The Devil Hunters of Fawn Street’, Clark Lewis

Illustrations © 2021 Eric Asaris

“Survive, whatever it takes.

How long did I have to survive for? Would I ever be able to live without constantly trying to survive?”

—Sayaka Murata, Earthlings

 [ You shouldn’t smoke, © 2021 Eric Asaris ] So how was the funeral?

Tense? Boring? Did anyone cry?

Did anyone tell the truth?

No, no. I’m not judging you for going. I understand that feeling—needing to see, to know for sure. Even if it’s only an empty coffin. It’s better than nothing. If they gave up, if they really gave up, that means it’s over. It has to be.

And they did give up fast, didn’t they? Even I was surprised. Normally they drag this show on much longer.

Maybe they knew, deep down, even if they didn’t want to. Maybe they were relieved.

It’s an interesting way you look at me—don’t lie, I can read it in your eyes. That moment of doubt: if I’m not the worst thing yet.

But I know the way it goes, heart—

I know the way to the bottom.

It’s no pretty thing. You find it on your hands and knees, face mashed into the concrete, carpet, mattress—the cloying scents of cologne and rot in the air and puke in your throat, never quite rising. You find it scrambling with broken nails, bloody fingers, bloody lip, not thinking anything but to just get away, somewhere, anywhere. Or: you’re not thinking anything, numb and struck dumb and pulled taught as a wire. Frigid. You can’t move.

It’s all the same, in the end, though, isn’t it? That way you’re forced—down deep, down low. And believe me, it’s a long fucking way down.

Though you already know that, of course.

How shall we begin?

The rules, maybe? That’s a good place to start. Usually is.

Has anyone taught you this before? No?

Here is who may go devil hunting: the one who survived the sin, their siblings, their siblings in arms. You’ll know if they count. You’ll know it in your gut.

We do not find people—they find us. If they know what they want, if they’re of our sort, they know the way.

Get the job done. Always. It’s that simple.

But you want the story, don’t you? I understand perfectly. Are you interested in the details—shall I edit out the viscera? Shall I silence your ghosts, or let you keep them?

Well, regardless—

It will help, hopefully. That’s what it’s meant for—but it’s also another rule, I’m afraid. You have to hear it, before anything else, so that you can better make the choice. And then we can talk about why you really came here, and where it can go from there. Sound reasonable? You need to say yes, darling. I need to hear the word.

Yes. Good.

The girls come to me in the night. Witching hour. The first thing I hear is the tires, shrieking across wet dirt in the driveway—it’s a distinct sound. It belongs to those in a hurry, running from something, or to it. Then, the knock at the door.

I dismiss the rain right before I open it. It’ll come back, of course, but for the moment it makes it easier to see their faces. There are two of them—one standing strong, the other behind her shoulder, a little flighty. The first has dark curls and a wild storm in her eyes, an old faded scar on her chin—lightning against her darker skin—and gold-wire glasses perched on her nose. She was the one who brought them here—I can smell her fury, which she hides everything else behind. It’s heady. The second has red hair and freckles scattered across her sweaty face, her bottom lip caught between her teeth as she chews it bloody. Nervous, putrid tang.

“Welcome to the ranch,” I say. I have many names for the place, beyond the ones they use. I cycle them out. This is the one I like right now. It tastes like coiled rope and wind.

They both look familiar—high school girls, certainly—but it still takes me a moment to place them. The redhead is easier. I know her—or, I know her brother, but it’s almost the same thing when you’re working with twins who share a face. “Jenna Murphy,” I continue, and she squeaks. It takes me a little longer with the other one. I remember her with different glasses—big, thick plastic ones from when she was a kid. “Gabriella Montoya.”

“Ella,” she corrects firmly. “Can we come in?”

“Of course.”

Once she’s through the door, Ella shakes off her raincoat, and then elbows Jenna to do the same. “Jen,” she says sharply, when Jenna doesn’t move. I point at the bucket next to the door, and Ella chucks both coats in. They follow me into the living room. Taking a seat at the table, I light up a cigarette and wait. The girls stare at me.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” Jenna finally says, as if out of reflex of habit, and I exhale, nodding through the grey.

“You shouldn’t,” I agree, lingering on the you, “But the list of things that can hurt me are pretty limited, heart, and I don’t age, so I’m not particularly worried about my lungs. It’ll take a lot more than that to kill me.” Jury’s out on what could. Plenty of people would like to know—and so would I, sometimes.

“Secondhand smoke.” Jenna points out.

I grunt, but she has me there, so I stub out the butt of my cigarette on the empty plate next to me. “Fair enough. Now, what can I do for you?”

“We want to go hunting,” Ella says.

I snort. “Yeah, figured as much. Doubt you’re showing up for an evening of backgammon. So what little beast has gone and proved his worst this time?”

“Darrel Steege,” Ella says.

“Ah.” I know him more by name than anything else. Hell on wheels—boy on a bender, young and dumb and full of an unearned confidence that the world bends to him—but this is the first I’m hearing of this sort of thing. He’s their age—shares classes with them, probably—but I don’t think they’re hunting for their own sake. Their body language would be different. “Who?”

“My sister,” Ella hisses. “Mercedes. She’s barely twelve.”

A kid. I’m well used to all this, perhaps a little too much so, but my stomach still turns over itself in protest every time. The urge for another cigarette blooms, and I shove it down. It’s harder, for everyone, when a kid’s involved. A special hell.

