Just for fun…. darkestside.png

    Found an old piece I wrote in 2009. Thought I’d give the portrait thingy a try for that character. It’s not exactly as I picture him, but it’s not too bad.

    Here’s the story too…. Only 6438 words, so not too long.

    The Darkest Side

    Kateri Mullen blew a strand of her light brown hair out of her eyes. She wiped the toddler’s bottom with a swift swoosh of baby wipe and plopped him into the bathtub full of suds. He splashed and laughed, his shining eyes smiling at her as she washed her hands. She smiled back and patted him on the head and then leaned out of the bathroom door to take a look at the clock down the hall in the living room. Late again. She’d have to walk the three blocks home in the dark. Jonah’s parents never offered to drive her home like her friend Rei’s customers did.

    “Kay-tee! Kay-tee!”

    Kateri sighed and turned back to the bath.

    “Jonah! You look like Santa Claus!”

    The little child burst into giggles as Kateri sat down on the stool by the tub. She soaked a wash cloth in the bath water.


    Kateri watched the blue and white stars of the night-light slowly circle the room like a ghostly carousel. Jonah had finally settled down in his crib and would soon be fast asleep. She sat in the big wood rocking chair and made as little noise as she could, waiting for the soft sounds of Jonah’s deep breathing and sleep.

    They had never been this late before without calling. A nagging fear crept in the back of her mind.

    While she was thinking, a light breathy snore came from the crib. Kateri covered Jonah with his blanket and slipped silently out of the room, making sure to turn on the baby monitor as she left.

    She walked down the hall in the opposite direction of Jonah’s room and entered his parents’ bedroom without turning on the light, going in just far enough to turn on the baby monitor as she was instructed to do. As she turned to retreat back to the living room, she saw a glint out of the corner of her left eye. Without looking in that direction, she froze and listened intently. A long rumble of thunder washed over the house like a wave. She let her breath go. She hadn’t realized she was holding it.

    In the living room she switched on the other baby monitor receiver. She could hear Jonah breathing quietly. The living room was small but had a large vaulted ceiling and lots of beams and glass. Vertical blinds covered the first floor windows, but above that the windows were uncovered. Sheet lightning glowed briefly in the sky and lit up the beams and ceiling like daylight. Kateri plopped down on the huge overstuffed sectional couch and reached for her lunchbox. While Rei always ate her customers’ food, Kateri felt uncomfortable doing so and always brought her own. She unzipped the little insulated bag printed with bright colored anime animal characters and pulled out a soda, thankfully still cold. Her little blue ice pack had melted but it kept everything nice and cold anyway. She took a long sip. Jonah wasn’t allowed soda so she wasn’t allowed to drink it while he was awake. She had grown to hate ice water thanks to this, but she always blissfully enjoyed her soda once the child was sound asleep. Because of this she made a point of bringing one every day.

    The clock ticked. Another forty five minutes had passed since Jonah was in the bath. She tried to block out any bad thoughts, but that nervous worried feeling continued to grow in the back of her mind. She took another long drink from the bottle.

    The huge flat panel TV sat on a stand directly in front of her on the opposite wall, like a dark picture window. She contemplated turning it on. She had rarely done so before because Jonah wasn’t allowed to watch more than two hours a day and usually his parents were already home by now, but she hesitated. What if something has happened?

    As if punctuating her fear, a flash and thunder cracked through the house. The soft pattering of rain on the windows echoed in the upper half of the room.

    Kateri sat in silence, waiting, sipping her soda. The lights blinked, went out for a couple of minutes and came back on. She checked on Jonah, but thankfully he had slept through the brief blackout. If he had been awake he would have howled until she found the flashlight. She stepped backwards out of his room and walked back down the hall toward the living room, pausing at the hall leading to the front door. The sidelights glowed blue, the glass fogged over by the change in temperature outside. She wiped the fog away and peered out. The storm must have brought a cold front with it, an odd occurrence for a late summer evening. The street corner was just visible in the now pouring rain, the blue-white glow from the streetlight winking in the blowing leaves of the trees between. Not a single car passed. She watched for a while, blinking at the lightning and counting for the following thunder. The storm was receding now.

    Where are his parents?

