PRW Runner-Up Tour: Dusted by T.A. Brock
There was exactly one thing worse than walking in on a hookling trying to take a bite out of a helpless human and it was this: walking in on the scene in a dress and skyscraper heels that were for sure going to be the cause of a sprained ankle. The getup was necessary since we were at prom but still, give me jeans and chucks any day. These heels were for the girls who didn’t have to fight off bloodsuckers, damn it.
Before the hookling noticed, Peter yanked me back into the shadows. A shame, since he couldn’t see the scowl I was tossing him. He’d talked me into this gig. The dress, shoes, updo, all of it, his fault. According to him, James, the leader of the hooklings, would be here. And wherever James was, trouble followed. As did a body count.
I’d been skeptical. James at a school dance? The fact that he was missing his right leg made me snort-laugh when Peter told me the news. But then, he always managed to hunt down a nice warm vein to suck so who’s to say he couldn’t pull off a freaking waltz. Hmm. Or better, a twerk, Miley style.
Besides the boys were never wrong with their intel. If they said James would be here, James would be here.
“You okay, Tink?” Peter whispered in my ear.
I rolled my eyes even though he couldn’t see them. Could he not just call me by my first name, Belle? It was so much more badass than the shortened version of my last name. Not that Belle was particularly badass. It was just better than ‘Tink’.
“I’m fine,” I hissed. “Call your shadow. Hurry, before he sucks her dry.”
“I can’t. Not enough light.”
Damn. Think, think. That was my job in the group. I was the tinkerer. The thinkerer. As Peter liked to say, I could tinker or thinker myself out of any situation. And for everything else, there was the dust of my ancestors.
I peeked out from our hiding place to get a better look at the scene. I recognized the girl from school but not the hookie. He was too wrapped up in licking her neck to notice us, though we were a mere ten feet away and barely concealed by a narrow stack of crates. Lucky for us—and her—he hadn’t broken the skin yet. She kicked at him but he didn’t even notice. Poor human. She wasn’t like us, the neversouls. She was weak.
I took in the room. Not much to work with. It was some sort of supply storage. If I had the gift of foresight, I would’ve made sure I was on the prom committee. That way I could’ve taken out whoever had the bright idea to have prom on a river barge. I shivered. The only way out of this room was the way we came or the portal door that led to the outside. To the water.
I fought another shiver.
Water and I were not friends. Water diluted my power. Water was a big bad bully that took all my cookies.
Peter’s earpiece buzzed, barely audible. “Tink, hurry. Skull just spotted more hooklings. On the deck.”
Okay. Time to blow this mother.
Snapping open my ridiculous, sequined handbag, I rummaged around by feel. Before leaving, I’d grabbed a handful of random junk from my messenger bag and threw it in with my cell phone and some gum. I felt some Kleenex, a few coins, a pen, a… god, a peanut? And then yessss. A book of matches.
I grabbed half the gum and shoved it at Peter. “Save the wrappers,” I whispered.
“What? Gum? Tink—“
“Just do it! Hurry.” I piled the gum in my mouth as fast as I could and twisted the wrappers into a tight rope. While Peter worked on his gum, I did the same with the Kleenexes. Now I had two small ropes. Peter’s wrappers would go around both of them.
“How much light do you need? For your shadow? How much?”
“More than we have.”
“Alright then. In a second, you’ll have more. Make it work,” I snapped.
I glanced back at the hookie and his victim. Yep. Still amply distracted. Not for long though.
I took a deep, steadying breath. “Make it fast,” I whispered to Peter before striking the match and lighting the combined ropes. My hope was that the Kleenex part would burn bright and the wrapper part with its foil lining would burn long—long enough for Peter to call his shadow.
Our small darkened area lit up like—well, like if you had a Christmas tree with most of the lights burnt out.
I looked at Peter. His eyes glowed with that kind of pride he got every time I managed to blow his mind. Yeah. I lived for that look.
I grinned. “Do it, now.”
Like that, his expression went from awe to determination. He took the makeshift torch from me and began positioning it in front of his body to cast a shadow. The moment he got it in the right spot, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a weak image of him, distorted by our cramped surroundings but it was a shadow and that was what counted.
“What’s that… smell? Something’s burning.”
Busted. I peeked out at the hookling. He was looking all around the room with his nose in the air like a bloodhound. I was sure he’d spotted the glow but at that very moment, the girl broke loose and his attention was diverted. This time when he caught her, there was no leisurely tongue action involved. His jaw went wide and his hooks lengthened past his lips. With a hiss, he pierced her neck where it curved into her shoulder. Her faint scream wasn’t even enough to make him pause.
But the warning wasn’t necessary. Peter had his shadow and he was ready to throw down. It always amazed me, the physical change Peter went through when he called the shadow. His normally pale, freckled skin became dark and strong. He was Peter, but painted chocolate. And his eyes, they went from blue to brown. And his countenance. Went from playful to deadly in two seconds flat.
