Chapter One: Beliefs, Assumptions & Misconceptions
Blood is thicker than water.
An old saying, and it’s defiantly true. You share blood with someone, and there is no escaping them. I should know. You’ve always got a connection with them, sometimes a weak link, sometimes very strong, and sometimes…normally they’re indebted to you, or you’re indebted to them.
There are some things I believe in, and some I don’t. I mean, I believe in a god, or at least some sort of higher power. Maybe even a goddess. I mean, the Universe in a man’s hands? Anyway, looking back now, looking at the people I know, looking at my family, I can see that whatever is in control, is pretty fucked up.
Ok, I’ll start from the beginning. That’s properly best. Before I was even born, there was, well, Theo. My older brother, by seven years. Three years after he was born, there was Chloe. She died, after a week. Four years after Chloe, I was born. Theo got to give me my middle name. He’s always been a bit, well, dark. I guess that’s the word to describe him. It explains a lot about me. It explains my name as well, my middle name anyway, which is what everyone calls me. My first name is Charlotte, my middle name is Shadow. I prefer Shadow.
When I was little, and Christmas was on it’s way – this was when I was about, three, maybe four years old – relatives would visit and always ask the same question. “What is Santa brining you for Christmas, Charlotte?”
Theo would glance at me then, an eyebrow raised as he looked over the newest book he was reading. Ten years old, and he’d already devoured the better books in the Children’s Library. I would lift my head, my blonde hair curling and my ‘pretty’, big blue eyes would face those stupid questions with the wisdom Theo had taught me when I was just three years old.
“Santa isn’t real.” I would say, and watch Theo’s face crack into a smile as the relative would glance at their own child, scared that the five, six or seven year old would have overheard and started crying. “And my name is Shadow, not Charlotte.” I would say Charlotte with obvious distaste, and Theo – too smart for his age – would smile knowledgably before returning to his book.
I have never, ever believed in Santa, and once my parents knew this, they never pushed the idea of jolly Saint Nick onto me. They knew that I, even at four, was too smart to believe that an overweight, fat man in a red suit could squeeze down a chimney as small as ours. Because of this, I was often allowed to stay up on Christmas Eve, and watch my parents putting presents under the tree, as Theo read a new story to me on the chair in the front room that he had claimed as his own.
When I was four, I would make Theo read fairy tales to me over and over again. I loved them, and even believed some of them, even if the idea of Santa was ridiculous, the idea of talking animals was not. But Theo would always set my ideas down. If I ever said anything along the lines of, ‘I will kiss every frog until it turns into a Prince!’ Theo would squash the idea quickly
“Frog’s don’t turn into Princes.”
He always made sure I never believed the happier tales could turn true. Before you start judging my brother, claiming he ‘robbed me of my childhood’, destroyed the ideas that made other little girls wish to be Princesses, think of it as a good thing. I grew smarter than those of my age, and when there dreams of becoming Princess, being heroically rescued by a knight in shining armour were destroyed, I was happy to look at the world for what it was. No dreams to be destroyed, unless they were believable, and therefore easily achievable.
I said he always crushed the happier tales, but what about the darker ones. He loved telling me about them, and as I grew older they developed from Fairy Tales about changelings and sprites to Folk Tales about Werewolves and Vampires, and even a few stories about ‘real life’ encounters with Aliens…the darker encounters. None of it he ever credited as fiction. If I ever slept with a silver cross in my hands and a bit of garlic at my bedside, Theo would not say anything. He would just smile, nod, and say ‘good night’. These stories would continue until I was twelve, and often offered a small bit of comfort for me and my brother.
When I was six, my mother had a miscarriage. She cried for months after, and became severely depressed. She would often ask God why he would not let her have the three children she had dreamed of, but always, after these rants, she would make sure to reassure us how much she loved us. When these happened, she’d go shopping the day after, and return with presents for us. Too many and too expensive, and we often had to sell them as my father needed the money. However, we did keep a few of the cheaper presents, which were often the nicest. These included a small silver cross for me, after she had found that I had lost mine one evening, and a small, old book for Theo, which had a lot of old tales in it, which he devoured and memorised immediately.