    Kateri turned back to the living room, found her favorite spot on the couch and settled back down. Beside the TV was an answering machine and a telephone. It was a land line, something few people had anymore, but Jonah’s parents weren’t really like other people. Neither were Kateri’s parent’s. They were older, Kateri having been born late in their lives and they never really had much interest in the technology of the younger generations. Kateri herself still wasn’t used to her own cellphone, constantly forgetting it at home when she left the house. Tonight was no exception. She had left her phone on her bed, along with the library book she meant to bring. She gripped the soda bottle with both hands. At least I brought this.

    She looked at the flashing number two on the answering machine. Could they have called while she was running Jonah’s bath? But, wouldn’t they have tried again when they didn’t get her?

    She sighed. Thunder rumbled again, louder this time, as if the storm was coming back.





    Soft. Soft and warm. But there’s a cold wind. No, a breeze. Like the beach. Breathe. Chocolate. Someone is cooking hot chocolate? What is that beat? Is someone playing music? No… No. It’s the rain. Raining outside. Thunder. Dread. Where are they?


    Jonah’s parents.


    That voice… Who are you?

    “The wind.”

    A blast of air pushed back Kateri’s hair, hanging loose. Why is my hair down? What happened to my braid?

    Kateri opened her eyes and looked down at her right hand. She held the warm plastic bottle tightly, still half full of soda. Bright white light reflected on the bottle from all sides. Confusing. Where am I? Where did all of this light come from?

    She looked around, her sleepy eyes still not seeing.


    The voice. A man’s voice. Jonah’s father?

    I have to wake up.

    Kateri forced herself to sit up. She tried to clear her head and see her surroundings, but she couldn’t seem to focus. She heard a sandpaper scratch and smelled acrid smoke. A match had been lit and blown out.

    “You’re awake finally,” the voice said. She heard him take a puff of his cigarette though she still couldn’t see him clearly. She squinted in his direction, but it had no effect. “You’re trying to see me. Very well.”

    A hand fluttered in front of her eyes. As it passed her vision returned. She sat on the same white sectional couch, but across from her was an identical couch, and sitting there, facing her was a sickly thin man with darkish slicked back hair in a white suit and tie and a red silk shirt. He smiled. Kateri’s skin scrawled. He lifted the cigarette to his lips with spidery fingers. As he spoke he exhaled the smoke, shrouding his face in a dark wispy cloud.

    “You’re probably wondering who I am and why I am here in the home of your little client.” He made smoke rings in air above him, creating a dreary halo effect. “I’m here because of a promise. A promise Sanai made.”

    Sanai? Jonah’s mother?

    “Let me explain. My name is Caius. I come from,” he paused and laughed. “Well, let’s just say, far away. In fact, Sanai and Reece also come from there.” He stood and walked across the room to a tall window that hadn’t been there before. A swirl of smoke circled his head and drifted up along the surface of the window with its white panes. Kateri could only see white and shadows on the other side of the glass. “They came here to see if we could survive on the surface again. It’s been so long since we set foot on solid ground. I just didn’t know,” he stopped and gently placed his right hand on the window pane, looking out at nothing. “I just didn’t know how far they would go,” he whispered. “The child is,” he laughed. “A deliberate accident.” He laughed again and took another drag on the cigarette. He turned to Kateri and let the smoke flow out of his nostrils. “Now it’s time for them to return, and I don’t know what they’re going to do with the child.” He walked back across the room and sat where he had been before. He took another drag. “The child is…” He looked down at his left hand and opened it, staring into his palm. “He can’t go back with us.” He closed his hand into a fist.

    Kateri’s eyes opened wide. She suddenly saw everything in the room perfectly clearly. She was not in Jonah’s house anymore. It had parts that looked like Jonah’s house but other parts would be impossible in that space. The teen began to hyperventilate.

    As she panted for breath, Caius watched her, constantly puffing on his cigarette and entertaining himself by filling the room with swirls of second hand smoke. She felt like the floor was falling away from her feet as she started to pass out. Just as everything went black Caius spoke.

    “I’ll be here waiting for you when you wake up.”


    Kateri woke with start, sitting straight up, eyes frantic and darting all around. Lightning cracked the sky in the windows above the vertical blinds. The power was out and the house dark. Her heart raced. She had no idea what time it was. She felt her way to the rechargeable flashlight plugged in the wall outlet by the light switch in the hall. Quietly she tiptoed to Jonah’s room. Thankfully he was still sleeping in peace. She tiptoed back down the hall and picked up the phone. Of course, without power the wireless phone wouldn’t work either. She replaced the receiver and went back to her spot on the couch and sat.

