“Get your shoes on.” Kaleb told me. I did so, also slipping my coat on.
I looked back at the woman. She was wearing oversized clothes, the kind the kind you could easily slip out of. Her long blonde hair was tied in a messy ponytail and she didn’t wear any makeup. She wasn’t bad looking, but she seemed more wild than conventionally attractive. She also wasn’t human.
I was starting to think everyone on the damned boardwalk wasn’t. At least everyone Kaleb knew…. I was getting in way over my head.
“Hey… Lisa.” Kaleb said. “How are you?”
“Oh I was doing great until that girl of yours broke the charm.” There was venom in her pronunciation of girl, she might as well have added air quotes. I could see why Kaleb hated her. “But you’re here, so I have something to entertain myself with.” She radiated smugness as she spoke.
“Oh come on, you’re not angry about Monday night? It was Natalie, that did it, not me.” Kaleb tried to explain.
“You know what they say, Tomayto Tomahto. Same thing really.”
“You can’t do this on the beach, you know the rules.”
“Oh, but you’re not on the beach are you?”
“Lauren. Leave, now. Please…” Kaleb was begging me, there was fear in his eyes.
“Oh no.” Lisa said. “You fuck with my friend, I fuck with yours. But I’ll give you a chance.” She rose two fingers. “That’s how long you have before I fuck you up. What’s the word again? Oh yeah; skedaddle.”
Kaleb and I remained in place.
“Go!” She didn’t yell, rather uttered the word in a roar. There was genuine fury in her eyes, mixed with sadistic glee and she lowered her posture.
Kaleb took my hand and we started to run. I followed him, staying only a step behind him. I had no idea what the deal here was, but I was terrified, I’d gotten involved in something that I hadn’t meant to. We ran for probably two minutes or so before Kaleb stopped to catch his breath. We were hidden in between two stores on the boardwalk with a dumpster hiding us from the main walkway.
“I’m so sorry... “ He exhaled out of breath. “Didn’t… mean to… get you… involved.”
“Tell me what’s going on?” Unlike him, I wasn’t tired. Instead, I felt my blood boil and pumping harder than ever.
“It’s… Eh… Gang stuff…” He said, he’d hesitated with using the term gang. “Well, not crime-gang, just gang-gang. It’s complicated.”
As we spoke, a dog howled, soon followed by another, then another. It was hard to count the numbers of dogs, as I knew from biology class that wolves could modulate their howls so that a handful of them could sound like a legion…
“That’s our cue.” He said, taking my hand again. “I know a safe place.”
We started running again, away from the boardwalk and into Oceanside proper, as we did, the howling continued every so often, it was following us. I knew what it meant. Well, not exactly; Shifters were hounding us. Well there was another option: Coil had once mentioned Hellhounds, a type of Talent who could turn dogs into monsters… Neither of these sounded like fun.
We arrived at a small unmarked concrete box with a metal door and Kaleb hurried to it, trying to door but it didn’t budge so he had to take a key out of his pocket. He unlocked it and practically shoved me inside as he heard the next set of howls, they were close. He then stepped inside and locked the door, just in time for something to crash against it, making a loud bang. From the other side came ferocious growling and what I presumed were claws raked against the door. Kaled seemed relieved a bit.
The inside of the construction was barely lit, a single bulb hanging over us cast a dim light in our surrounding. The air was stale and damp, the box wasn’t big, after maybe a yard and a half of space, was a staircase leading underground.
“I’m so sorry…” Kaleb said, repeating his earlier line. “You shouldn’t have gotten involved.”
“We’re okay, it’s what counts.”
“Where do you live?”
“Corner of Waterloo Ave and 27th.” I said, not sure how this was relevant.
“Good, I know how to get there. Come.” He started walking down the stairs.
“Wait, where are we?”
“Oh you’ve heard of this place.” He said as we walked down, when the light dimmed, he took out a pair of glow sticks, breaking the seal and handing one to me. “Lauren, welcome to darkside.”
Darkside was mostly an urban legend in Emerald Bay, a city buried under a city, but unlike many other urban myths, Darkside was real. As we arrived at the bottom, we could see an old street, the facades of buried, ruined buildings preserved.
“The Downtown and Oceanside parts of Emerald Bay were first built on floodable land” He explained. “When the great fire of 1912 came, they decided to raise the city level above the floodline a good deal of the old city was bulldozed, but patches were just buried and paved over.” He talked as we walked. “You can get anywhere if you know the way through sunken districts, service tunnels and the occasional condemned cellar or basement or the Subway lines.”
“Wow…” I muttered impressed by the place. “Wait… Emerald Bay doesn’t have a subway system.”
“They tried to build one in ‘53, the project was ripe with delays, frauds and was abandoned when it was clear continuing would bankrupt the city. They built Carnival island with the extracted dirt.” He explained. Carnival island was a small island just off the coast of Downtown that held the city’s iconic theme park: Emerald Land, which belonged to Six Flags.
Every so often signs and messages were painted on the walls giving directions and warnings. Was passed the remains of an old grocery, a small townhouse or three and an old diner. The bigger building had had their second floors gutted and some of them had been destroyed to allow for massive support pillars.
“My friends and I spend a lot of time down, here mapping and exploring. Plus there’s a market for scavenged relics, although the more accessible areas have long since been picked clean. Still, it’s decent money on the side.”
“Well, you know how to show a girl a good time.” I teased him. “I got to say, it’s my first get-pierced, get high, get chased by something and walk through a lost city date.”
“Date?” He echoed. Even with the green light I could see him get flustered and so did I. I hadn’t thought of my choice of word…
I was getting to like Kaleb, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel that our relationship was based on a lie; that we were normal and not monsters masquerading as such…
Should I tell him what I am? I wondered. Will he think I’ve been lying to him? I kind of have but I didn’t want to deceive him… He squeezed my hand a little when we arrived at an intersection. His hand are kind of -- erhm. He’s risking breaking the Covenant by helping me… Dragging an uninitiated, at least someone he thinks is, into these things is forbidden…
“You got quiet.” He said after a few minutes of walking.
“Oh sorry, I was kind of lost in thoughts…” I muttered.
“I probably shouldn’t have pointed out your choice of word.” He confessed embarrassed.
“It’s okay…” I muttered. “Can I ask you a question? Please don’t laugh or anything…”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Do you think of me as a girl? Or just as a weird crossdressing boy...”
“Why would I think of you as a boy?”
“You know I’m…”
“Transgender?” He cut me off. “I kind of figured, but I don’t really care, I mean you’re girly, you call yourself a girl and well, that kind of makes you one.” Although his choice of words were off a bit, I felt like he was just having a hard time expressing his thought process. “And you have awesome tastes in music, although Floodland will always be the Sisters of mercy’s best album.”
“Pfff, No way, Some girls wander by mistake is best, it has temple of love. Best song like ever.” I said, with a fake pout.
“One good song does not make a best album.” He protested. “But music aside, you’re kind of… well… cute…” For a rare time in my life, my skin pallor instead became burning bright red.
“You like girls?” I tentatively asked.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”
His huge, obvious man crush on his boss. But I didn’t say that. “No reason, I just try not to assume people are straight…” I muttered. I squeeze his hand tighter as we walked, another moment of silence installed itself between the two of us.
“Shouldn’t be too far away.” He said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
That when the howling filled Darkside...