The carnival by the sea never leaves, even when the first shavings of snow tumble down. It’s as steady part-time income as you can find in a tourist town, if you’re like me and were too stupid to move away when you had the chance.
Marta, the manager on duty, meets me up front at the ticket booth, holding a clipboard. “Ari, right?” Her horns curl against her scalp, overridden and nearly concealed by her pink plume of hair. “I’ll put you on concessions for your first night. Should be pretty slow.”
She walks me between vendor stalls and amusement rides and I realize why my parents never took me or my kid brother here. I expected water gun games and ring tosses filled with stuffed animals and yo-yos. Instead, we pass a booth selling herbs and tinctures, where a mottled, boar-faced man grinds away with a mortar and pestle. He eyes us as we pass, and gives Marta a snort of acknowledgment.
We walk by a hall of mirrors that looks more terrifying than fun, the sign backlit in hellish red. Mirrors frame the entrance and toss my reflection back to me—brown hair stuffed under my cap (I need a trim), black t-shirt and jeans and hi-tops.
After that we come to a booth for axe throwing, but instead of red circles painted on a wall, the targets are winged pixies that stick their tongues out at us.
“Don’t mind ‘em,” Marta says. “They’re mostly harmless.”
“Mostly?” I ask, but she doesn’t hear me over the bleat of a nearby trumpet. I flinch and whirl around as a stocky troll hobbles onto a stool; he definitely doesn’t need it to be seen over the sparse crowd.
“Over here, folks!” the troll hollers, waving passersby closer with one hand and gesturing to a nearby tent with the other. “Feast your eyes upon the one and only merman of the east coast! He’s vicious, he’s mean, he’ll terrify and delight!”
A merman makes sense given the carnival’s vicinity to the ocean, but the hair on the back of my neck stands up as I hustle to keep up with Marta’s long strides. “Is it really a merman?”
“What do you think?” she asks, shifting her clipboard from one hand to another.
We end up at the concession booth, notably dressed down compared to the food vendors selling mint lemonade and fried everything. Marta explains that the concession booth is more for generic packaged goods like bottled water, single-pack tissues, gum and mints.
With dread I realize I know the guy behind the counter. We went to the same high school, but he looks different. His hair used to be autumnal red and cut short, but now it’s long and dark like a shriveled willow.
He eyes me right back, probably trying to figure out where he knows me from.
Marta introduces us with little ceremony—“Seth, this is Ari. Ari, Seth.” Then she tells Seth, “Show him the ropes,” before she disappears behind a sign advertising funnel cakes.
Seth is still staring at me, so before he can get the question out, I say, “I went to Piedmont.”
“Oh,” he says. “Right. Thought so.”
He opens a saloon door in the side of the booth, shows me where the register tape is stored under the counter, and the notebook to track inventory. He’s patient, he smiles a lot, not far off from how he’d been in high school.
There’s no way he really remembers me. He sat in front of me in biology and we exchanged maybe three sentences for the entire semester. I remember his eyes being green, but now it looks like his pupils expanded, two irises shadowed in coal. I remember the way he pushed back in his seat when he stretched. I remember the girls who tossed him their folded-up phone numbers; the other boys on the soccer team who slapped high-fives with him before the final bell.
“This your first job?” Seth asks.
I shake my head. “I worked at Tony’s last summer.” It’s a little bar on the beach that also sells ice cream, but unlike the carnival, it closes as soon as the temperature drops below seventy.
An hour later, the carnival is near empty, leaving us with little else to do but talk to each other.
“When did you graduate?” Seth asks.
“Couple years ago.”
“Oh.” Seth rubs the back of his neck. “Were we in the same class?”
“I was quiet,” I say. It’s easier than saying, I used to be a girl.
“I gotcha,” he says, leaning his long frame against the counter. I switch my eyes to something, anything else, because there’s nowhere to move in the cramped concessions booth. “You probably don’t remember me, then—”
“I do,” I say, too quickly. “I mean, I saw you around. You played soccer, right?”
He nods and drags his fingers along his scalp.
“Did you dye your hair?” I ask.
He laughs. “Something like that.”
A couple comes up to the booth and asks for bottled water. Seth rings them up while I grab them from the cooler; off-brand, probably a case pack from Costco. I place the sweaty bottles on the counter and do my best to smile like I give a shit.
Once the couple moves on, I mirror Seth’s pose against the counter. “Is it weird working here?” I ask.
