Sunday, February 19, 2017

TRIBUTE: A Lost Chapter of Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

('Tribute' takes place between Chapters 7-8 of Thorn Jack)

'Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles it is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?'     John Keats

   The book was called Wonder Tales from Antiquity. Phouka, who usually didn't like old things, who didn't like to dwell in the past, had found it in a bookshop in Detroit and fallen in love with its stories of Greek myths transformed into Victorian fairy tales.
   She sat on a windowsill of a Tirnagoth tower, her jeans and Dresden Dolls T-shirt sprinkled with pollen from the poppies she'd been eating. As she turned another page, she gazed down at a Rackham illustration of a tenuous girl dressed as Diana, goddess of the moon.
   A whisper of malice alerted her to an unwelcome presence in the candlelit corridor. She said, "Stop lurking."
   A young man appeared, his eyes sly beneath platinum hair. He leaned against the wall near the window. This evening, he'd opted for an elegant-thug look, all black beneath an overcoat. "Seth Lot scolded me. And it's all the fault of those school children."
   "They're nothing to worry about."
   Caliban's smile was a gash. "I'm thinking of paying a visit to the schoolgirl with the big eyes."
   "Then you're an idiot." Phouka rose. She set the picture book on the windowsill and turned and walked away.
   Caliban lifted the book and opened it to the illustration of  naked, bat-winged fairy. The caption read ARIEL. He curled up on the windowsill and began to read.
An hour later, Caliban stood in a yard, in the shadows of trees, gazing up at the lit window of Serafina Sullivan's bedroom. He enjoyed stalking, the idea that his prey didn't know he was there but sensed his presence because of an uneasiness, a chill in the air.
   "Why are you here, malevolence?"
   Jack's voice made Caliban reach for his knives.
   Jack crossed the yard swiftly and struck Caliban, slamming him against a tree.
   Caliban cursed. Jack glided back. Caliban slid into a crouch, his nails sinking into the earth. He no longer knew his place in Reiko's court. He was losing everything to the Jack. He tensed, to leap, to claw, to spill the Jack's insides all over the leaves.
   "You go near her again," Jack told him, a silhouette against the house, "and I'll take you to pieces."
   Caliban growled.
   "Boys." Another shadow parted from the night, auburn-haired and sleek, a stylish peril.
   "Phouka." Jack inclined his head.
   "Stop playing. Go away now. Reiko has sent me to watch her."
   "Why?" Caliban and Jack spoke at the same time.
   Phouka shrugged. "Who knows? I'm just to stand guard." She looked pointedly at Caliban.
   He slunk away. He heard Jack tell Phouka, "I'm not a threat to her."
   "Aren't you, Jack?" Phouka spoke with skepticism. "Scram."
   Jack glanced away from Finn's house and narrowed his eyes at Phouka. "What does Reiko want from her?"
   "Nothing, Jack. I'm doing this for you."
Two days later . . .
   Finn had become quite fond of the swing set in the backyard. She liked how her toes scarcely touched the ground as she swayed back and forth.
   She'd been ridiculous last night, believing Jack didn't have a heart. Of course he had a heart. She'd panicked.
   She began to sway, leaning back onto the swing as she grasped the chains, gazing up at the star-shimmering sky. She swung faster, until her feet were in the air and she felt as if she was flying--
   She swung down, forward--
   A shadow was standing directly before her.
   Finn yelped and slammed her sneakers down into the dirt. She jerked violently forward and met Phouka Fata's silver gaze.
   "Do you want to know more about my family?" Phouka invited. "Come with me."
   "I don't think so."
   Phouka held out an amulet on a thin chain. It glinted like a wink. "Wear this. Don't take it off. And come with me."
   Finn stood up. She touched what she wore beneath her T-shirt; the locket Jack had given her and the moth key on a silver chain. "I've enough jewelry."
   "I'm not playing a game, Finn Sullivan." Phouka's face had become a stern mask. "You know too much. You need to learn some things to keep safe."
   Finn began to back away.
   Phouka, clearly irritated, said, "You know about Jack's condition."
   Finn's breath hitched. 
   "You want to know, don't you?" Phouka still held out the amulet. It gleamed, rotating slowly. "Who we are?" She continued, "Christopher needs you."
   "He was convinced to bring a gift to new family members of ours. We need to pick him up."
   Finn checked her phone. And there it was, a text from Christie: STRANDED HERE. HELP. There was no address.
   She tried his cell phone number. No answer. She looked suspiciously at Phouka. "Who convinced him to run this errand?" She thought about all she knew concerning the Fatas, all the little hints of something other, and her pulse accelerated. "Where is he?"
   "Next town over. We'll get him, but I need you with me."
   "Again, who sent him on this errand?"
   "Someone who likes to cause mischief." Phouka's mouth tightened.
   Finn snatched the amulet from the other girl. It was a tree in a circle made of bronze. She carefully drew the chain over her head. "Let's go."
   Phouka stepped back. With a sweeping gesture, she indicated a silver Mercedes parked at the curb.
   Finn grimaced. She walked toward the Mercedes.
   Phouka was suddenly there before her, opening the passenger side door. Finn came up short.
   "Go on." Phouka jerked her head at the Mercedes. Her auburn hair, wound in knots, was the same flame-red as the car's leather interior. Finn ducked in.
   As Phouka slid behind the wheel and started the car, Finn asked, "Where are we going?"
   "To meet Christie."
   Finn was fed up with the Fatas and their word games. "I'll repeat myself: Where are we going?"
   "You sure do ask a lot of questions." Phouka steered the Mercedes onto the street.
   Finn had learned that causing frustration was one of the Fata family's secret weapons. She didn't speak again, gazing out the window as they left Fair Hollow's streets behind and curved onto the road into the mountains. After fifteen minutes of gazing at dark forest on either side, she couldn't keep silent. "Seriously, where--"
   Phouka made a sharp turn. Finn winced as she was jostled against the door. Then the Mercedes swerved onto a broken road. They passed a rusting sign, but Finn only caught WELCOME TO--because the rest was slathered in rust.
   They drove through an ugly neighborhood with flickering streetlights and boarded up houses and a bar on every corner.
   Phouka halted the Mercedes a foot away from a figure leaning against a black sedan. The figure turned. Finn's heart lurched.
   "Jack." Finn hunched her shoulders.

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