When I was ten, and Theo 17, my mother had her fifth – and last – child. A little boy, Tim. He was treasured by my parents, Theo and I; my mother had been bordering on suicidal after the miscarriage, and before Tim had come along. After he was a month old, we noticed a definite improvement in my mother. We, Theo and I, vowed to look after and guide the little hero.
We didn’t know what was to happen, when Tim was six months old.
Tim was soon moved into Theo’s bedroom, and my mother brought two large T’s, and stuck them on the door. Theo loved having his little brother – seventeen years younger than him – in his room. He spent a lot of time with me and the little baby. Until Tim disappeared.
Before that, I was never really sure that I really believed the tales Theo had told me. I did but yet…I wanted proof. I needed to know. I took precautions, sure, but still, I never actually knew. But proof was given, and I wish now that it had been given in a different way.
“Shadow. Shadow, wake up!”
My eyes snapped open to see Theo leaning over me. His black hair, which I envied so much, (I hated my own blonde curls) was a complete and utter mess. His green eyes were wide, staring directly into my own. I was worried, but yet I wanted to sleep more. I was too tired to force myself to get up. “Sleep.” I muttered, and heard my brother groan.
Suddenly, his hand was brushing something off my face, out of my hair, away from my bedclothes. As soon as he did this, I was wide-awake and standing next to him.
“It’s Tim.” He said, before I could ask. I was quite a lot shorter than my brother – he was seventeen, and was tall for his age anyway. I was a mere ten years old, and unlike Theo, currently short for my age. – and I was walking in his shadow as he left my room and entered his own, across the hall from mine. I was by Tim’s cot in seconds, but as I gazed down at him, I noticed nothing.
There was Tim, in his little blue romper, sucking his thumb. His blond hair was messed up, very much like Theo’s, and although they were closed, I knew – or at least thought – his eyes were a sparkling green colour. I laughed as I watched him sleep peacefully. “What you playing at Theo. It’s just Tim.” I mumbled, annoyed at being woken up. I was smart for my young age, but I valued my sleep. At the same time, I knew Theo wouldn’t have woken me unless there was a valid reason. One I very much wanted to find out.
“Lift him up.” My teenage brother instructed, and I did so. When Tim was secure in my arms, I frowned.
“Jesus, why is he so heavy?” I asked. Tim’s eyes opened, and he gazed at me. I frowned, tilting my head to one side. His eyes were darker, no longer sparkling, and had an almost lifeless quality about them. I lowered him back into the cot, and looked at Theo. “Changeling?” I asked, not wanting him to confirm the fairy tales he had told me. He nodded, and I started to shake.
They were real. That meant sprites were, too. Werewolves, aliens…it was all real. Therefore, Vampires were out there, lurking amongst us. “Mum and dad won’t notice.” He muttered, watching me. “If we told them…”
“We can’t.” I said quickly, knowing what it would mean for my mum.
“Right.” He agreed, and leant forward. He gripped my arm, and pulled me away from the cot. “They might return Tim, but we’ve got to look after the changeling. If he’s not back in a year, we tell mum and dad, yes?”
I agreed, and he was right. Mum and dad did not notice. They didn’t even notice when Theo and I began to spend more time together, and less with ‘Tim’. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when Theo requested for ‘Tim' to be moved out of his room. They just turned the study into a bedroom, painted it blue, and put ‘Tim’ in there. They didn’t care how naughty ‘Tim’ was, they didn’t care that the food bills went up every month as ‘Tim’ slowly ate everything in sight.
After a year, we couldn’t bare to tell our parents that the child they doted over so much wasn’t really their child. Mum had started to spiral down again, and we didn’t want to be the ones to push her over the edge.
It was another year, before Tim became lighter, his eyes regained their sparkling look, and he was finally returned to us. By now, he was two years old. I taught him to walk, but there was one thing he never, ever learnt to do.
Our brother never spoke.
I said before that the stories my brother told me finished when I was 12. It was strange, but he just stooped wanting to read them. He would hardly leave his room, and whenever I went to talk to him, he would tell me to leave him alone. My brother was becoming distant and quiet, and I did not like it. However, at the same time…it was around now, that I really started to, well, notice, I guess, the people around me. Especially in school. Especially the boys.