    Where are they?

    There was a smell. Chocolate. Where is it coming from?

    “Probably my cigarettes. They have a faint hint of cocoa added. Makes them taste nice.”

    Kateri jumped to her feet and spun around.

    “Who are you,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

    “I told you,” Caius said. “I’m Caius. And I’m here to hold Sanai to her promise.”

    Kateri looked all around the room. She couldn’t see Caius. The room was slowly fading from the natural evening darkness to white. She turned to check Jonah, but the hallway wasn’t there anymore. She bumped into the other white couch instead. Her vision became cloudy and she squinted, trying to find her way back to the couch she knew. She ran her hands along the other couch and bumped into something warm. She got closer and realized it was Caius’ leg. She looked up into his eyes and instantly she could see clearly again. She stumbled to her knees in front of him. He smiled and reached out his thin left hand to help her to her feet. His hand was warm but somehow stiff. She sat back on the right couch and looked around her, obviously no longer in the place where she had been.

    “I need to be looking out for Jonah,” she whispered.

    “He’s fine,” Caius said. He closed his eyes as he raised the cigarette to his lips and took another long drag. “I always enjoy smoking so much in this form,” he said. “It’s a vice I am rather fond of, though I know it does me no favors.” He smiled as he caught her gaze. He was so impossibly thin. She could see his eyes clearly now. They were deep dark brown, so dark the pupils seemed to disappear in the iris, giving him the illusion of pure black irises. “You are still there. I’ve made this room to join both of our worlds. Some of it is there and some of it is here with me.”

    “Where is here?”

    Kateri stared at Caius. He stared back a moment, then laughed and stood up.

    “I’ve really told you too much already,” he said. “And, I’m not really sure why.” He put out his cigarette in the freestanding ash tray that had suddenly appeared by the window. He slid his hands in his pockets and stared out into the whiteness. “They were supposed to be there waiting to go back when I arrived. Instead, well, you were there.” He turned and glanced over his shoulder. “Do you know where they are?”

    “All I am ever told is that they will be out, and I usually have an emergency number to call.”

    “I notice you didn’t call it.”

    “I tried,” Kateri said. “But the power is out thanks to the storm.”

    Caius stared out of the windows into nothingness for a long time. Kateri’s vision blurred and focused so many times she finally simply closed her eyes.

    After a while Caius spoke. “You can open your eyes now. I’ve come more into your world. I didn’t realize how difficult it was for you.”

    Kateri slowly peeked with one eye and then gratefully opened both. She was back in Jonah’s house. This time, Caius was standing by the windows in the living room, peering through the slats in the vertical blinds. His suit was no longer white, but a dark gray. His skin seemed to almost glow in the dark with pale blueness. The power still hadn’t returned. Kateri gathered her wits and checked on Jonah, still fast asleep and snoring softly. She relaxed her breath and went to peek out the sidelights at the road and the driveway. Still no sign of Jonah’s parents. Perhaps they were avoiding Caius. But why would they avoid him yet leave her and Jonah there to face him?

    “Good question,” Caius said as she returned to the living room. “I can only say that they must have thought I could be swayed in some way. Unfortunately for them, some are not easily swayed.”

    Kateri sat on the couch and sniffed. “I should have called my mother,” she said. “I’ll bet they’re worried sick. I should have been home hours ago.”

    Caius laughed. “Actually, I would imagine Sanai called her for you since they hadn’t called you here. It’s her fault you aren’t home yet.”

    “There were two messages on the answering machine,” Kateri whispered. “What if one of them was Mom?”

    Caius walked to the other end of the couch and sat down, facing her. His face was hidden in shadow, back lit by the blue light of the windows. “How old are you, Kateri?”

    “Seventeen,” she said. Her voice was quiet and breaking a little under the strain of worry.

    Caius nodded in the darkness. The rain started again, harder this time. The sound echoed loudly in the cathedral-like ceiling.

    “I wish the power would come back on,” she whispered.

    “You know,” Caius said, his own voice barely a whisper. “You haven’t asked me much about what’s going on or where I come from.”

    “I’m afraid I don’t want to know. It would probably be better if I don’t know,” she said. “That way I can go home and forget all about it.” She looked down at her lap and wrung her hands. “Though, I may not baby sit for Jonah any more.”