“You get used to it.”
“Is the merman real?”
Seth grins. “Oh yeah. A real asshole.”
We make small talk that somehow decreases in awkwardness until Marta lets us go a little after ten. Seth shows me how to lock up the stall as he pulls down these metal shields that remind me of garage doors.
I’m content to just zoom back to my trailer to play video games until I fall asleep, but Seth is close behind me as we head back to the carnival’s gravel parking lot.
“You, uh, doing anything right now?” he asks.
I want to ask him to repeat it just in case I misheard him, but we’re alone and the carnival is quiet and powered down. “Just going home.” I thumb over my shoulder in the vague direction of my trailer, as if that adds any context.
“You hungry?” he asks, shoving his hands in his coat pockets. “Sonic’s still open.”
I was most definitely in between paychecks, but I could manage a big bucket of Ocean Water, maybe mozzarella sticks if there was any change in my console.
“You drive, I’ll pay,” Seth adds, rocking on his heels.
This doesn’t seem real. It’s not that he was some enormous dick in high school, but he was popular, back when that classification actually carried weight.
I squeeze my keys in my hand. “Why are you asking me to hang out after work?”
Seth looks crestfallen. “Sorry. Should I not?”
“Just answer the question.”
“You seem fun to hang out with?” he offers.
“You don’t sound too sure about that.”
“It’s the eyes, isn’t it?” Seth says, gesturing to his face. “They freak you out.”
“No,” I say slowly. “I just…” I trail off, because you were popular in high school and I wasn’t sounds so fucking juvenile I cringe.
“You just?” Seth echoes.
“Fine,” I say. “But I’m driving.”
Seth grins. “And I’m paying.”
I want to argue, because I was raised to, but I don’t. I let my keys fall loose, blue carabiner looped around my thumb, and lead him to my hatchback.
Seth looks taller in my passenger seat, and he immediately rolls the window down. I expect him to ask if he can smoke, but he doesn’t, just folds one arm on the edge of the window as if he enjoys the forced breeze.
We roll into the closest Sonic ten minutes later, and Seth leans over the console so he can peer up at the menu. I want to pull the latch under my seat and scoot back to give him room; instead I quietly relish his close proximity.
He rattles off what he wants—a multitude of side orders—and I press the red button on the menu display. I order my Ocean Water but neglect to get actual food for myself in the midst of remembering Seth’s ridiculous request.
“You’re not hungry?” he asks, sounding legitimately concerned.
We don’t talk until a girl skates across the parking lot with a tray of food balanced over her forearm. Seth passes me cash, and I hand him the greasy Sonic bag before cradling my giant drink with two hands.
The bag rustles from Seth’s side of the car. “So, look, don’t freak out,” he says suddenly.
I turn to him and do exactly that. I twist at the waist before my back hits the inside of my door, the armrest digging into my spine. My mouth drops open as if to scream, but little more than a creak comes out.
A black tendril is wrapped around Seth’s neck like a boa. There are no eyes, or a nose, or anything resembling a face other than a twin line of tiny, gaping teeth.
One word tumbles out of my mouth in a cracked whisper: “What.”
“It’s uh.” Seth looks pensive as he feeds the thing a french fry. “It’s a demon,” he finally says. “Sort of. Technically I’m possessed? But so long as I feed it, it doesn’t make me do weird shit.”
“And it likes… Sonic?”
Seth nods, beaming at me like I understand perfectly, and feeds the sentient tendril another french fry. “It’s very partial to anything fried. Hence the carnival job.” His face wrinkles. “Though I did get it from working at the carnival.” He digs into the bag again, then takes a careful bite of a jalapeno popper.
“So you got possessed?” I ask, taking a sip of Ocean Water. I watch the tendril slip lower like a curious snake, nudging the edge of the Sonic bag.
“Lost a bet,” Seth says with a bitter laugh. “Sometimes we hang out after hours and play cards and shit, but this new guy hustled me to get rid of it.” He shrugs. “It’s not so bad.”
“Does it hurt?” I ask.
“It’s just uncomfortable,” Seth says. “Once it eats, it goes back inside and doesn’t bother me for a while. But I can feel it.” He rolls his shoulders. “Right in the middle of my back, like a knot I can’t work out.”
I squeeze my eyes shut, then face forward. I can hear the dual sounds of Seth and the thing chewing and it makes my skin crawl like a needle in search of a vein.
