Wednesday evening is DeeDee’s netball night; she’s on the team and my sister always goes to watch the matches. I tease her sometimes that she’s just like a soccer-mom, and she denies it. It is true though. I’m assuming, or at least hoping, that this much hasn’t changed and that they’re both at the school, playing or watching the netball game, because I’m on my way over to their house, to let myself in with my key and try to break the enchantments on DeeDee’s guitar. If it all goes well DeeDee will abandon the guitar and Michael will leave her alone. If it all goes wrong -- well, hopefully there won’t be enough of me left for anyone to have to clear up.
I turn the corner onto the street where my sister lives and hurry along it. The houses are mostly terraced, though there’s a brief stretch in the middle where they’re just semi-detached instead. The more expensive cars are parked outside them, of course, but there’s still nothing better here than a mid-range Audi. I’m almost at my sister’s when I stop, my feet halting almost of their own accord. There, parked on the other side of the road, is a white van that looks terrifyingly familiar. I step backwards, and then take another step. It’s hard to be absolutely certain, but it looks so much like the Lady Cthulhu band van that I don’t want to take any chances. I back up another step, and someone puts their hand on my shoulder.
“Oh dear,” says a voice, and my knees sag a little. I turn my head to see, and there’s Nico, stepping out of the shadows, still wearing sunglasses even though it’s dark enough I thought I could hide in the shadows.
“What are you doing here?” I am actually curious, but mostly I want him to talk so that he doesn’t do anything else. Like call anyone out of the van.
“The same thing as you, I’d say. Visiting DeeDee.”
“She won’t be in,” I reply quickly. “I’m just checking the house for my sister, she gets nervous leaving it empty.”
“Then that will save us a little bit of trouble,” Nico sounds genuinely pleased. “I’m sure you can let us in as well, and then it’s not even breaking and entering.”
“I don’t have a key.”
“I think you’re lying.”
“That’s not going to open doors, is it?”
“Maybe so, but let’s try persuading you before we persuade the door.” He laughs pleasantly, like this is just banter, and calls out Michael’s name. I’m not surprised, I doubted he’d be alone.
“Why the sunglasses?” I realise I’ve not seen him take them off, even when I was talking to him at the afterparty.
“A little occupational accident,” he says, and lifts them. Behind them, his eye sockets are empty and dark, just like Guldtronen’s after the Ilmatu took his sight. I recoil, straight back into Michael’s arms. He still doesn’t say anything, and I’m starting to wonder if he’s lost his voice somehow. His arms wrap tightly around my chest and I realise that he’s very strong, much stronger than I’d have guessed from the few times I’ve seen him. I gasp a little as the air is squeezed from my lungs.
“Still haven’t got a key?” Nico’s voice is almost friendly, he sounds like he’s enjoying himself. I shake my head, wanting to save the air I’ve got left for living, and Nico punches me in the stomach. I can’t double up because Michael’s holding me, so the little air I’ve got left whooshes out of my lungs and pain radiates across my stomach and up my chest. “How about now?”
I don’t know what possesses me to be so stupid, but I shake my head again. Even though I know it’s coming, I can’t tense enough against it because the last punch still hurts, and this one makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. Michael adjusts his stance, pulling me up so my feet come free of the ground. Nico grins, and this time he doesn’t even bother asking me; the punch seems to come out of nowhere, and now I howl. I know I should give up the key, but now I’ve got no breath left to speak, and Nico’s enjoying using me as a punching bag. He pulls back his arm again, and someone grabs his elbow.
“Hey!” He turns to see who it is, and as he moves aside I see the pink-haired girl from the Lady Cthulhu gigs. Only something’s not right about her face, but tears are now running down my face as Michael squeezes me and I can’t see properly.
“This is between me and my friend,” says Nico, his voice low and menacing. “I think you should forget you ever saw us.”
The girl twists, and Nico twists with his arm, going to one knee with a voiceless shout, half of pain and half of rage. Michael finally lets go of me and I collapse in a heap on the ground, sucking air into burning lungs when I’m not coughing, my vision blurred and pain radiating through my torso. I hear another shout from Nico, and then I feel Michael push past me. There’s the sound of someone grabbing someone, and something bounces to the ground, skitters along and stops in front of me. I wipe my eyes with a dirty hand and look at it. It’s a nose.
I push up, squatting back on my heels. The pink-haired girl’s skin is slipping now, and I can see the bald, featureless head of the Ilmatu underneath. She’s got Nico in a headlock and Michael’s trying to break her grip while she tries to get a hold on his head. The nose -- it must be the pink-haired girl’s. I reach out for it, not really thinking about what I’m doing
and I pick it up and try to put it back on Guldtronen’s face. It won’t stay, and I spend the rest of the night holding it there, hoping it might heal back on. Guldtronen’s lost four of his senses now, the only one left is touch, and it’s my fault. It’s my fault because I didn’t banish the Ilmatu, I just pushed it away and it keeps pushing back. It
looks like it might be winning. And I’m sat in the street, waiting to see which bad option wins. Finally I come to my senses and run to my sister’s house and round the back, unlocking the back door with shaking hands and locking it again from the inside.