    Caius chuckled, trying to keep his voice down. “I see. That’s very smart on your part, Miss Kateri.” He laughed a little more and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He tapped it absentmindedly on his knee. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Sheet lightning lit the room for a second. Kateri saw a strange shadow behind Caius in the brief flash. The next time it happened the shape was gone. She thought about it in the silence as Caius tapped his pack.

    “Heh,” Caius said. He lit a cigarette. “Do you believe in heaven, Kateri?”

    “I don’t know,” she said. Her voice was smaller than before. “I’ve never really thought about it.”

    “Mmm,” he said. He blew a white ring of smoke that drifted up and into the beams above.


    Silence fell between them. Kateri had no idea what time it was or how much time had passed. Jonah snored softly in his bed, oblivious to the storm outside or the strange man sitting in the living room. The rain raged on, getting stronger and louder and sometimes stopping altogether. Thunder continued rumbling and periodically shaking the furnishings.

    “I may have to sleep here,” Kateri whispered. Her stomach growled and her mouth was dry from thirst. She leaned over and found her now warm soda lying on the floor by the corner of the couch.

    “You’re hungry,” Caius said. He had been so still Kateri thought he was sleeping. She startled just a little. His face was still hidden in shadow. “I’ll try to find you something in the kitchen,” he said. He rose to his feet.

    “No,” she said. “That’s okay. I’ll find something.” She stood. “I usually don’t like to go into other people’s things. I feel like I’m stealing from them, but I guess, since they didn’t tell me I’d have to be here so long that it’ll be okay. I suppose I could offer to pay them back for the food later.” She walked around the couch toward the kitchen. Caius watched her before sitting back down.

    “You are a good person, Kateri,” he said. She stopped and turned back to glance at him. He seemed to be talking to himself. His face was still shadowed, but in profile now. She walked into the kitchen. The bar was open to the living room. She stood there, with her hand on the refrigerator door, watching Caius a moment, as discreetly as possible. He seemed to be staring straight ahead into the darkness of the entry hall, perhaps watching the lightning flash in the sidelights. His lips were moving. He tapped the pack on his knee again; tap, tap, tap, stop, tap, tap, tap, stop. She pulled the open the door and flicked on the flashlight to peer inside the fridge. She found a pack of sandwich meat and a squeeze bottle of mustard and laid them on the bar. In the breadbox she found a plastic container of homemade bread, already sliced for sandwiches. A few minutes later she sat at the bar and ate quietly, thankful for breaking her personal rules just this once. She found ice melting fast in the freezer and managed to salvage the last of her soda. Caius was silent throughout her meal. He made no sounds at all. Not even breathing sounds. She kept glancing over her shoulder to make sure he was still there. Finally, dishes put away and hands washed, she returned to her place on the couch.

    He was still staring at the front door. Kateri felt that dread and crawling sensation again. She turned and looked at the entry too, though where she was sitting she couldn’t see the front door.

    “They’re close,” Caius whispered. Kateri startled.

    “What?” She looked at him and then back toward the front door.

    “They’ve been riding by, circling the block,” he said. “Avoiding the house.” He covered his face with his hands and sighed, the cigarette twirling thin threads of smoke to the ceiling.

    Kateri jumped to her feet and ran to the front door. She turned the deadbolt and the lock on the knob and flung the door open wide. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked hard. She stepped back away from the door a second and then wiped her hand along the glass to wipe away the fog. The glass was noticeably cold. The street looked the same as it had all evening, a little more standing water in places, but still just as dark and dreary as before. She placed both hands on the glass and leaned her head against it. Where are they? Why don’t they come home? She sighed. Her breath fogged up the glass again. She looked back in the living room. Caius still sat there, hands covering his face, a shadow form on the couch, the end of his cigarette glowing orange. For a moment the rain lulled, and the sound of an engine caught her attention. She watched headlights turn down the street at the corner. She held her breath as the car slowly passed by the house. It was too dark to see well, thought the streetlight was still on in spite of the power being out in the house. The car stopped at the driveway for a moment. Kateri strained to see.

    “That’s not them.” Caius stood directly behind her. She hadn’t heard him step across the room. The faint chocolate smell enveloped her. He rested his hands on her shoulders and peered out into the night at the car on the street below, his face mere inches from hers. There was faint hint of cologne and of course chocolate and smoke emanating from him. She stiffened up, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. The ashtray that seemed to follow him wherever he went stood beside them, his cigarette smoldering while resting on the glass lip.