“Sorry,” he says quietly. “I should have warned you.”
“It’s fine.” I take a long sip off my drink. “I guess it’s not the weirdest thing I saw tonight.” It definitely was, but I don’t want to make him feel self-conscious.
Seth finishes off his jalapeno poppers, but not before he holds one out to his appendage. Even without a nose, the thing sniffs the offering, then curls away.
“It’s not usually a fan of spicy stuff,” Seth says, shoving the popper in his mouth. He folds the end of the bag over. “Wanna head back?”
I retrace our route to the carnival, almost losing my way before I see the shadow of the Ferris wheel in the distance. I pull into the lot and assume the only other car sitting there is Seth’s.
True to Seth’s word, his demon is gone by the time I look at him again. I wait for the impending goodbye, thinking it’s going to be weird or uncomfortable, but Seth turns to me. “I got beer in my trunk,” he says, almost proudly. “If you’re not in a hurry.”
I’m fascinated to see where this is going, why he’s plying me with free food and now beer, like he’s desperate to keep hanging out. “Okay. Sure.”
We climb out of my hatchback. Seth heads to the other car—an old baby blue Chevelle—and pops the trunk. He pulls out a four-pack of tallboys and slings them over his shoulder like a sack.
“Where are we gonna drink?” I ask.
“Inside, of course,” he says. “Everyone’s gone.”
“Is that allowed?” I ask. “I don’t want to get fired.”
Seth waves me off as he turns away. “People do it all the time.”
“Right, but do they get fired?”
Seth chuckles. “Trust me, it’ll be fine.”
There’s not much in the way of security to traverse—the carnival’s entrance is blocked off by a heavy chain, which Seth fluidly steps over. He holds out a hand to help me, and I take it. The outside air isn’t exactly warm, but his hand is freezing.
“Thanks,” I mutter, and Seth smiles before he continues walking.
He leads me to the hall of mirrors, and without any lights on, it’s significantly creepier. “Are you sure about this?” I ask, pausing a few steps behind him. “It’s dark as hell in there.”
“What, are you scared?” Seth asks, grinning over his shoulder.
“Yes,” I say.
“Oh.” He hangs back. “Don’t worry. You work here, so it’s fine.”
Before I can think too much about what that’s supposed to mean, the black tendril that lives inside Seth appears over his shoulder. Even without eyes, I can tell I’m being stared at.
I point a shaky finger in the demon’s direction. “Is that thing gonna…”
“Oh, no, it won’t bite you or anything.” Seth reaches over and strokes the tendril’s back, and it preens under his touch. “I think it likes you.”
For some reason I don’t consider running the other way an option, even though it should be my first instinct. When the darkness of the hall of mirrors swallows Seth, I pick up my pace and eventually bump into his back.
“Shit, sorry,” I say.
“You gotta stick close or you might get lost,” Seth says. The tendril slithers higher off his shoulder, its small mouth pulsing open and shut. I keep my eyes down and place my hand on Seth’s shoulder.
I don’t memorize the path, but we turn left and right so many times we could very well be going in circles, until the mirrors part and we come to an open area. I release Seth’s shoulder, and he drops to the floor, crossing his legs and yanking one of the beers out of the plastic rings. He holds it out to me.
There’s an emergency light overhead somewhere, over a red exit sign, but otherwise it’s dark as fuck, but I catch the glint off the can and reach for it. The open area is circled by more mirrors, each of them sending a distorted, hazy reflection back at us.
We crack our beers open and sip them in silence. Every now and then the tendril makes a sound like a rickety purr that gives me goosebumps.
“I lied earlier,” Seth says quietly. “I do remember you.”
“Yeah. You sat behind me in biology.” He shuffles in the dark.
I hang my head even though he probably can’t see me. “Yeah.”
“I never said anything shitty to you, right?” Seth asks. “Like I wasn’t a dick or anything.”
“No!” I blurt, shaking my head. “No, nothing like that. I mean we never really talked, but you were… nice, when we did.”
Seth hums, accepting my answer. “My memory’s been really weird since this thing crawled inside me,” he says before he sips his beer. “I used to have friends, right?”
“Y-yeah? You had tons of friends. The soccer team, and uh, lots of girls giving you their phone numbers.” I hope it’s dark enough that he can’t really see my face. It’s embarrassing to remember this much about someone you sat behind in high school.