At school, I had a few friends, but no really close friends. No one I could really have a massive, in-depth conversation with. The popular people mostly ignored me, they did not bother me, and I did not bother them. I did quite well in most of my classes. Without bragging – I was smart. Blame my brother. Nevertheless, I was in the library, in school, when one of the boys – a year older than me – came over and asked for my help. He said he knew I was quite smart, and the work he needed help on was simple. By the time I turned thirteen, I was already ‘good’ mates with this boy. He would often ask for help on his simpler homework, and we would often talk in the library at lunch, even when his mates were begging him to go and play football or rugby or something with him.
He was one of the popular kids in his year.
We were working one day when he said, completely out of the blue. “How’s your brother?”
I looked up, frowning. “Theo or Tim?” I asked.
He was chewing the end of his pen, his eyes locked on the book in front of him. I glanced at the page, and frowned. That was not homework. I noticed, at the top of the page, the word Vampires. “The older one…Theo I think.” He asked, closing his eyes for a second.
I shrugged, as I picked up my book and flicked through a few pages. “I don’t really know. He hardly speaks to me anymore. He’s…withdrawn.” I turned away, and looked at a poster on the wall of the library.
He nodded, before glancing at the book. “I thought so.” He muttered. My head snapped up, and I frowned at him.
“Wait…do you know something I don’t?”
As he looked at me, his eyes were dark. “Listen to me Shadow. Get to a phone. Phone home. Now.” With that, he stood up and disappeared out of the door, taking his book on Vampires with him.
I stood up, an eyebrow raised. He did know something, but what? Moreover, why was he so interested in how Theo was? I turned, and walk the length of the school library to a payphone at the side. Using a few coins that were in my pocket, I rang home.
There was no answer.
That in itself was weird; there should have been someone home. Mum, or Theo…
It was in my lesson, that one of the receptionists came looking for me. They took me out of my class, with no explanation. My father was waiting at the gate, and I was put into his car, and driven home.
My mother was in the front room, crying her eyes out. My three-year-old brother was by her feet, but he turned and walked towards me as soon as I walked in. My father stood behind me, and he was the first to speak. “Has Theo told you where he has gone?” He asked, and as soon as he had finished, I guessed what had happened.
My brother had disappeared.
“No.” I muttered, looking around the room. He couldn’t have been gone for more than three hours, and he was 20 anyway, so why couldn’t he go out for that long, and not make his family worry?
Because he was Theo. I know it doesn’t sound strange, a 20-year-old going out for a bit. His parents didn’t need to know. Nevertheless, it was strange, simply because it was Theo. Theo hardly ever left the house, and when he did, he always made sure I knew, even if my parents didn’t.
After a few hours, my mother phoned the police. After 24 hours, they began to make enquires.
Nothing happened. Finally, a week passed. Then a month. Finally, two months passed, and my brother was assumed dead.
Now, I’ve always hated assumptions. I need to know things. That’s why I didn’t like it when my brother was ‘presumed’ dead. No body was found. To me, he was very much alive. I felt I needed proof. For the second time in my life, proof against what everyone else thought was given.
See what I meant, about a fucked-up higher power?
Even I, who had refused to believe my brother was dead, found this ‘proof’ quite…unbelievable.
My parents did too, and they refused to believe it.
I was about fifteen, and had spent most of the evening at a friend’s house. It was her birthday, and she had been allowed to host a sleepover.
Let me tell you something about Alice.
Alice had been in my form since I had gone to school. She had taken pity on me, I suppose, after my brother’s disappearance. She had started sitting next to me in lessons and talking to me. I wasn’t happy with her company, but I didn’t dislike it either. I didn’t care, either way. Therefore, she became one of my few friends at school. She never questioned why I went to the library almost every lunch, but instead would simply say: ‘Have fun, you know where to find us if you get bored’. She had a few other friends – about three good friends – that she would hang around with at lunch. Sometimes she even came to the Library with me. When she had this sleepover, she asked me to come. “Please come Shadow! It’ll be fun!”