He caught my eye, brought a hand to my cheek… and then kicked the crates aside like they were empty cardboard boxes.
The hookling turned, with his mouth still attached to the vein, to see Peter descending on him like smoke upon fire. I was right behind him but with my dress I… I was more like a puff of cotton candy on the breeze. Yeah, hookhole didn’t look twice at me.
Which was why I went for him while Peter helped the girl.
Retracing his jaw, he flung the girl into a nearby shelf, eyes lasered on Peter. What a douchebag. Suck ‘em and shuck ‘em, huh? There was a proper way to borrow someone’s vein and that was not it.
And seriously? She was going to yelp now? Now, when we were saving her and not before when he was licking her like a tootsie pop? I only had a second to glare at her before sweeping my feet out to trip him. He landed hard on his face and if he was human would’ve surely been gasping for breath. But he wasn’t human and instead he bolted up and into a crouching position.
“You,” he spat, blood and spittle spraying my dress. “I didn’t recognize you, little fairy.”
Gasp. The nerve! I was no fairy. Well, okay. I was. But I was different. I was the last one, and nothing like my ancestors. I didn’t go around eating little bits of flesh to survive. I was better than that. I didn’t even have wings. And I hid my teeth rather well, thank you very much.
I smiled. “It’s the hair and dress.”
He took a step and I anticipated his arm jolting out to reach me. I ducked backward. “Missed me.” I just had to stall long enough for Peter to patch up the girl so she wouldn’t bleed out. Then the shadow could do the rest.
Glancing their direction, I saw him seal the puncture marks with his lips and for some reason it felt like betrayal. The sight of his dark skin lingering against her pale skin sent my blood pressure through the ceiling. I’d seen him do the same a hundred times before and it never felt like a twist in my chest but this time—
All thought was interrupted as I landed on my back, a certain disgusting hookie, straddling my legs. Damn.
“Didn’t miss that time, did I? Fairy.”
Forcing a smile, I relaxed, giving him the impression I wouldn’t fight. “Guess you got me.” Yeah, if he bought that, he was stupider than he looked.
“I’ll make this quick,” he said, “Before the boy steals my dinner.”
“Tink,” Peter called, “The wounds won’t seal.”
Well, that explained the lengthy necking session going on over there. And the blood on his lips.
I kneed the hookling in the crotch as hard as I could. Which wasn’t very hard since I had no leverage, but it had more of an effect than when the girl did it. His reaction was perfect: he grunted and moved to the side so his jewels weren’t all hey, look at me, I’m easy to kick.
“Tink! What do I do?”
I tried to wriggle free but he had too tight a hold on me.
“You know,” he breathed, “Even if you could get loose you couldn’t kill me with your bare hands and fairy bites won’t hurt me. They’d just turn me on.”
Ugh. His breath reeked like bad meat and fruit gone wrong. I spit my gum in his face and hoped he took the hint. Then before he could react, I rolled out from under him and kicked, aiming my heel for his chest. It landed its mark. Thank gawd.
“Did I mention the shoes? There’s silver in theem ther heels.” Like I would go anywhere without a weapon. Geez. Idiot.
He froze, gasping, but the silver had nicked his heart. I could tell because he started turning grey. Turning hard.
I kicked the shoe off. There’d be no saving it. It would be forever stuck in a stone hookling. And I was totes okay with that.
Standing, I removed the other shoe too and went over to Peter.
“It’s the strangest thing.” His shadow flickered. “It won’t seal all the way. Just partially. Have you ever seen anything like this?”
“No. Never,” told him.
I stared at the girl’s face. She went to our school. I think she was in drama or something like that. Yeah. The lead in last year’s play. Pretty sure, anyway.
“Please,” she whispered. Blood pooled on her neck and ran down the bodice of her blue dress making it look less like a gown and more like some toddler’s art project. “Help me. Please, take me to a hosp…”
She was clearly terrified and in pain. I should feel sorry for her but for some reason, I didn’t. In fact… I didn’t like her. Not at all.
“What’s your name?”
Wendy? Well, wasn’t that just darling. A helpless little maiden with a helpless little name. But then, like I had any room to talk.
“Tink, do something,” Peter pleaded. His shadow was starting to separate. Painting Peter one moment, painting the wall the next.
“What about the dust?”
My hand instantly went to the vial I wore around my neck. “Peter, no!” I was appalled he even suggested it, knowing what we know about the dust. “It’s only for emergencies.”
“This is an emergency. She’s losing too much blood. She’ll never make it any other way.”
Before I could answer, his earpiece buzzed again. And even though I couldn’t hear what was said, I knew we were in trouble when his face dropped.
“Tink, we’re out of time. James. He’s here.”
I shook my head. “There’s not enough dust. Only enough for two.”
