, only managing to stop the bleeding, and then managed to cast his Magic Armor spell. Afterward, he sighed, held out his arms, turned to his attackers, and asked, “Is that all you got?”
The three attackers were dressed all in black with ski masks and holding small knives and they all rushed at him and sliced at him at the same time. One took him across the left arm, another in the chest, and the third on his right thigh. They each cut through his Magic Armor but not by enough to make the wounds anything but superficial.
Ethan cast his Lightning Bolt spell out of both hands at the same time. His left hit one in the face, his right another in the crotch, and two simultaneous high-pitched screams filled the air. The one hit in the crotch fell down, grabbing himself miserably, while the one hit in the face ripped off his mask to reveal half of someone he recognized.
He had miscast the spell slightly, distracted by the pain and the dual casting, and something unpredictable happened to the bolt making nasty veins spread out from the spot of impact each with the thickness of meaty red phone cords.
That attacker turned and fled with a cry.
The last stood his ground nervously holding his knife, too afraid to act but not yet afraid enough yet to flee. “What’s the matter?” asked Ethan, his orange lightning sparking in the palm of his left hand. “Advantage gone, dick shrink?”
The man held up his hands. “Now, Bartlett—”
“Pennington?” Suddenly, the girl from before rushed back out under the street light and punched Ethan in the first knife wound three times from behind as hard as she could, each time ripping it much wider, and then rushed past. She grabbed the attacker by the hand and pulled him out into the night and the one hit in the crotch clambered up and staggered away.
Suddenly Ethan was alone again and everything became very quiet.
He looked down at the wound and his leg covered in blood and tried to heal it. His spell failed miserably and following that, he crumpled forward onto the sidewalk. He tried to get up, failed, and lost consciousness.
* * *
Ethan awoke in the Bartlett Bay Hospital far from his Heal potions.
During his night there, Margaret was the only member of his family who bothered to visit him though she claimed Agnes wanted to. She looked very upset when she came in, her anger aimed directly at him instead of his attackers.
“I’m paying your medical bills this time,” said she. “Are you still intent on California?”
“It’s probably for the best.”
Margaret took a deep breath in order to calm herself. “There is nothing out there for you in California. I know your Jewish family well enough to know they don’t like you. They thought your father was an abusive, vicious monster and they think you’re just like him.” She put her hands on her hips “This incident is very embarrassing for us. A Bartlett fighting in the street like common California trailer trash.”
“I didn’t start it, if that helps.”
“It doesn’t,” she told him. “I’m not disowning you but since you act like a child you must be punished like a child.”
“This isn’t punishment enough?”
“You’ll be fine. You’ll go home and drink one of your potions and have no problems whatsoever.”
“Okay.” Ethan sighed and leaned back deeper into the pillow. “How are you going to punish me?”
“You know, Ethan, I find you a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped to find some of your granduncle in you and make a good connection with one of the many young women from promising families but already none of them will have anything to do with you. Not after what you did to Peter Wellington’s face.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what happens you start fights with me,” Ethan replied. “What story did he spin you, exactly?”
“I’ve managed to get the charges dropped but no one will now ever have anything to do with you. If you hadn’t used magic on those poor boys, they wouldn’t have been forced to stab you, you know.”
“If I told you that they stabbed me first and wore masks would it make any difference to you at all?”
“You lie there and you think about what you did to your family. If you don’t have any respect for yourself, at least respect your grandfather and father—”
“Bringing up my father in a positive manner will not endear me to you,” he replied coldly.
“Then what about your grandfather. I never knew your father but I knew him and like my husband and sons, he was a good man and a gentleman. You’re neither. You might be brave but that’s hardly the only quality of a Bartlett man.”
“I’m sure there are lots of young women who could testify to the bravery of Julian Bartlett I.”
“Ethan,” said Margaret softly, “Don’t you ever bring that up or even imply that again.”
“Your husband never told you about my father, did he?” asked Ethan. Her husband Julian I, the then patriarch of the great Bartlett family of Connecticut, had a lot to do with covering up what happened between Ethan and his parents on that stormy night in California years ago.
Margaret crossed her arms. “He told me.”
“I’d like to believe he lied to you. It would make me happier than thinking you’re that insensitive.”
“You don’t know my husband and you don’t know anything else either.”
“I know that the one conversation I had with him did not make him out to be the gentleman you’re trying to make me think he is.”
“You’re exaggerating,” she stated in that stone voice she used when she was uncomfortable.
“Really?” asked Ethan with an unhappy laugh. “Let me think, what was it he said to me after listening to me talk for about five minutes about how I really wanted to live with this part of the family because no one in the other wanted me around? Oh, yes, he said, ‘I don’t want any Jews among my children and grandchildren. My only regret in life at this moment is that I served in World War II and helped prevent Adolf Hitler from succeeding, so now I am forced to know somewhere on Earth you and your kike mother are alive instead of justifiably being gassed in a little cottage somewhere. Don’t ever call me again.’ ”
Margaret’s eyes were very narrow and very cold. She was offended but it did not seem to surprise her nor did she deny what he said.
“I didn’t make this shit up, Aunt Margaret,” he told her. “He said that and, honestly, if you’re under the impression he was a good man, then he probably had been lying to you about a lot more than what happened between me and my parents.”
Margaret leaned down and, in a cold, hard voice said two words.
“I’m not really surprised,” he replied but he was disappointed. “Well, I guess I’ve made enough money for now anyway.”
Margaret frowned at him as she leaned back, not liking that response and said, “Oh really. Have you been paid yet?”