“Okay, yeah,” I say. “That’s more than worth a hunt.” Ella looks slightly mollified by my ready agreement, but I can still read the excited energy in her, the brimming rage she can’t begin to know what to do with. I can count it in the rigid set of her shoulders, her creaking fists, the tilt of her chin. Further down: the hesitance, the unsure angle of her feet, her world’s propriety battling with her resolve. She wants so much. She’s afraid to demand it. She’s afraid of what it would mean. But she still does.

If I was younger and then some, newer, I’d look at her and think about how much she must love her sister, to feel all this pain, but I’ve seen my girls fight tooth and vicious nail for others they barely know—those that they hate, even. It’s a strange thing. I’d call it wondrous, if it wasn’t born out of something so heavy.

“Your sister doesn’t want to come?” I won’t take small children hunting, but twelve is scraping along old enough to where I feel like it won’t just fuck them up more.

“No.” Ella says it quickly, but there’s a change in her posture, a flicker in her eyes. She’s not good at subtle, this one. She didn’t ask. I say as much.

Ella puffs up. “She’s twelve. She shouldn’t have to deal with this shit.”

“No,” I agree. “But it’s not about should. It’s about the choice. She’s had enough autonomy taken away from her already.”

“I don’t want her to have to deal with this anymore! She’s terrified. She can’t sleep—she gets nightmares, panic attacks. She’s wetting the bed; she hasn’t done that since she was three. I can’t—I can deal with this. I’m allowed to go hunting in her stead. Sisters and sisters in arms, I was told.

“Technically,” Jenna says. “It’s siblings in arms.” It’s the first time she’s spoken since Ella brought up the hunt. I hunted with her brother last year, for the sake of a friend of his. It’s probably where these two got the idea. It’s all word of mouth in this business.

“She’s right,” I say. “Just because it’s more often women doesn’t mean we work in absolutes.”

I’ve found my quarry in all types. I got a girl once who had a bad habit of drugging her partners. I strung her up on high. She lived, barely. I check in from time to time to make sure she stays in line. It depends on what the client is after. Not for this one, though. Not when it comes to kids. There’s only one way that ends. I’ve got rules.

“God, okay, whatever.” Ella drags a hand down her face. “I still have the right to hunt in her place.”

“Sure,” I say, “I ain’t arguing that—just tell your sister first.”

“Please,” Jenna puts a hand on Ella’s arm to stop whatever frustrations were about to escape her mouth. “Please. Mercedes is still so traumatized she’ll hardly talk about it. She can barely process what happened. If we ask her, it could take days or weeks before she’s capable of reaching a decision. We don’t have that kind of time.”

I huff, picking up my snuffed cigarette and hopping off the table, heading for my kitchen. I never did get my dinner. “You in a special rush? Rain’s monstrous—isn’t exactly the night for it.” This is getting too messy too fast. Kid cases always are, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy the complications.

“There’s a wraith,” Jenna calls to my back and I stop, turn around, point my cigarette at her like a warning.

“You really should have lead with that.”

The girls blink wide when I usher them into the garage and pull the overhead light on. Pushing past, I head for my storage racks of supplies, looking for what I’ll need. I run my fingers over tools and treasures, mumbling considerations under my breath. This kind of thing works bigger than guns and knives, especially with weather like this. I’ll need a tarp, and rope. Chow would be a decent idea, if we’re dealing with a wraith. The freezer creaks when I heave the heavy door open, and I study its bowels, all the saved up little bits from over the years. They have their uses.

“Why the shit didn’t you tell me your sister’s gone wraith?” I ask, eyes still on my freezer. Wraiths are magic gone sideways. Trauma given form and gone nuclear, looking for an escape. Never an easy time to handle, and always a ticking clock.

Behind me, Ella grumbles. “It’s not my sister.”

So another victim. Great. Trauma, even secondhand, muddles our ability to tell a cohesive narrative, but still—would have been good to know.

The freezer door drops with a loud thud, and I shuffle the different packages in my arms. “Jenna, get me the bucket in the kitchen,” I say, then look back to Ella. “Then who?”

“My sister’s best friend. Isabel—um, Isabel Peters?” Something sad and distant crosses her face. “Izzy and Mercy, that’s what everyone calls them.”

“Great, another kid.” The younger a wraith is, the more volatile. Not her fault, but—trickier, for me.

Ella shrinks, burrowing between her shoulders and retreating into herself. She was a happy kid, not that long ago. She’d had braces that flashed when she smiled, but it was still a lovely thing. She’d smiled a lot, even the few times I’d been around, moving between the shadows of the ones that would never notice me, would never find their way here.

“Focus,” I say to Ella gently. I feel for her, but it’s going to be a long fucking night, and I need to know what’s happened so we can get moving. “Tell me about Isabel.”

Jenna and Ella share a look, both hesitating, but it’s Ella who opens her mouth, hand darting up to the back of her head, fingers carding nervously through the thick, black waves. “I knew about Isabel first, technically. My sister kept… phrasing everything in these hypotheticals outside of herself. What if a friend… that kind of thing. Asking for my advice. By the time I’d gotten the truth, Steege’s family had already dealt with Isabel’s—and then they dealt with mine.”

“Still can’t believe they paid everyone off,” Jenna mutters, finally pushing off the wall and fetching the bucket I asked for. She puts it in front of me, and I dump the frozen meat into it. “It’s so fucked up. Thought that shit only happened in movies.”

