It was 11 at night, and the racket was loud enough to fill Niles Manor. Even from where he sat, Ash could hear the grinding of electric guitars clear as a bell. The wild drums pounded both in the walls and in his skull, sounding to him like a young child banging on the bottom of a frying pan. It was a shrill, droning pain, a testament to the concept of noise pollution.
Still, he tried to bear it. Even if he had knocked on their bedroom door, Twitch would not have heard him, and as it stood, someone far closer to her was going to end up as through with it as he was. Sure enough, the noise stopped, and as he heard Sabbath shouting at her sister, he breathed a sigh of relief, and went back to his reading.
Or he would have, had there not been a knock at the door. He tossed the book aside and went to answer, pausing briefly to peer through the peephole. It was Roderigo, standing inches from the door in an old seersucker shirt and a pair of ratty blue jeans–not his typical attire. He forced a smile and opened the door. “Hey Rod,” he said, “What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see how you were doing,” Roderigo said. The normally flat monotone of his voice somehow seemed a bit more three dimensional.
“Come in,” Ash said. As Roderigo stepped inside, wiping his feet on the doormat, Ash’s smile gave way to a frown. “You look pale,” he said, offering Roderigo a seat. “Are you sick?”
“I might be a little anemic,” Roderigo said. “Medication issues. It’ll blow over.” He sat down on the couch. “Seems quiet,” he said as he leaned back in his seat.
Ash smiled. “Well, you just missed the concert,” he said. “Twitch was reminding us why her favorite death metal band hasn’t gone mainstream.”
“She doing alright?” Roderigo asked.
There was a strange hint of dishonesty in his voice–something that happened often enough that Ash barely noticed. To him, it was a quirk caused by the relative monotony of Roderigo’s voice–the lack of affect in his tone had a tendency to make him sound insincere, but Ash had never been bothered by it. “She’s fine,” he said. “Obnoxious, unruly, but fine.”
“And how’s Sabbath?” asked Roderigo. This time Ash caught a hint of genuine concern in Roderigo’s voice, which only served to reinforce his assumptions.
“Depressed,” Ash said. He motioned Roderigo to a nearby chair, and calmly took his seat. “You know how she is. A little too emotional sometimes, but she’s a sweet kid. I don’t really know how she’s handling it as well as she is.”
“I guess she’s too young to remember,” Roderigo said. “Frank’s death, I mean. Anne didn’t take that very well herself.”
“No, she didn’t, but the women in this family are hard to rattle. They pull through. Me,” Ash said, gazing toward the stairs, “Well, you know how I handled it when my dad died.”
“Better than you think you did.” Roderigo’s face seemed to tighten, as if he was trying to frown. “Better than I am,” he said.
“Did something happen?” Ash asked. Curiously, Roderigo didn’t answer. The silence continued for several moments, with Roderigo’s face continuing to try to emote the entire time–or try to hold back emoting, Ash couldn’t be sure which. As the tension began to swell, Ash stood and asked, “I think I could use some coffee. Do you want any?”
Roderigo seemed to relax. “I could go for a cup, he said, as Ash entered the kitchen. After a moment, he heard some water being poured into something metallic, followed by the distinct click of the stove. “Five sugars,” he called out. “If you wouldn’t mind, that is.”
Ash peaked out from behind the door. “I can bring the sugar bowl out, but there won’t be enough space in the cups for that. It’s… it’s not the coffee you’re used to. At least I don’t think.”
After another moment, Roderigo heard the whistle of a teapot–or rather, the whistle of something small that sounded like a teapot–followed by the sounds of Ash placing something on a metal tray. Shortly after, Ash came out carrying a tray with an elegant, small metal kettle and two very small cups–along with a tea spoon and two small bowls. “Turkish coffee,” Ash said. “I guess this isn’t something you’d be used to. The beans are ground into a fine powder, and placed in the pot to boil. There’s no filter, but the grinds are pleasant, and create a layer of foam. I flavor mine with cardamom–old family recipe–but you probably don’t even keep that at home. It’s almost as pricey as Saffron, but you don’t need to buy much–a little of this stuff goes a long way.”
Roderigo watched as Ash poured some of the coffee into a cup and handed it to him. Roderigo was amazed–although the family had known Ash for more than a decade now, they’d never discussed this before. And Roderigo had certainly never had Turkish coffee. He took a sip to test it, and found himself delighted; there was a brightness, a fruity tartness with notes of sweet orange in the finish–not the least bit bitter, and pleasantly acidic–all traits that defined a high quality light roast. He even picked up a few notes of cocoa. He could feel the powdered grinds on his tongue, and just as Ash had told him they were remarkably pleasant–quite different from the coffee dirt that sometimes crept into a cup brewed in a French press. The experience was different enough from his usual espresso that he decided to forgo the sugar for a change.
“Careful, Rod,” Ash said. The hybrid took a small pinch of ground cardamom from the other bowl and sprinkled it in his cup. “It’s hot enough to burn your tongue. You’re supposed to let it cool down for a few minutes before you drink it.”
Roderigo was perplexed for a moment. The temperature had been pleasantly hot to him, but as he looked down at the cup he could see quite a bit of steam coming off of its contents. Just like the heat of the White Flame, he thought. I guess I don’t burn easily, either.