I had refused to actually sleep, but had said I would stay for most of the party. She didn’t push it, knowing I was likely to flip and get angry with her. Alice didn’t like people being angry at her. I had stayed at her house quite late, and slipped out quietly with a quick ‘good-bye-happy-birthday’ to Alice. I knew there would be no actual sleeping, but mostly talking, and makeovers…they’d properly re-do someone’s hair as well. I didn’t care much for that really girly-girly stuff, but I knew Alice loved it. I had told my parents I would be sleeping over. Even though I was at a ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’ age, plus a girl – as those policemen and woman who came to school often informed us, we were likely to be victims of attacks: muggings and rape, nice people they were (note the sarcasm) – which did not help, I felt perfectly safe in wondering the streets from twelve to nine in the morning. If I was caught, I would properly receive a long lecture from those police that came to school.
When I would return home, I would give my mother (who would no doubt be doting over her only remaining son) some bull story about the films we watched games we played and how we hardly slept, then go to my bedroom and sleep for hours.
Like I said, I felt safe in doing this. Since Theo had gone, I had become very much accustomed to staying up all night and sleeping in the day. My mother never questioned my habits – not that she knew I was staying up until the early hours of the morning and sometimes wondering the streets – and my father was never there to ask. If I had school, I would sleep as soon as I got home, and do my homework in the night. I preferred the night to day, anyway.
I had already been on these ‘trips’ about three or four times. I felt safe, and it was strange because I felt as if there was someone watching me, taking care of me, and making sure I did not get hurt.
Tonight, I wondered through one of the quieter parts of town. Although it was quiet, with plenty of dark alleys to attack someone in, there was hardly any crime here. It didn’t stop people avoiding it though.
I stopped near one of these alleys, as I heard three very different voices.
“She’s doing well, don’t worry.” His voice. The boy from school. Paul.
“Good. Keep an eye on her Paul. I’ll make sure she’s alright in the nights…god knows she needs me.” My blood ran cold, and my eyes widened. That voice…for eight years I had listened to it as it told and retold me countless numbers of stories. Once again, I heard my brother’s voice.
“I don’t see why you don’t just bring her over. Or at least make sure she knows you’re around.” The third voice was completely unknown to me. It had a sharp, cold edge to it, and spoke as though it had gone through years of disuse. “I mean…Paul could tell her.”
“No.” Theo snapped. “You know we can’t…” He stopped. “Someone’s there.”
The alley became quiet. One word was spoken by the third voice. “Mine.” I heard a rustle and a clattering of dustbins, before quietness took over the alley.
I stepped around the corner and into the alley. It was empty, deserted, nothing was out of place. You couldn’t tell there had been at least three people here, moments before. I say at least three; there could have easily been more that did not speak.
“I know you’re here.” I spoke loudly, with confidence, although I was scared of what I would see. Could I have imagined it all? Was my brother really alive?
I screamed and stepped back. The voice had been quick, cold, sharp. A man – he looked to be no older than 30 – dropped down in front of me, as if from nowhere. He was wearing a long, black leather coat, which spread out behind him as he crouched on the ground in front of me. His face was so pale; his eyes were so dark, darker than the eyes of the changeling from five years ago, that they seemed to hold no light at all. His hair was blond, slicked back, and if he didn’t look so terrifying, I would have thought he had an almost professional look about him.
He lunged forward, and as the streetlights lit up his face, I noticed two large fangs, coming from his mouth. As he came flying towards me, I noticed his mouth open. I stepped back, and tripped, landing on back. I sat up quickly and tried to scramble back, but only ended up against the alley wall.
Before he could reach me, I looked up, and saw a body come flying towards me from the balcony above my head. I screamed, and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I spotted the body’s boots meet with the monster’s head. The man flew back, slamming against the opposite wall and the other man – I could see by his body he was male – stood in front of me. He was taller than me, and I was quite tall for my age, and had his back to me. He seemed tense, his black hair stuck up everywhere, and his fists were clenched at his sides. He was dressed all in black, his shoulders high as he faced the monster. Until he spoke, I did not recognise him.
“Step back Marcus.”
“Theo?” I looked up, my eyes wide as I gazed on the back of Theo.