“Sometimes clichés are real.” I drag the bucket over to the sink, turning on the water. “This is a small island, and there’s a lot of money hidden inside it, money with deep roots. Things get handled internally.” But that’s what I’m here for, too.

“It’s just…” Jenna wraps her arms around herself, a forlorn tilt to her head. “All those years… he was always trouble, but I never thought he was this… messed up.” I squint at her wobbling chin. Their mothers are friends, aren’t they? All these kids grew up together.

“Why are you here, then?” I ask gently. I’d hardly condemn her for helping her friend, but this is a big ask.

Jenna looks away, careful. Oh so careful. “Just am.” Her face is fragile, but with a stubborn tilt to her jaw. I don’t press any further.

I gesture Ella forward and pass her the bucket with the meat and slopping water. “We should have seen it,” she says. “I should have seen it. He and everyone in his family can rot. They can’t just buy my sister’s consent after the fact.”

“Wasn’t on you,” I say, “And they’re twelve. They can’t consent.” I nod to the bucket. “That’ll defrost the meat. Put it in the back of your car.” Hopefully they were smart enough not to bring their own.

“It’s from off-island, the city,” Jenna says, as if on cue. “A friend of my brother’s hotwired it for me.”

“Just as long as it can’t be traced back to you.” I grab a tarp and rope and hit the garage opener. As the door creaks up, I whistle. “A pickup. That’ll make life easier. Good girls.”

Jenna opens up the back, and Ella pushes the bucket in. We load the rest of my supplies in heavy silence. We can’t afford any missteps tonight, if there’s a wraith out. Devil hunting is devil hunting—I’ve been at it long enough that even when things go sideways I can kick and wade my way upstream out of pure spite. I’ve never missed a target, and I’ve never lost a client. I don’t plan to start. But wraiths are another matter—a wraith means there is something here this night that is out for saving—and that’s not half as easy. I’ve lost wraiths before. They haunt me. Forgotten siblings I didn’t make it to in time.

“What state is Isabel in?” I ask quietly. “How long has the wraith been around?”

“She’s…” Jenna swallows nervously. “She’s in the hospital, a coma. Her parents are with her. She took some pills yesterday. If they hadn’t found her when they did…”

I grunt. It’s horrible, obviously—the kind of shatteringly unfair thing that makes one’s gut squirm and chest ache, body unable to fathom the wrongness of it all—but it’s not any less than I was expecting. Wraiths always mean dire straits, and this one has been through hell and come out the other side only to find no one cared about the bruises or bloody legs or the rips in the seams of her soul it took to claw through survival. Not surprising things went this far.

“The wraith showed up this afternoon,” Ella finishes. “She messed up a couple guy friends we know pretty bad. Broke one of their arms. She didn’t know any better, I know. A man’s a man to her right now. But it—I knew I was out of time to make a decision on this.”

“Yes,” I agree. “You were. So—” I lead the girls over to the cabinet, dig my keys out from the cord around my neck, caught under my shirt, and unlock it, peeling back the doors. “What do you want?”

Both the girls pale a little.

“I don’t like guns,” Jenna says faintly, but Ella rallies more quickly, shaking her head.

“I don’t either, but just for tonight, fuck that.” She pulls a hunting rifle off the rack, checks it over. Jenna remains frozen.

“I don’t like guns,” she says again, on autopilot.

I shrug. “All right. Then tonight you like axes. And—” I pull my quarry off a shelf, and pass them around. “Everyone likes knives.”

Ella takes hers with a strained look on her face, hand flexing nervously around the handle, but grip firm, and Jenna hesitates—selects hers with a tiny whine, staring down at it.

“…You don’t have to do this,” I say as quietly, calmly, as I know how. “You get that, right? This isn’t law, or some right of passage.” Almost every one of them is always nervous, a little unsure. In the back of their minds they want to know if they’re right. They pause and dither, waiting for some absolution I can’t offer them, some reprieve. It all comes down to whether the resolve can hold up—I can see that in Ella, she’ll handle herself, but—

“No,” says Jenna distantly—and then again, firmly, “No. I want to be here.”

She passes me back the axe, and I heft it over my shoulder. Someone’s taking it, even if it’s me. It’s goddamn useful.

“I—” Jenna stops, and starts again. “On second thought, I will take a gun.”

A relieved smile slips across Ella’s face when Jenna takes it off the rack, and I clap her on the back. “Then let’s go.”

The rain starts back up when we’re on the road out of my territory, thick and pelting. In the back of the truck, one hand clinging to the side and the other braced against the floor, foot wedged against the bucket on the other side of the bed to keep it from moving, I tilt my face up into the wind, let the water make its way down my skin and take root in my hair. I close my eyes, breathing in the cold night air, the crisp scent of the overturned dirt and the evergreen trees. I’m soaked to the bone, freezing my ass off, and it’s wonderful. I feel fully inhabited, flesh and bone, in some pounding, vicious, vengeful way.

(…Do you know that feeling? It’s like nothing else in this world. I cling to it, the memory of it, always. Find it, if you can. It will keep you alive.)

Most of the time, especially when everything is over and I must crawl back home and wash the guts and filth off, light up and put on the coffee and try and chase the tremble from my bones with nicotine and caffeine, the hunts feel too close together. You spend every day, every hour, praying that no one ever finds the way again, that no one comes knocking at your door, because that means it’s over—the world has moved on and it doesn’t need you anymore. It’s funny, isn’t it? That this is one of the few duties you can give your life to and just continually hope that it becomes obsolete. That you become obsolete.