Something in Roderigo’s expression seemed morose to Ash. The way he looked at his coffee caused his eyes to soften, to express a startling amount of sadness. He noticed a slight downward curl at the corners of Roderigo’s mouth, something that he had never seen before. But before he could ask what was wrong, Roderigo set his coffee down on the tray and reached inside the pocket of his jacket.
As Ash watched, Roderigo pulled a large pocketknife, and began idly thumping it against his thigh. For a moment, Ash thought it was strange–maybe a new tic that Roderigo picked up due to stress. But these thoughts were interrupted when Ash laid his eyes on the gray micarta handle, and at that point he no longer noticed the odd behavior of his friend but was instead consumed by by what his friend had in his hand. “Holy–” he said, cutting himself off before he could finish. Ash leaned in to get a closer look. “Is that what I think it is?”
Whatever was bothering Roderigo seemed to slip away. Instead, Roderigo looked down at the knife and lifted it. His eyes connected with Ash’s as he held it out for his friend to inspect. “CQC Super Six,” he said. “Made to order, but they stopped making them a while ago.”
“That’s a hell of a blade,” Ash said.
Roderigo seemed to cringe. His expression was replaced with that same odd look of sadness that Ash had seen before. This time he was reminded of what Roderigo had said earlier–before Ash had offered him coffee. He lost interest in the knife, and instead became very concerned for his friend. “So about what you said earlier. What happened?”
“She’s dead,” Roderigo said. “Yvonne’s gone. She was killed by a man who broke into our house the other day.”
Ash was dumbstruck. Another person in his life, another member of his family, had died. But there was more to it than that–yes, Yvonne was dead, but now Roderigo was at his house, and he was carrying a knife. Ash didn’t even consider the possibility that Roderigo had killed her–Roderigo didn’t have it in him. Ash didn’t even consider the possibility that Roderigo had killed her–Roderigo didn’t have it in him. Still, something about Roderigo’s behavior felt wrong. His expression was off–the odd look in his eyes, that hint of sadness, it shouldn’t have been there. It shouldn’t have been there at all. And while coming over late wasn’t too unusual, it was one coincidence too many for Ash. And Roderigo had mentioned that he wasn’t handling it well. Ash didn’t want to think it, but he worried Roderigo was contemplating something drastic. Ash had already lost Anne, and now he had just found out Yvonne was dead–he wasn’t ready to lose anyone else.
Then an unpleasant thought crept into his mind. The other day, Ash thought. She’s been dead for over a day now–and no one told me. Roderigo didn’t call. Carter didn’t call. Not even Steven. This isn’t right–they wouldn’t leave me out of the loop. Even if they couldn’t say anything, it’s the Carters–the media should have been over it. What the hell is going on?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Roderigo said. He unfolded his knife, and placed the tip of the blade against his palm. “You’re wondering why we didn’t tell you. You’re wondering why no one in the media reported it. But there’s a reason for that. You see… she didn’t exactly die in a way that anyone would find out. She didn’t leave a body. And the man who killed her… well, to call him a man isn’t exactly right.”
Roderigo shoved the knife into his palm with a horrifying amount of force. Slowly the blade broke through the flesh and past bone, and through muscle and tendon until finally the blade erupted from the back of his hand. Ash was too shocked to move–to shocked to cry out, to try to stop him–but he was horrified by how nonchalant the action was, how little heed was paid to the surely excruciating pain Roderigo must have felt.
“He was a man once. But that was a long time ago. You could say the word demon fits him better, but that’s wrong too. And he wasn’t technically the one that killed her–that was his master.”
With that, he pulled the knife back out, and his hand contracted into a fist. Blood flowed from the wound, but only for a second. Ash could barely bring himself to speak. “Rod, you’re scaring me. Put the knife down….”
“I’m fine,” Roderigo said. He closed the knife in one hand, and placed it back in his pocket. “Listen, there’s something you need to know. It’s about your Rebecca–”
“She’s not your daughter. She might not every have been. We don’t know. But that body–it’s an act, a shell. She doesn’t need it. Twitch is a God, Ash, and she’s a nasty one at that–”
“She eats souls. Living, dead, it doesn’t matter to her, and the fate they suffer, it’s worse than hell. She got her, Ash. She got her, and now Yvonne will know nothing but–”
“Shut the fuck up!” Ash screamed. His emotions were on full display. He didn’t know why Roderigo was saying this. He didn’t care. For a moment he considered calling the police, but even with the adrenaline rushing through his veins he couldn’t stand. He gripped the chair tightly, his nails shredding the leather armrests. He began to shake, and then to cry–both in unbridled fury and complete sorrow.
Roderigo knew he had him. He reached into his pocket to grab a rag and–making sure that Ash could see–wiped away the blood from his hand. “I’m not really a man, either,” he said as Ash stared in horror at the unblemished skin. “At least, not anymore.”
Ash stood, his eyes staring at that hand in horror. Is this a trick? he thought. Some kind of sick joke? No, it couldn’t be. When Roderigo had stabbed his hand, he’d held it at such an angle that it would have been impossible to fake–at least, without special effects. He felt his anger intensify, but he sat there motionless in his chair.
It was a trick. Roderigo was lying. What he had done wasn’t possible. What he had said wasn’t possible. Ash wouldn’t allow himself to think it. God himself would not allow it.
“Oh, keep going,” a small voice crooned. Both Roderigo and Ash looked up to see Twitch, standing at the top of the stairs, wearing a smile so cold it sent shivers down Ash’s spine.
“This all sounds very fascinating,” she said.