The blond man, although seeming older, shrank back from my brother and me. “I claimed her as my own, Theo.” He crouched now, legs bent and hands in front of him, looking very much like a frog. His black eyes gazed at my brother. “She is mine.”
“She is my sister.” Theo replied, as I squeezed myself, as small as I could, against the wall.
“No.” Marcus was shaking his head, as he looked ready to pounce. His black eyes glinting in the darkness. “No.” He laughed. “Your sister is blonde. She has blue eyes. You’ve described her enough for me to know. She has neither.”
It was true. In a copy of my brother’s own natural colour, I had dyed my hair black. With money I had saved up, I had brought coloured contacts – purple. Although I was pleased with my new appearance, I couldn’t help but see it as a failed attempt to catch my parent’s attention.
When I was younger, before my mother’s miscarriage, my father had often commented on my ‘beautiful’ blonde hair and ‘pretty’ blue eyes. When I’d come home with excellent grades last term, my parents did not care. It was all ‘Tim is doing so well’ and ‘just look at Tim’, although he was often a spoiled brat, and was normally a little devil. Therefore, I decided to do something about it. I had permanently changed my blonde hair to black, and my pretty blue eyes now looked purple.
My parents hadn’t noticed.
“You don’t think I wouldn’t recognise my own sister?” Theo questioned, stepping forward. “Paul.” He barked.
From a balcony opposite me, I saw a dark shape leap down and over it. He walked past Marcus, past Theo, and bent down next to me. “You OK?” Paul asked, and I nodded.
“Theo!” I cried, watching him carefully.
“You will not steal my prey again!” Marcus barked. He leapt towards my brother. Theo was in the air, flying towards Marcus. Marcus had pounced, and the two met in the air and fell to the ground, fighting.
“Theo!” I screamed, and pushed my self up. I felt Paul grip my arm and begin to pull me away. “Paul let go! Theo!” I tried to struggle, but Paul dragged me out of the alley, down the streets, and towards my home.
“Shadow, stop it!” He said. “Leave it, OK? There’s no point…” He stopped, as I collapsed onto a bench and began crying. “Oh Shadow.” He sat next to me, and rested his hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry…”
“My brother…he’s alive.” I choked out through my sobs, lifting my eyes to meet Paul’s. “And you…you knew! Every time I broke down in the Library…because of Theo you…you just sat there and watched!” I frowned, my eyes narrowed. “You just sat there as I cried for my brother! Do you realise what I was thinking?” My voice was growing steadily louder as I spoke. “I asked you…I said what if he was being tortured? What if he was hurt? What if! What if! What if! You knew! Why didn’t you tell me?” I stood up, now almost screaming as I gazed at the sixteen year old in front of me. He looked away. “I thought you were my friend!” I went to hit him, but his reflexes were quick. He caught my arm and stood up.
“Hitting me won’t help.” He muttered, letting go of my hand. His hands went into his pockets, and he looked away. “I’m sorry Shadow, but I couldn’t tell you, I couldn’t!”
“You basted!” I yelled, and threw my hands towards his chest. He caught both of them, and sighing, held them tightly as I began to sob again, finally falling towards him. He caught me, and let me cry on his shoulder. “I…he’s alive…he’s really alive…”
I fell back onto the bench, and Paul looked around nervously. “Shadow, listen to me. Theo is…he’s not alive. But…he’s not dead, either. Look, its better if you just try and forget tonight, OK?” He looked back at me, his eyes narrowed. “Go home, Shadow. Forget your brother; go back to thinking how you did before. Forget Marcus, forget Theo…”
“How could I?” I screamed it again, glaring at him. “How can I just forget that my brother is alive, even when I’ve been told time and time again he’s dead! Dead! When he’s not!”
“He is dead Shadow!” Paul yelled, frowning at me. “You insolent little girl! He’s part of the walking dead for Christ’s sakes! He’s dead Shadow! To you, your parents…to everyone! Forget him!” Paul turned, and walked off, his jacket blowing behind him in the wind, as he disappeared back towards the alley.
I didn’t care what he said. Theo was alive.
My brother should have been at home with me, or at least should have spoken to me.
Why hadn’t he?
I knew one thing for sure. I was going to find out. With or without Paul.