God, to let the witch rest. To let her find something else to fight other than the stinking, rotten corpse of mankind and its barbarities.

But the hunts always come. It’s a lot—it will always be a lot. It will weigh heavy on you, and you’ve got to come to terms with that. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve curled up under the spray of a shower and wept for all the girls, the kids that didn’t make it, for myself, and the ways things seem to be getting worse than better. That’s never going to leave me.

It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes, on the nights like this one, when the sky is heavy with moisture and anticipation and the moon bright, and the wild scent of the island is in my lungs, I know I’m about to have a hand in some small reckoning, some tiny twist of the knife, and I think: finally.

As we drive, Jenna cracks open the window to the front of the truck, leaning into it. “Are you sure you can track him? He’s not at his house. His parents packed him up and went somewhere else once word got round at school.”

“If he’s on the island, I’ll find him.” I say firmly. “If he’s not, it might get a little more complicated, since that ain’t my stretch of land, but I’ll find him all the same. You got the token?”

Jenna extracts a dirty sweater from her bag, passes it through the window. “We got it from his gym locker. Locks aren’t that sturdy. Will it work?”

“Yes,” I say, and take it in hand, holding it to my face and wrinkling my nose at the stench of sweat and iron, distinct and all devil. Nasty, but useful—I focus on the scent, and then turn my attention to the wind whipping by, the whispers of the island. Breathe in deep, sort and filter. Find the trail. A million lives running by—bats in the trees and ants underfoot and humans, beautiful, horrible, complicated humans, everywhere—but I’m looking for something specific.

I catch him, and open my eyes. “Left,” I say, and Jenna relays the instructions to Ella, who yanks the wheel sharply onto the next available dirt path.

The girls grow quiet when we get close to the house. It’s on the water, looks like a rental, but still fairly fancied up. I’m almost impressed at the balls it would take to stay here—on the island where it happened, on my island—but it seems humans never learn. They’re not the first parents to live in denial about what their child is, or about what’s coming for him.

I instruct Ella to pull the car over at the top of the long, weaving driveway. Far away enough that our faces won’t be visible should someone wake. Once we’re parked, the girls just sit there, each fidgeting nervously in turn. Ella’s eyes are flinty, her face sickly wan. Jenna’s forming sweat stains on her shirt.

“What about the wraith?” Jenna asks quietly.

“Your boy first,” I say, and swing out of the back of the truck. “Make room up there. I’m going to need somewhere dry for this part.” The girls shuffle over obligingly, and I get inside. “You brought what I need?”

“Yeah.” Ella ducks down, searching through her bag. “Jenna’s brother told us.” She fishes out a plastic baggie housing locks of dark hair, and a tiny china horse fit for a young child.

“Good.” Wiping my hands dry on the sides of the car seat and rolling up my sleeves, I take both from her. Neatly and firmly, I smash the china figurine on the top of the dashboard and dump the snippet of hair overtop the shards. It sizzles where it falls, breaking down the shards even further. The girls hiss when I rake my fingers between my breasts, digging into well-worn scabs and coming up with red under my nails. I turn my hand over the pile, let the blood drip down, and repeat the process until there’s enough.

“Jesus,” Ella mumbles as I stir the mixture with a finger.

“Oh, he has nothing to do with this,” I say, and Jenna giggles sharply. Too loud, too high.

I tilt my head as I observe my work, checking it over. Devil’s spell. A piece of her that has survived, a piece of who she was before he took that from her, and a piece of someone who has dedicated every scrap of flesh to the hunt until the last.

Next to me, the girls are arguing in whispers as they try to puzzle it out for themselves. Ella elbows Jenna. “It’s magic. Don’t question it.”

“It’s poetic justice,” I say, and when they stare blankly at me, I shrug. “That was a joke.”

The window creaks when I roll it down, and I scoop the mixture up in my palms, leaning out the side of the car and cupping my hands to my face. The wind helps me along as I blow out over it, and the sticky paste of sharp shards and sodden hair turns to a fine powder as it rolls past my fingertips. I duck back into the car and we watch the particles, shining silver, float by and down to the house. “Now we wait.”

The rain punctuates the silence as we sit, thundering down onto the windshield and roof. It sits at an odd tempo with Ella’s anxiously drumming fingers on the wheel, her hunched frame. Jenna sits between us, squashed onto the seat-divider, with her tense hands curled up in her lap, staring out towards the house morosely. I lean back in my seat, crossing my arms and closing my eyes.

“…I don’t even like my sister,” Ella blurts out, breaking through the white noise, and I crack an eye open. She looks half-sick, chin resting on the wheel and teeth worrying at her lip as she stares out. The shadows under her eyes are more distinct in the gloom, somehow, and I wonder how long it’s been since she’s slept a full night. “I don’t. Not really. She can be such a brat. Most of the time I fucking hate her.

“But when I heard what he did to her—I wanted him dead. I wanted to rip him open and gut him, tear him apart slowly, for hurting her.” She snorts tiredly. “So—I guess that’s something.”

“Ella…” Jenna says, carefully. “You—” She stops. “Oh my God.”


Jenna leans forward with a sudden urgency, bracing herself against the dashboard, and points. “It’s Steege.”

We look down the driveway to see the boy stumbling out his front door. Tripping over his own feet, he makes his ambling way towards our car. We can’t see his face at first, but when he comes closer it becomes easier to make out his closed eyes, slack mouth, the sprinkle of silver over his nose and brow.