Ethan blinked and looked up at her. “Are you firing me and taking the money I’ve earned while I’m hospitalized? That’s illegal.”
Margaret put her hands back on her hips. “So get a lawyer and do something about it.”
“Really, Margaret? Really?”
“You’ve shown yourself to be a brute and a jerk to the entire Bartlett Bay upper-class community, ruining any chances you have of making a good connection and even friends who want slum-relations will have nothing to do with you. You’re a worthless pariah now and an embarrassment to the family.”
“Well, at least I get to go home.”
Margaret shook her head, incredibly disappointed. “You are just like your father, aren’t you,” she said and Ethan thought that was probably the most offensive thing anyone ever accused him of. “You are needed here as the last member of the Bartlett family and here you will stay. All will be forgiven, eventually, but you will learn to behave.”
“Like your grandson behaved with Linus Coughlan, Margaret?” He laughed joylessly. “I think I might actually have a chance of pulling that off.”
Her face was dead straight when she said, “Argyle Coughlan has spread lies about his drunk son to blacken our name to the community. My Julian no more murdered that boy than he did John F. Kennedy.”
“Linus’s reputation in town is a great deal better than Julian’s, Margaret. They say that because of his aunt, she’s another story there for another time, he never drank in his life.”
Margaret sighed and shook her head. “I am the closest thing to a friend you have here,” she said. “I have an interest in your success and, unlike everyone else, the fact that you’re a Jew means nothing to me.”
“It meant nothing to my rabbi uncle either.”
Ethan was more or less an atheist because of his two families. His mother’s family was indeed Jewish, the eldest of her two brothers a rabbi, and the other non-practicing outside of holidays, and for some reason, both of them saw him as a kind of bad Christian-type because of his father. Ironically, the Protestant half of his father’s family seemed to view him as a kind of bad Jewish-type because of his mother. In the end, he felt spiritually unwelcome in both families and therefore never latched on to either religion.
“You know you’re really bumming me out, Margaret.”
“Let me make this clear to you,” Margaret told him. “You’re not going to leave and if you try, I’ll take whatever money you have. Don’t think I can’t. Charging you for rent, having you to compensate the Wellingtons after your assault, having you to pay for your uninsured medical visit; you do understand, yes?”
“Good,” she said and left him in his bed without another word.
“Well, that fucking sucked,” said Ethan and he tried to get some sleep. When he did, he dreamed of New Orleans.
* * *
“Having a good dream there, son?” asked a voice awakening him.
Ethan opened his eyes to see Robert Le Sueur looking down at him holding a bundle of sunflowers in his right hand with a big smile on his face. “It kind of sucked actually,” Ethan replied.
“I’m just so damn sorry to hear that,” he said. “Otherwise, everything okay?”
“Other than that, everything on Earth is going my way. How about you?”
“Oh, I’m just beside myself with happened,” Le Sueur replied and he walked around the bed and put the flowers on the table. “You are such a nice boy to have gotten involved with that ‘incident.’ I mean other than kissing my cousin against my wishes but that’s of course very much in the past. Just like your reputation after you burned the Wellington boy’s face and possibly sterilized Todd Anderson.
“It’s really very sad how they’ve turned you into a pariah over that.”
“It is,” Ethan agreed with a weak smile. He cared about his reputation but not a lot. He had been alone all his life and he could be alone again if he had to.
“Oh, I just knew you were a smart boy.” Le Sueur sat down on the bed. “You Bartletts are always so smart. Not wise, mind you, but very smart. Some would even call you devious or sneaky but that’s just plain negative.” His face curled up into a wider smile. “How is the family these days? How is the mother?”
“A bit cold and lying on her back,” he said blandly and Le Sueur laughed loudly as if that was a really funny joke. “Why is there a store in town called Bartlett-Le Sueur Furniture? Were we all friends once, Robert?”
Le Sueur’s smile lowered a bit but only a bit. “Bet you never knew about old Thomas Bartlett?”
“The architect. How do you know about him?”
“Eh, who cares,” Le Sueur replied and he stood up. “I just came to let you know I’m sending Claire up to Boston for the summer. She’s going to Harvard soon and she’s going to meet a boy. You’re going to Yale, aren’t you?”
“No,” he replied. That boat not only sailed but sank. After his last conversation with Margaret Bartlett, his only interest was getting as far from her control as possible and with that being his goal, having her in financial control of his education was a very wrong direction go.
“Well, our pretty little Claire will be going to Harvard and I know she’ll just love it there. Oh, she’ll be back of course, maybe even as Mrs. Bryce Cunningham. I get a rather special kind of feeling when I see them together. Our families are old friends and it is a very good connection. Very good indeed.”
“Is that name made up? It sounds made up.”
Le Sueur let out a breath of air and looked down at him with all his pretenses wiped away. “You are never going to get that beautiful, young girl,” he told him.
“Will I at least get to have sex with her?” Le Sueur reached over and slapped Ethan on his knife wound. It was still extremely tender and Ethan was not so drugged as to not feel the explosion of pain that it caused. “Good—fucking—God.”
“You’re a smart boy, Ethan Bartlett,” said Le Sueur. “I think you’ll figure it out.” He stood up and left without another word.
Ethan watched him leave and then laughed. He knew Claire felt what he did which meant she was going to be having the same dreams and feelings. He had no intention of cheating on her and knowing she would feel the same, he didn’t believe she would end up with some phony Bryce Cunningham type.
“It’ll take more than a bunch of assholes to take me out of the game,” he said aloud and he thought no matter what happens with Claire Winters, good, bad or worse, at the very least, it was going to be a hell of a lot of fun.