Ajax stood in his father’s darkened bedroom, looking down at the gently snoring figure on the bed. “Bastard,” he muttered, and swigged from the bottle of whiskey. He wasn’t worried about his father waking up. His father never noticed anything unless it was something he could twist to his own benefit. He’d barely noticed the death of his wife, except as an inconvenience.
Ajax’s mom had died more than eight years ago and it was still painful to enter this room. There were traces of her left even now: the quilt his father slept under, the bookshelf with stenciled flowers that now supported his father’s trade magazines. Fading details. He always felt like a kid in this room, a kid with every landmark that defined his life washing away. Every time his father sent him to a relative for a while so he could ‘get his life together’ Ajax returned to find less and less of his mother left.
Only a few days before she’d stopped breathing, she’d breathlessly caught his hand and pressed it to her belly. He’d felt the kick of the new brother or sister with wonder. Her delight had overcome his worry over her lingering illness, for a day or so. Then it had become just another shade of grief and another angle on alone.
“I don’t know why she loved you,” Ajax whispered. “She thought you were so wonderful, but look at you. Look at what she put up with.” Ajax’s mother had hidden both her illness and her pregnancy from her husband as long as possible. They couldn’t really afford either, and she didn’t want to worry him— not when he had such big plans to work on. But she told Ajax it would all work out.
Love would make it work out.
Love was so stupid. Meredith had told him she loved him, too, and look where that had gotten her. And if he hadn’t driven her off, it would have gotten her worse.
A passing vehicle on the street outside sent a stray beam of light into the room, startling Ajax. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and thought of the monster. But it was only his reflection in the mirror over the dresser.
He thunked the bottle down on the dresser and leaned his face close to the mirror, studying his reflection. “I’m not a monster,” he told it. Then his eyes widened.
He was just like his father.
He shoved himself away from the dresser. Love was stupid, but he couldn’t stand the thought of turning into his father. He was already such a douchebag. If he didn’t end up dead from monster, where was he going to be in ten years? Twenty?
He picked up the whiskey bottle again, took another drink, found his answer. In ten years, he was going to be a drunkard who still lived with his loser father, if he wasn’t a loser father himself. Because he couldn’t walk away from this life anymore than his mother could. It was sick.
He walked out of his father’s room. Maybe there was a Losers Anonymous he could join? Probably not.
As he entered his own room, Ajax noticed the open window and the motorcycle parked outside before he noticed the girl. Natalie. She had the jeans he’d changed out of on her lap as she sat on his bed. Her sword was beside her, way too big for Ajax’s tiny room.
Natalie looked at Ajax as he entered the room. Or rather, she looked long and hard at the bottle in Ajax’s hand before transferring her gaze to his face. Under her stare, he flushed. “That’s fair,” he muttered. “I deserve that.” He sat down in his chair, and swiveled it to hide the bottle behind him.
“What’s this from?” she asked. She fingered the black stain on the jeans.
“Monster blood.” She raised her eyebrows, so he went on. It was the whiskey. “Big thing, caught me out in the street. Face like a baboon. Some kind of yeti? I don’t know.”
She was quiet a little too long, her eyes searching his face. Then, slowly, she said, “Have you seen other monsters?”
“What? No! That was the first time I saw a god damned monster in the streets. It was big enough to pick me up and hold me like a kitten.” He glared at her.
Her eyes widened and her face lost color. She bit her lip. “I really hope you’re wrong. But the Awakened don’t leave blood behind…” She turned her gaze down to the jeans again, then looked around. “Is your family well?”
Ajax was annoyed. She was the one with the vanishing katana, and she was disbelieving him? “It chewed on my arm pretty good.” He pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to show her the bruises in a ring around his forearm.
She tossed his jeans aside and stood up, the sword vanishing again as she grabbed at his arm. “This is really not good.” Her fingers were warm, her grip firm as she turned his arm to look at the bite mark. Ajax had a sudden, drunken urge to grab her in response.
A voice from the window drawled, “Hope I’m not interrupting something.”
Ajax looked over, into a flash of bright light.
The light filled up his eyes, and then filled up his mind. It pierced a veil, not just over his sight, but his memories. His mind careened back into the past, familiar moments from his life leaping up at him, filled with horrifying changes.
In the new illumination, he saw memories of his home, filled with monsters. Memories of his room, filled with monsters. Memories of himself, crawling with vicious, toothy, twisted monsters. They had always been there. All the way back, as far as his memory reached, the light showed him the terrors that had always been there.
In his mind’s eye, he again looked at himself in his father’s mirror. This time the reflection he saw was slashed and bleeding from dozens of injuries. This time he was clinging to life by only a thread.