“Magic,” Ella mumbles.

“All right,” I say, “Everyone out.” With some nudging, the girls pile out of the car, and we all stand to its side as Steege stumbles up to us. I cast an eye to the girls, studying Ella’s tight shoulders, the hatred in her scowl, and Jenna’s nervously intertwined fingers that do nothing to disguise the disgusted slant of her mouth.

“What do we do with him?” Jenna whispers, cupping a hand over her mouth and leaning into Ella’s side.

“We take him, duh,” Ella says.

“But what if we wakes up?”

Ella doesn’t answer. Then, with sudden hurry, she steps forward, fist swinging hard at Steege’s face. They collide with a sharp crack, and down he goes, hitting the paved road.

“…Now he won’t,” Ella says. Her voice shakes, but she’s smiling grimly as she shakes her hand out, knuckles red.

I nod. “Let’s get him in the truck.”

We take the high, winding road over the crest of the island, where the trees are thick and the houses are few—faint black shapes with the occasional flickering light in the gloom.

(You know that road, yes? Sometimes the way here is on that road—on the left, next to a big, half-dead blackberry bush strangling some old cherry trees—and you can find it under the right moon.)

I’m back in the bed of the truck, with Steege a slack lump at my feet. When we turn sharp corners, his body slides from one end of the bed to another, slamming none too gently into the wall. I could stabilize him—brace him with my feet or something. I don’t.

Jenna raps on the window before sliding it open once more, and I duck my head through. “I know you said we needed to get moving, but it’d help a bit to know where we’re going.”

“The wraith,” I say. “We’ve got her cure, so now we’re just in the business of finding her.”

“You can’t track her the same way you did him—if we get you something of hers?”

I shake my head. “It doesn’t work that way. He’s a physical thing—I can find him by scent. He—well, he reeks, and he reeks hard of all that he’s done. But wraiths aren’t… they’re—something else.”

“So how do we find her?” Ella calls back.

“Where did Steege assault Isabel and your sister?” I ask Ella, and she makes a face.

“Is that where she’s gone? Seriously?”

“Most likely bet. She’s stuck in a loop. She’d almost certainly be there.” That’s what wraiths do, after all. They live it out over and over, that day of death. They look for a different ending they’ll never find.

Ella nibbles her bottom lip in thought, fingers drumming on the wheel. “Mercedes said… the park by the woods. Steege saw them walking home from school, offered them a ride—she thought it would be fine, he’d driven them before, bastard—but. He took them there instead.”

I consider it. Wraiths like woods, as much as wraiths really like anything. “Yes. Go.”

Ella nods, speeds up, and Jenna gives me an unreadable look, before asking, quietly, “What’s going to happen to Isabel? Will she be okay?” There’s a quiver in her voice that betrays her concern. I watch her carefully.

There’s a cost to being the expert in this situation. I know I can tell lies, and the girls will believe me. I can tell them that everything will be fine, and they’ll have to take that as gospel.

But I’m not one for false hope—no devil hunter is. You have to be willing to work with reality to survive what we do. It’s the little truths that make the whole mess of what we are more stomachable, as are the cruel, horrible facts that explain why we must exist. I cannot promise these girls that Isabel will be fine any more than I can promise them that what they are doing tonight will undo the damage done to themselves and Ella’s sister. It just doesn’t work that way.

But that’s not why we do this. We do this in the hopes that this particular devil will never rear its ugly head again, that a few girls might sleep more peacefully at night for knowing his absence. That a wraith can break her loop, can go home. Can have a chance, if only a chance.

“Depends on what—” she starts to ask, before Ella hisses out a curse and slams her foot on the brake. Jenna flies forward with a yelp, seatbelt saving her, and I crash painfully, shoulders catching in the window frame and the pile of junk in the bed of the truck slamming into my legs.

“Jesus, Ella,” Jenna hisses. “What the hell?”

“The road’s out!” Ella says defensively, gesturing ahead of her. “Flash flood warning. There’s no way to go around the roadblock without breaking it.”

“No.” I shake my head. There’s a crack when I stretch my arms, but nothing feels broken. “We’ll have to turn back.”

“Right,” Ella says, going to put the car in gear, and I hear a thumping noise as something tumbles out of the bed of the truck, followed by a mess of sloshing and panting. When I turn around, Steege is out of the car and stumbling along the road. I curse loudly, and when Steege looks over his shoulder and sees me, his eyes widen and he runs faster.

“We’ve got a runner,” I say, and bemoan the fact that I somehow didn’t notice he’d woken up as Ella and Jenna look in the rearview mirror.

“Fuck,” Jenna says, with feeling. “Do you need a gun?”

“Might do.” I watch Steege slip and swear his way down the road. “Pass me one. I’ll see if I can get a clear shot through the rain. I’d rather not go chasing after him and get mud all up my pants before I have to.”

Jenna hands me the gun, and I line it up. Eye to the scope. Breathe in, out. Tell yourself this means something. Tell yourself you cannot let him get away.

I shoot, and miss, narrowly. Mostly because he trips in a puddle and takes a sudden knee, before he’s up again. I grumble, reposition the rifle. I can’t have him reaching a house.

“…Oh fuck this,” Ella says, and puts the car in reverse, hooking her arm over the back of the seat and peering out over her shoulder. The car shoots down the road, tires squealing in the sludge, and I brace myself right before it collides with Steege with a thick, meaty crunch. Jenna flinches as he goes down, but nobody makes a sound. Ella hits the brakes, and the car squeals to a stop as something bumps under the wheels down below.