    The car outside continued slowly down the street.

    “They’re looking for house number 242.” A house four doors down on the opposite side of the street.

    “Mmm…” He nodded. She looked at him. He still stared outside, watching the road and listening.

    “How do you do that,” she said. “How do you hear what people are thinking?”

    Caius smiled and glanced down at her before releasing her shoulders and walking back to the living room. He grabbed the ashtray as he turned.

    Now come the questions,” he said. He sat back on the couch where he had been before. “You can quit staring out there. Sanai and Reece have gone farther away now anyway.”

    “Though, I’m sure they’ll be back soon,” he mumbled. “Come back and sit down with me,” he said to Kateri. “Let’s talk a while more before we run out of time. Especially now that you’re curious.” He smiled again, though she couldn’t see it in the dark. She seemed to feel it.

    Kateri obediently closed the door, making sure to turn the deadbolt. As she returned to the room she stopped to check on Jonah, still fast asleep and snoring. Then she sat again on her favorite place on the couch, briefly glancing up at the giant TV screen. Even with its non glare surface she could see the faint blue glow of the windows and the shadow of Caius in front of them.

    “Telepathy,” he said. Kateri turned from the TV to Caius. He lifted the remaining stub of his cigarette to his lips. For a moment, her vision of him sitting there blurred. She knew he wasn’t looking at her. A crooked smile played on his lips.

    “You’re lying,” she said.

    For a long moment he stared into her eyes from his seat on the other end of the couch. She couldn’t see them before, but they were vivid now, two dark pools sucking away the light around them like black holes stirring the stars.

    “Yes,” he said. “I am.” Another smoke ring fluttered up to the ceiling. “And you knew. Don’t you find that interesting?” He looked down at the ashtray as he put out the tiny stub. “How did you know?”

    “I watched you,” she said. She realized suddenly that the light in the room had changed. She could now see his features bathed in a blue light, drops of rain projected magnified on his skin. Her own face was now in shadows. It was as if they had switched places in the room. “And somehow,” she said, wrinkling her forehead as she tried to recall her thoughts. “I just knew.”

    “What else do you know?” Caius’ voice was like a soft breeze blowing through her senses, barely audible but intensely physical, as if he was breathing the words directly on her skin. Yet, there he sat, across the room on the other end of the L shaped couch. She shivered.

    Caius turned toward the front door again. “There they go again. Sanai is driving.”

    Kateri ran to the front door and flung it open in time to see the tail lights circle the curve on the other end of the street. Why don’t they stop?

    “She’s crying,” he said. A match flashed behind her. Caius stepped forward, his face just over her right shoulder, and looked out into the darkness. Kateri felt a tear run down her cheek. She closed her eyes. Another tear slipped away and crashed into space.

    “Why is she crying,” Kateri asked. Dread and fear paralyzed her. She clenched her eyes tighter.

    “She hated that this day would come,” Caius said. “She knew, but still she dreaded it. Reece even gave life to try and stop it. But they’re going to fail.”

    Gave life? Kateri listened to the rain. She could almost hear hysterical crying out in the endless space of sky above, floating in the clouds. As if the rain itself were Sanai’s tears. She took a step back, away from the door and bumped into Caius. While he looked thin, beneath his suit she felt great strength. She turned away from the door and ran quietly to Jonah’s room. The child still lay in quiet slumber, breathing softly into his pillow. Gave life?

    “I am here to collect a debt.” Caius spoke in a whisper directly to her, even though he was still standing by the front door. “A debt Sanai and Reece owe.”

    Kateri stood frozen, hyperventilating again. She fell first to her knees.

    “But they want to break the promise and make a trade,” he said. “Two souls for two souls.”

    She blacked out.


    Voices. Jonah? Jonah crying. I have to get up.

    Kateri opened her eyes slowly, adjusting to the light. She lay on the couch, an afghan draped over her. Candles flickered in various places around the room. Rain still echoed from above and thunder, now far away, rumbled like the growl of a grumpy old dog. She heard a small laugh. Jonah! She untangled herself from the blanket and made her way stumbling to the child’s room. Caius was sitting in the rocking chair with Jonah on his knee, singing a nursery rhyme in a low soft voice. Jonah laughed and clapped. Several candles had been lit and set around the room. For the first time she noticed the true brown in Caius’ eyes, the faint peach tone of his skin, and again, the hint of a shape behind his back. A shadow of something she couldn’t quite see. Her vision blurred and she blinked, but the shadow was gone.

