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Afterimage - Monique Excerpt

All three of these people were dead now. Their bodies decomposing and disappearing. The photos—inaccurate snapshots of unknowable lives—had lasted longer than any of them, and even they would one day be dust. Monique saw no reason not to hurry the decay along. She picked each photo out of their frames, placed them in the fireplace, and turned the gas nozzle. The faux logs of the fireplace erupted in flame, which curled around the photos, darkened their edges, and punched a hole through each center. The photos dripped down the logs in a stew of ash and melted chemicals.

Monique also noted a single mirror hanging on an otherwise empty wall.

Monique had not taken the opportunity to inspect her appearance since she had emerged from the prison. Vampires were not invisible in mirrors as humans were led to believe. Her image was captured fully, to every last pimple and eyelash, only showing her as she was one second in the past. Monique did not understand why—she suspected it had to do with her eternal youthfulness, the age she would always look but would never again embody—every expression she displayed and every motion she made would be seen out of sync in a mirror. This led anyone else looking at that mirror image to realize something was off.

If that wasn’t enough, sunlight reflected by a mirror is still as harmful as it is direct, so as a general vampire rule, mirrors were to be avoided.

At midnight in a house of monsters, Monique had nothing to worry from this mirror. She stepped up and examined the contours of her face. The blood of her victim had healed her wounds and the quick scrub before dinner took off most of the blood that had covered her face, but the edges and nooks still showed dried redness that needed a deeper clean. Vitality had returned to her hair, and so had the natural color. Monique fingered through her dark black top and imagined going back to the ombré coloring or trying something else. Perhaps she would keep her natural color for a while.

Monique lifted her fingers from her hair ran them down the border of the mirror. Reaching the bottom corner, she nudged the mirror to the side. The safe was not behind this mirror.

As she guided it back into place, Monique’s awareness kicked into high gear.

She was being watched. She couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but she sensed eyes studying her; highlighting her strengths and probing her weaknesses. The eyes saw her as a threat and they wanted to find the best way to bring her down.

“I hope you’re not planning to watch me all night,” Monique said, scanning the room for the voyeur. “I can’t imagine what you’d be so afraid of.”

Kara materialized in the doorway.

“I’m not afraid of you.”

While Monique appreciated Kara’s attempt to sound confident, she shuddered from the weak delivery.

Monique hadn’t asked whether she frightened Kara. She asked what frightened her. As a ghost, Kara had no physical boundaries, but her moral boundaries were tight and well-drawn. Monique couldn’t remember when she started expanding her own morals, but she had no doubt that it began before she became a vampire.

There was very little that frightened Monique, and she was brave enough to admit it.

“Don’t be a fool. We’ve known each other for less than a day. I’ve already planned how I will destroy each one of you if you ever give me a reason.”

“That’s some team spirit you have.”

“I never said I wanted to be part of your merry band. Chasing mothmen and ordögs is not my idea of a pastime.”

“Well, killing people is not my idea of a pastime.”

Monique turned back to the mirror, watching herself make the movement a second later. Kara could also be seen in the mirror, but she was featureless. A brilliant specter of reflected light.

Kara could never truly see Monique. She would never see through the image in the mirror. Monique was not her past, and she would never let herself worry about her future. Every human generation has warned the next to appreciate their time on the Earth and every generation to come had failed to heed that warning. Death brought Monique clarity, and immortality brought her conviction.

“You came here to uncover some dark secret about me, so let me tell you everything you need to know. When I am hungry, I eat. When I am thirsty, I drink. When I’m happy, I dance. When I’m horny, I have sex. But most important of all, when I am wronged, I seek justice. It’s that simple. I’m that simple. And I don’t really care if you can’t understand. I’ll be the one sleeping soundly in her bed tonight.

“Every life is fragile, but that does not mean every life is precious. If you want to survive as long as I have, you’ll need to recognize the difference.”

“My survival no longer requires the same attention as others.”

“I suppose not,” Monique said, satisfied in her greater understanding of the ghost. “These monsters you love to rescue people from, they won’t just go back under the bed, and more will keep crawling out. In all shapes and sizes. With faces you won’t like.

“Your brother has the courage to see these monsters for what they are, so I wonder, still, what you are so afraid of.”

“You may be right about the monsters. You’ve certainly seen more than I ever could. But that doesn’t make your response the appropriate response.”

“So step forward or step aside. Monsters don’t cower from the meek.”

Monique saw her words injure Kara, but she couldn’t tell if the pain came from the suggestion or the accusation.

“I lost one of my best friends today. Like you, he was abducted and tortured. He was murdered. He deserved justice. What you did to his killer may have satisfied your vengeance, but it denied his justice. It denied the justice of dozens of other young men. I came here hoping to see that they were more than collateral damage to you.”

Monique nearly responded that she was pleased to disappoint Kara before she was drawn back to her conversation with the doctor while strapped to the surgical table. That doctor gave no apologies for her actions, just as Monique was set on doing for Kara. The ghost grieved for every loss that had occurred. Even the doctor. She did not need a lesson in self-assurance. She needed someone to share her pain. Someone who could help her with the burden. Someone other than Monique.

“Since I was mourned, I no longer hold an obligation to honor those that have fallen before me. And whether I weep for those who suffer loss is entirely my business. If you wish to commemorate the dead, I suggest you ask Will or Frank to participate. I exhausted my sorrow ages ago.”

“Thank you. I will ask them. And I will add your name to the list of the honored dead.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Kara did not reply. Instead she faded away as easily as she had appeared. Monique peered around the room, listening and waiting for that comfortable sense of solitude. When she was sure that Kara had gone and she was no longer being spied upon, she decided to step into the bathroom and wash away the remains of her discontent.

Next Chapter: Untangled - Maninder Excerpt