“Oh my god,” Jenna says, a faint, panicky awe in her voice. “Oh my god, Ella, you just ran Steege over with a car. Holy shit.”

“Yeah, and I’ll do it again if I need to,” Ella’s face is white, but set in stone, fingers tightening on the wheel.

“Let’s just hope you haven’t killed him yet,” I say, and hop out of the back. Jenna follows after and hovers behind me as I crouch down and peer below the car. There’s a muddy, humanoid lump between the wheels, and when I grab a stick off the ground and prod him, he groans. “Oh, good. Alive.”

Jenna and I drag him out from under the car, and when we get him out he squirms slightly on the ground, somehow still conscious. He whimpers, and I roll my eyes. “Hold him still. Gonna make sure he can’t run off again.” Jenna nods, and while there’s been anxiety buzzing in her frame all night long, that’s finally gone when she plants a boot on his neck with purpose. There’s morbid fascination in her expression, something cold.

Steege wheezes under her, eyes bulging, as I dig in the back for some duct tape and then stoop to tie up his hands and feet. “…Jenna?” he croaks feebly, sounding entirely confused. Concussed, probably, if not sporting fractures. “What—”

“Oh, shut up, Steege,” Jenna says.

Steege’s eyes finally track to me, and a new and particular terror passes over his face. I smile sharply for him. Fangs out.

Men like him can never find the way to me and my kind, our doors will never be open for them, but they know what we are when they see us. They know what retribution looks like when it stares them in the eye.

That’s about when it seems to kick in for him that what’s happening is real and not all some strange, painful dream—and he opens his mouth and starts screaming. Loud, terrified, throaty screams—the kind a man would never cop to, especially as being caused by a woman.

“Oh, none of that,” I sigh, and pull a strip of duct tape from the roll around my wrist, sealing it over his mouth. “You’ll wake up the whole damn island.”

“Back in the truck?” Jenna asks.

“One last thing,” I say. “He could still get loose, and I have no fucking interest in chasing after him again.” I get my rifle out of the truck, and aim it at Steege’s ankle. The girls’ eyes are wide, but neither of them looks away when the shot rings out.

 [ The metal pieces of the park, © 2021 Eric Asaris ] The metal pieces of the park, swings and slides, flash in the moonlight when we arrive.

(It’s one of the oldest things around here, did you know that? Old enough that even I can remember playing on it, in a life long gone. Back when I had no needs for guns and knives, and I had a name that fit in my mouth, its syllables well shaped and whole.)

Ella pulls up at the side of the road closest to the trees, and we clamber out. Popping the door to the bed, I slide the meat bucket to Jenna, and then Ella and I heave Steege out of the truck. He moans garbled words around the tape, and stumbles between us, hopping to stay off his broken ankle. The rain washes away the sluggishly drooling blood quickly, but it can’t erase the red stains on his sleeping pants or the swelling and bruising of his skin.

We drag him past the tree line to a small clearing and then dump him on the ground. Ella stoops, bracing her hands on her knees, and we both breathe heavily. Jenna stumbles into the clearing behind us, lugging the bucket and with the tarp tucked under her arm. We go to help her, relieving her of her burdens, and when we turn back, Steege is wriggling pathetically away.

Ella sighs. “Getting real sick of this shit, Steege,” she says, and grabs him by the tape around his ankles, yanking him back into the center of the clearing. Planting a foot on his chest to stop him from moving, she looks him over with narrowed, considering eyes, fingers fidgeting over the hunting knife that sits tucked through her belt.

Jenna, though, doesn’t move from where she stands next to me—watching Ella and Steege with an unreadable expression.

“It’s still not too late to walk away,” I remind her softly. “You don’t have to do this.”

“It’s not that,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s just—it feels so wrong to want this. I’ve known him my whole life. But I still—I fucking hate him so much, knowing I grew up with him, played with him, sat in the same classes as him, and all that time this was inside him. I hate him and I want to hurt him so badly, and knowing that—that violence is inside me is…”

“Frightening?” I ask, and she nods, wiping at her cheeks. I don’t have the heart to remind her no one can see her tears through the rain. “I understand.”

And I do. I really, truly do.

“…He was my date,” Jenna says quietly, too quiet for Ella to hear. “For homecoming, sophomore year. I threw out the dress.”

I close my eyes. Ah.

“I’m not going to tell you this is right, Jenna,” I say carefully. “It’s not… I can’t just decide that for you. This isn’t for everyone. And it’s not pretty.” I shrug when she looks at me, because, well—that’s the truth of it. “But this does not make you and him the same. At all.”

“I feel like it does. Like it makes me—”

“A monster?”


“There are different kinds of monsters,” I say.

I have known monsters. I’ve hunted demons and devils, lived as a feral little thing desperate for the blood of the shadows under my bed. I have ripped into the flesh of those who took what was not theirs with my bare teeth and pulled them apart by each snapping rib with my claws.

I am a monster, and I am not like these girls, but I am not like him, either.

“Are we killing this guy or not?” Ella calls to us loudly.

Jenna startles, taking a deep breath and curling her hands into fists. “Yes,” she says firmly. “We are.”

I spread out the tarp, and the girls pull Steege back to his feet again, before pushing him onto it. The tarp does little to soften the blow of the ground, and Steege groans as he hits it. There’s mud scattered across his face, and the rain washes it into small rivers across his skin and into the matted corners of the duct tape on his mouth.