    “Kaytee!” Jonah scrambled out of Caius’ lap and ran to her, hugging her knees. He pointed to a candle on the dresser. “Hot,” he said.

    Kateri smiled and picked him up. “Yes, you’re right. The candle is hot.”

    “No touch. Too hot. Owie.” Jonah stared into her eyes very seriously.

    “I think he’s telling you not to touch,” Caius said. He folded his hands together across his chest and watched her and the child. “It’s very important. Right, Jonah?”

    “Yes. No touch, Kaytee.”

    Kateri smiled. “Okay,” she said. “You’re right. I promise, I will not touch.”

    “He woke an hour ago, while I was placing candles,” Caius said.

    “An hour? You should have gotten me.”

    “No,” he said. “You need rest. I know children well. He is no trouble at all.”

    Jonah yawned.

    “Do you need changing, Jonah?”

    “No. Uncle Cay-us did it.”

    Caius nodded. “I gave him a little snack too. The food in the fridge is going to go bad anyway.”

    “Are you tired little one,” he asked. Jonah nodded. “Let me tuck you in then and give Kaytee some rest, okay?”


    Caius put the child in the crib and covered him with his blanket, all the while singing a strange low tune that seemed to vibrate through the walls. Kateri couldn’t make out the words, but it made her tired as well. She stood in the doorway watching as long as she could, but the exhaustion took over and she made her way back to the couch, laying down and pulling the afghan up over her shoulders again. As the rain let up she listened to the strangely beautiful low notes coming from Jonah’s room, the candlelight dancing in the fog of her drowsy vision.

    Caius stopped singing. Silence cracked like the thunder had before, startling her awake. A car had turned the street corner. It’s them.

    Kateri sat up. She felt a rush of cold pass over her. She shook off some of the sleepiness brought on by the lullaby and staggered to the front door. She fumbled with the locks, not able to see. Caius appeared by her side and helped her unlock the door and open it wide. She fell against him and looked up at his face as he looked out into the rain. A light shined on him. Headlights from the driveway. The last notes of the lullaby still hung in the air around him. He seemed to glow from within. Her head dropped to his chest.

    “Are they here?” She felt herself slipping to the floor, but his arm wrapped around her and held her up.

    “Yes,” he whispered. “But, I think they’re leaving again.”

    She reached up and held his shoulders as she tried to turn and look out at the driveway. The headlights blinded her. She grimaced and turned away. His chin brushed her forehead. I’m so sleepy. Did he drug me?

    “No,” he said in a soft breathy voice. “I didn’t drug you. Just relax and listen to the song. I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry about anything.” He lifted her up in his arms. After a moment staring out at the car in the driveway, seeing the long haired woman in tears behind the steering wheel and the man in glasses at her side, red faced and shouting, he closed the door. Caius’ song filled the room.


    Kateri woke. The room was full of light again. She sat up, shrugging off the afghan and blinking her eyes. Jonah sat at her feet, playing with brightly colored blocks. Caius sat on the floor with him, in just a white under shirt now, his jacket, tie and silk shirt lying on the opposite side of the couch. His feet were bare and something was behind his back. She blinked. Some parts of the white room were still blurry.

    “You aren’t ready to see that yet,” he said. Somehow he was playing with Jonah and yet talking directly to her. Jonah failed to notice her.

    “We’re back here again,” she said. “In that other place.”

    “Yes,” he said.

    “But Jonah is here this time.”

    “No,” Caius said. His voice cracked a little. “He’s still there. It’s just you and I who are here.”

    Kateri blinked. “I am here too?”

    “Yes.” Caius voice seemed small and far away. She saw a tear drop from his cheek to the floor.

    “I have a question,” he said. “If I gave you a choice, to save a child or yourself, what would you choose?”

    She looked at him and blinked again. The shadow behind him seemed more substantial. “The child,” she said, “Always.”

    Caius closed his eyes and wept silently. He patted Jonah on the head and the child laughed and faded away.

    “Caius? What’s happening?” She blinked again. The shadow behind him was larger now and gray. More smoke? But there’s no chocolate smell.