I’d barely gotten the words out when the door bounced open with a thud. Standing in the doorway, was the ‘greatest hookling to ever live’. I’d been face to face with him two other times but still, seeing him there made me have to catch my breath in the most annoying way.
He was a freaking movie star hottie. Dark hair and dark eyes. As much as I hated to admit it, something about all his darkness called to me. Sang to me, the sweetest of all love songs. Which was exactly why I clung to Peter. Peter was the light, the fun, the free. Only his shadow had any hint of darkness and he could cast it off at will.
James smirked. “And behind door number one I find a wonderful surprise. My favorite fairy.” His eyes danced the length of my body and his smile grew. “You look stunning tonight, Belle. Have you danced yet?”
Deep breath. Hands on hips. Seem unaffected. “You could call it that.” I nodded to the stone body nearby.
His smile faded and his face turned hard. Something flickered in his eyes. I’d call it hurt but I’d be wrong.
“I think,” he said, taking a step forward, his limp barely noticeable. “I think I’ll kill your friend since you killed mine. An eye for an eye. Peter for Slank?”
“You’d never succeed,” I taunted. Peter would win any battle with James. Unless it was like, a hottie contest then… well, yeah. The hookling might win. Maybe. I’m only saying maybe.
His eyes narrowed. “But I’d have the best time trying. And in the meantime, the girl that means so much to him will die.”
Wait, who? Me? I wouldn’t die. At least not easily.
“You sorry bastard,” Peter growled. “If Wendy dies…”
Oh. Wendy. Wendy means so much to Peter? How? They’d only just met.
I stared at Peter, the way he hovered over her, guarding. Like a bear protecting its cub. I’d never seen him like that. Not even with Skull.
I scowled. Wendy.
Except James wasn’t going to drink her to death. He was going to stall. Until the bite did the job for him. And he would use Peter to do it. Even now, her blood soaked enough of the room, it was all I could smell.
“She won’t,” I said.
Peter was light. Cling to Peter. Save the girl.
“My guys are coming,” James laughed, cruelly. And I could hear them just outside. “We’ll see what happens then.”
I stared at Peter, our eyes speaking without words… then I yanked the vile of dust from my neck and tossed it to him.
“I’ll be fine. Go!”
Without another hesitation, he uncapped the dust and sprinkled it on first, Wendy, and then himself.
“No,” James yelled, bursting forward at the same time several more hooklings clambered into the room.
But it was already done. Peter and Wendy twinkled… shimmered… and then disappeared.
I was alone with our enemies. And a single silver heel. And no dust. With the water below and the most appealing darkness now inches from my face.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” he breathed. “You’re mine now.”
Uh, no. That couldn’t be true. There was always a way out. I just had to think.
Sometimes a weapon wasn’t corporeal. Nothing tangible. Some weapons were as simple as exploiting your opponents weaknesses, their fears. The crap that was in their head. And also being strong enough to deal with the crap that was in your own.
The water below. Oh, this was a bad idea. A very bad idea. But it was my only idea so…
I inched backward toward the door that would lead me to the deck. James tracked me step for step, his hooks lengthening.
“There’s nothing out there but the water, sweet little Belle. And we both know that can’t help you.”
I smiled. Like the ‘sweet little Belle’ he imagined me to be. “Now James, maybe I just need some fresh air.” I opened the door and backed against the rail. Just as I suspected, he didn’t breach the doorway.
His fear of water was legendary. Probably because of that prosthetic leg.
I’d bet on this working and it looked like I was about to cash in. Show me the monaaay.
“What are you doing?”
“Thinking of going for a swim.”
His brow furrowed and his eyes flashed with some emotion. “But… you’ll die.”
Well that was something to consider, yes.
I shrugged. “Perhaps.”
Yes, water was not my friend but maybe this time… not my enemy either. My frienemy?
“You wouldn’t take the chance.”
He didn’t know me well enough to wager on that. Shoring up my courage, I climbed the rail and hung my feet over the edge.
Glancing over my shoulder, I grinned. “I’m not.” And I let go.
But something caught my arm. I looked up to see a desperate James keeping me from falling into the river.
“No,” he said, determined. “You’re not going into the water.”
I yanked my arm, trying to slip from his grip. “Let go or I’ll take you with me.”
Wide eyes went to the water below and then back to my face. “No.” He started hauling me up. Even pulling against him with all my might had no effect.
Plan failing. Think.
I kicked, struggling harder. I felt his nails dig into my wrist, and the blood trickle down my arm.
“Stop! Let me help you.”
I locked eyes with him and for the weirdest moment I actually thought he was being sincere. As if the hookie leader would actually care if I lived or died. It was a crazy, derailing thought.
But then I remembered the heel. I was still holding it.
“I don’t need your help,” I ground out, and then swung the heel hard at the hand holding my arm. He hissed, surprised, and released me.
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