Ella eyes him carefully.

“We’ll need a little blood going,” I say. “For the wraith.”

“Right,” Ella says, shaking her head. “Right, I can do that.” She straightens herself up, fiddles with her knife, raises it up between her hands. The moonlight catches on the pose like a portrait, a story told, and Ella stays there, looking to play her part.

The knife shakes, and shakes, caught between trembling fingers, and she doesn’t move.

“Fuck,” she whispers, and the actress in her cracks, slinking low beneath the girl—the vulnerable, terrified, heartbroken sixteen-year-old girl, who has watched her sister lose childhood entirely too fast, and is having to grow up herself here, now, in a vicious kind of way. She sinks into a crouch, bracing her elbows on her knees, her forehead against the hilt of the knife. “God dammit, Steege,” she whispers, and I touch her shoulder. Tell her with my eyes everything Jenna already knows—you don’t have to do this. You can walk away, go get in the car.

Swearing softly, Ella leans forward, rips the tape off Steege’s mouth.

“Oh god, Ella, please—”

“Oh fuck off, Steege,” Ella says miserably, hilt of the knife back against her skin, pressing hard. She closes her eyes. “You’re a fucking rapist.”

“I’m—s-so what, you’re going to fucking kill me?” His words are slurred through the pain, but adrenaline pushes him on, desperate. “What the hell, Ella?”

“Yeah,” Ella says, mouth tight. So much grief. “Yeah.”

Jenna makes her way closer, and he turns to her, pleading. “Jenna, come on, come on, we’re practically cousins.”

Something complicated, a little broken and a lot furious, shutters across Jenna’s face, before she goes utterly still. “You hurt those girls,” she says quietly. “Those little girls. They were little girls, Steege.”

“It’s not—Jesus Christ, I didn’t hurt them! We were just—it was fucking fooling around, a goddamn joke, it’s not a big deal—”

“Not a big deal?” Ella’s voice is blank. Her eyes open, and she hisses out a breath, slow and measured. “Not a big deal? You raped my sister, Steege! You—” her words escape her, and a hand comes free from the knife, fisting in her rain-soaked hair and pulling.

“She’s twelve,” Ella chokes out. “She was a fucking kid, and you hurt her, so fucking badly. You took something from her she’ll never, ever get back. And you know that, you had to have known that, Steege, why would you—” A half-screech, a wounded animal sound, escapes her mouth, and the hand in her hair falls, punches the ground near Steege’s head as he flinches away. The knife flashes, finally pointed directly between his eyes. “So now I’m going to take, and no one’s coming to help you, just like no one helped her.”

Steege recoils, fresh desperation winning out over the moment of indignation, and his eyes quickly slide back to Jenna. “Jen—”

Jenna cocks her head. “Known Mercedes and Isabel my whole life. Practically cousins,” she says flatly, turning his words back on him. “Come on, Steege.”

Steege finally faces me with a half-feverish look. His lips are a bloody smear of cracks and rips, and dark marks are starting to creep up his arms from how hard he’s strained against his bonds. I can still smell the gunpowder from the bullet I put in his ankle, but it does little to rid him of his stink. “Huntress!” Steege cries. “Huntress, please!”

“Oh piglet,” I say patiently, and take a step forward, crouching down and smiling my nicest smile. Men like him always want their girls to smile. “There’s no point going down that road. I’ve seen many a sight better at this act than you are.”

Steege whimpers, before the shouting begins, as if on cue: “Help! Someone help me! They’re going to—” Jenna slaps the tape back over his mouth.

There’s a rustle in the bushes, and I turn, studying the tree line. The wraith. She’s here. “I’m serious about that blood,” I say, and the girls nod.


“Just don’t kill him.” I pick up the meat bucket. “I’ll be back. I’m going to find Isabel.”

The trees part for me, and I make my way further into the dark.

The meat hits the ground in thick chunks as I walk, fished out from my bucket. They’re defrosted by now, more or less, and reek of devil as I drop them. I can hear her moving through the trees, drawn by the scent. It’s not what she’s searching for—that’s back the way I came—but this is a good way of calling her out, letting her know I deal in the things she needs. I whistle as I go, a low, slow tune someone I knew long ago taught me. It’s important to be calm, to assuage her panic. A wraith will find no threat in my kind.

I keep moving even after I’ve dumped the last of the meat, and eventually I feel a touch at my back, a strong puff of air, and I stop. “Isabel,” I say, and I can feel her tense up behind me. “It’s okay,” I say quietly. “It’s okay, I’m here to help you. I’m a friend.” I raise my hands and turn slowly, pivoting on my heel.

“Oh,” I say, once I set my eyes on her. “Oh, hello, lovely.”

It’s hard to explain what a wraith looks like to someone who’s never seen one. You have to see it yourself to fully understand it.

Picture them as a manifestation, an embodiment, of a specific kind of pain—a fury, a shame. They look like a feeling you know inescapably, buried deep and low in your chest, when you’ve been forced all the way down to the bottom.

It’s old, old magic, not unlike what I do. Wraiths are what happens when someone who has been hurt in that specific, terrible way finds no place to put all that feeling, and it boils over, spills out. Not everyone can go down that path—for better or for worse.

Mostly, if I had to offer a comparison… think of a wraith as like a young deer, on staggering, unsure legs, and with the most specific, unforgettable eyes. Always cast in shadow, and with every step, every movement, its every particle sings with a certain kind of grief.