    Caius rose from the floor and sat again on the other end of the couch. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The shadow shape behind him seemed to grow. He wiped his eyes with his hands. The ashtray stood just to his left, a pack of matches resting by an unlit cigarette on the lip. He sighed and leaned back, taking a deep breath.

    “Listen carefully, Kateri,” he said. His voice carried the lingering tone of the lullaby he sang before. “Sanai and Reece are not human. They wanted to experience mortal life, but without death. Out of curiosity and against the concerns and doubts of many, they were allowed to pass over, but only after signing a contract stating they promised to return home when they reached fifty years of mortal age. Their souls were to return to their previous existences here. But when the time drew close Sanai and Reece decided to bargain to stay and live out their mortal lives.” He closed his eyes. Kateri blinked at him, wishing she could see better, wondering why she still felt so tired. “In this agreement, they were to trade two souls for their own or else follow through on the original contract. Sanai and Reece insisted on staying. They decided the only fair way to fulfill the contract was to have children of their own. Any child born of them would not have existed had they never made the initial agreement, so they concluded that those souls were expendable. But becoming pregnant was hard for Sanai. In the end they hired a surrogate mother and Reece fathered Jonah.” He lit the waiting cigarette and blew rings around his head again. The scent of chocolate filled the room. “Because of this, Jonah was half mortal.” He grew silent for a while. Thinking and smoking. “They then decided they needed to find another soul to pass with Jonah. Going through raising another child would have been too painful, so they used resources only available to us to find a suitable donor.”

    Kateri’s eyes faded in and out of blurriness. She was so tired. For some reason she felt light, as if made of air. Her mind drifted. He had said something that made her sick before. What was it? Something that took her breath away.

    “I got word from above a short while ago that the plan was accepted and it would have worked,” Caius said. “Except for three things.” He took another long drag while staring out of the white window at the nothingness beyond. “First, they didn’t take into account how much love they would feel for their son. Especially Reece. Sanai never truly bonded with Jonah until recently, and then it was too late. Reece loved the boy with all his heart. He killed himself in the driveway when he saw me carrying you. He thought it was too late.” Kateri rolled on her side. Her back hurt. She tried to concentrate on Caius’ words, rather than the melody of his voice. She closed her eyes. “Now he will never see the child or return home. His soul is lost to us.”

    Soul. That was it. Something about souls.

    “Sanai loved both Reece and the child, but in the end her mind snapped,” he said. “She’ll be found in her home today talking to herself and crying with Reece dead in the car. She’ll live out her mortal life in a hospital, screaming at the walls.” He sighed. “But the final reason is me. Regardless of the contract I cannot take Jonah. He is too young and too innocent not to have a life of his own. And who knows what might come of his lineage? Maybe something new and beautiful can erupt from his future bloodline.” He closed his eyes a moment and shook his head. “I may have saved the world tonight, or I may have destroyed it.” He blew smoke from his nostrils and groaned. “But, of course, as I said before, Jonah’s soul would not have been enough anyway. In losing both Sanai and Reece forever to mortality we would have to take two souls as replacements. Sanai knew this. That’s why she hired you as Jonah’s babysitter in the first place. She wanted you to be there tonight. She knew your future, Kateri. She knew what was going to happen today. I knew as well. In the end, this way is better. Officially, I’m still short a soul, but the loss of Reece to the other side should balance the scales and make things right.”

    Kateri opened her eyes, blinking in sleepiness she couldn’t seem to shake. He looked at her, a darkness and pain wrinkling his face. Behind him, the twin shadows stretched high above. The one on his left rustled. She blinked again.

    Caius took a long deep breath and crouched down next to her on the floor, patting her head gently.

    “You died today, Kateri. Lightning struck you on the way home from babysitting, and you died in the hospital surrounded by your family,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. Your parents are sad but they’ll be okay. I went to them and told them you will become one of us. I promised to take care of you forever.” Something soft brushed her cheek and her eyes opened wide. She saw Caius clearly for the first time. Tears streamed down her face.

    “You’re… an angel?” The words choked in her throat.

    “From the darkest side of heaven,” Caius whispered. “An angel of death.” He kissed her forehead and wiped a tear away from her cheek with his thumb. “Don’t be afraid.” She faded to a white cloud of smoke, a faint hint of rose swirling in the air, then disappeared.

    Caius sat back, crossed legged on the floor, the couches slowly fading away, the windows disappearing. A circle of chocolate scented smoke spiraled above his head into the growing darkness above.