They are terrible to look at, and they are beautiful.

A hand on her side, I lead her back through the forest. I am gentle as I can be, crooning and whispering words of encouragement, of understanding. I have handled many like her before and have walked in her steps. I know the way.

We can both smell the blood as we get closer, and she perks up. I whistle sharply to give the girls some warning, and then we come into the clearing. Steege is spread out on the tarp, red bubbling from cuts up and down his chest just as fast as the rain washes it away. Jenna’s face goes slack in disbelief when she sees the wraith, but Ella has enough common sense to grab her by the arm and back them both up, knife slipping out of her hand.

Steege stares at us as we approach, no longer able to scream, no longer able to do anything but gag on his own blood and vomit, but the fear in his eyes—something he has never tasted in his life, but all of us have grown up knowing so well—it is clear, and it is delicious.

You know the rest of this part, right? I don’t need to tell you any more. You remember how it goes.

What was it like, eating the heart right out from him?

Don’t look at me like that. It’s just a question.

…I never said I was a nice person, you know? I never said I was good.

I never said this was justice, that this is the solution. I never said this works for everyone. I never said it’s the path of the best, or the bravest. Only that it’s mine.

But what else would you do, when the world is this way? When nobody looks and so few care. When the devil always slips between loose fingers and does it again, and again, and again.

Revenge fantasy. Sure. For the record, fuck whoever taught you that phrase. I’m going to guess it was a man.

Just—was it good? I hope it was good. I hope it helped.

I hope, for what it’s worth, it made you feel a tiny bit more whole, a little more like the world can go on. That you can go on.

I really do hope that.

We dump what’s left of him in the river, trusting it to cart him out to sea. The girls are quiet on the drive back, for a long time, until Jenna says, “The wraith… she just vanished after it was done. Does that mean Isabel will wake up?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “We have to wait and see.”

“But there’s a chance?”

“Yes,” I say, and she relaxes, just a little.

Ella, then, speaks. “You know… I’m just realizing, we never asked what your name is. Jenna’s brother never told us.”

I shrug, tilting my face up to the waning night sky, still slung out in the bed of the truck. “It’s not like you really need to know.”

“Yeah, but—” Ella glances at me in the rearview mirror. “I mean… you just helped us murder a guy?” At that, Jenna laughs—high and frightened, but with a touch of relief. “I kind of feel like that warrants us at least having a name to call you by.”

I grunt and close my eyes. Fair enough. “…Bet. You can call me Bet.”

“Bet,” Jenna says thoughtfully. “Is that short for Betty?”



“No more questions.” I say tiredly. “Enough questions.”

The girls fall silent, but when I crack an eye open, their faces are calm.

We drop Ella home first. It’s not day yet, but the darkness has let up enough to see better, and as I switch into the front of the truck, Jenna and I watch her stagger down her driveway. The door opens, and a head of similarly dark curls, pulled into two messy braids, pops out. Mercedes. I watch the way her eyes widen when she sees her sister, the state she’s in, and how she staggers out to meet her. Ella wraps her arms around her and presses her head close to her chest with the back of her hand, ducking her face down into Mercedes’s curls. The girls sob, the both of them, and fall—a collapsed, grieving, messy puddle of limbs on the concrete.

“Will they be okay?” Jenna whispers.

I wonder what okay is—that this brings them closer together? That things go back to normal, somehow, as much as possible? “I don’t know,” I say again, because that’s the truth of it. “I don’t know.”

When we get back to my home, the only one on its street—the only one you will ever find, traveling this way—we unpack in silence, dumping the guns and knives, the bucket, the shovel and tarp, into the garage. I drag the hose out, and we wash down the truck thoroughly, scrubbed clean. After, I push Jenna into my shower, and once she has a change of clean clothes on, I let her clamber back into the truck.

“You know how this works, right?” I say. “You get caught, I was never there.”

“I know,” she says.

“Good.” I study her, the pale flush of her skin, the dark lines of her eyelashes. She and her brother really are identical. “Tell your brother hello.” He used to come around, to visit. For a while. And then he didn’t. He moved on, and how can I be angry, when that’s exactly what I’m here for? I knew what the job entailed.

“…Thanks,” Jenna says, and that’s all—just one last awkward smile from her, and then the idle rumble of the pickup as it drives off, fading from view, into the rising light.

I waited for you, after that.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but I knew if you could, you’d come. You can say a girl like me knows her own.

And yes—now I have told you what I needed to say. Thank you for listening. Even with the interruptions.

Hey, like I said. I enjoy the pushback. It’s been a while, truly.

I was given a story a lot like the one I just gave to you, once.

It was told to me by someone who gave up her name in exchange for other gifts. They are not easy gifts to bear—but they give you a chance. Just a small one, but still. Even a small chance is worth a lot.

And then she offered me a bargain, old magic. The same one I am offering you.

I was told this: I don’t know if the things we do are good, are right. They probably aren’t. But humans are not particularly good, often times, either. No one but our own will protect us, will free us, and until the world corrects itself, we are needed. When the devil comes knocking, there is no right or wrong. There is survival.

So: Hello. My name was Beatrice, once.

I know the way down to the bottom. Deep and dark and low.

So do you. But the only one who can make you walk this particular path in front of you is yourself. That’s your choice. There’s always a choice.

Welcome to Fawn Street.

Will you stay?

© 2021 Clark Lewis

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