“Ha,” Seth says hollowly. “I don’t remember any of that.” He scoots closer, and I can see more of his face and unfortunately, more of the demon, wrapped loosely around his neck like a scarf. “But for some reason, I remember you.”
“Weird.” I throw out a laugh to hopefully buffer the uncomfortable admission.
“Is it?” he asks, then shakes his head as if to answer his own question. He reaches up to his shoulder and strokes the tendril. “I think this demon has something to do with it. Like, I know I had friends, because they all signed my yearbook. I know I played soccer, because of all the pictures at my mom’s house. But everything’s a blur and I can’t remember anyone’s name, or any particular memory.”
He drops his hand from his shoulder and sips his beer, then continues, “But I think it’s a strange coincidence that my demon seems to like you and you’re the only person I remember from high school.”
“But why me?” I ask.
Seth ducks his head, his mouth twisting as if he’s fighting a smile. “Maybe because I had a crush on you?”
The silence draws out because I can’t figure out how to respond to that. “What,” I whisper.
Seth laughs loudly, and I wince, worried that we might get caught.
“It’s true,” Seth says when he composes himself.
“Why?” I ask. “You looked like you were drowning in, uh—other options.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he says with a shrug. The demon nudges against Seth’s neck, and Seth reaches up to pet it again. “You seemed like a nice person. And smart. And, I don’t know, cute.”
Cute. Seth thinks I’m cute. Or thought I was, at one point.
“Anyway,” Seth says. “I totally get if you don’t think of me that way. But it’d be cool if we were friends.” He smiles. “Since you know my secret and you don’t seem too weirded out by it.” He swirls his beer like a glass of wine. “Not many people are that understanding.”
Guilt trickles through me as I look down at the tall can in my hand, then back up at him. I bend my knees and cross my ankles, blushing when I ask, “Do you still think I’m cute?”
He looks up suddenly, like he hadn’t expected the question. “Yeah.”
I chug the rest of my beer and drop the can. “Wanna make out?”
“Yes,” Seth says, draining his own beer and tossing it across the floor with an aluminum clatter. He crawls toward me and places one hand on my knee before he leans over, like he’s trying to kiss me. He doesn’t quite reach, but I help him out by bending forward.
His lips are cold like his hands, but they warm as we kiss. I can feel the stubble along his upper lip. I let my legs fall open, then stretch them out. Seth accepts the unspoken invitation and scoots closer on his knees, hunched over so he doesn’t break the kiss.
“You taste like Ocean Water,” he murmurs.
“You taste like beer,” I say.
He kisses me again, his arm sliding down my back. His fingers trace the hem of my shirt. “Did you really just mean making out, or…”
I inhale sharply.
“It’s fine,” he says. “I don’t want to force y—”
I tug him closer by his polo collar and drag my tongue across his bottom lip. “We can do more,” I say. “I want to.”
He leans closer, breath against my ear. “You wanna take your shoes off?”
The floor’s probably disgusting, but I see his point—high tops can’t be easily kicked off if we’re about to undress in a rush. I untie the laces and yank them off my feet.
“Lay back,” Seth says after he shoves his own shoes off.
I roll face-up onto the floor, keeping my knees bent as Seth brackets my torso with his arms. He unzips my pants and pulls them down to my ankles before I shuck them off the rest of the way.
Now naked from the waist down, I freeze when I hear a sound like fingernails fluttering over glass. “Um, is that…”
“Yeah,” Seth says, his hand sliding up my thigh. “I told you it likes you.”
“I hope that’s a good thing,” I mutter.
Seth chuckles, his breath close to my stomach. Then, I feel it—the tendril slithers under my knee and winds up my leg. It’s cool, slippery, but not leaving a wet trail that catches cold in its wake. I shiver as it clamps around my thigh.
“It won’t hurt you,” Seth says softly. His hand rests over my shirt, on my stomach. “I promise.”
I reach for his hand and lace our fingers together. “Okay.”
Seth doesn’t pull his hand back, but the tendril clenches around my thigh and tugs my leg aside. Seth uses his other hand to push the opposite leg, spreading me open. My head lolls back against the floor as he kisses down my un-tendriled thigh.
I glance down, and though it’s dark, I can see the black coil around my left leg, Seth’s arm around the other, as his head descends between them. He presses his nose against my skin before his tongue darts over my dick.
The tendril pulses and flexes around my leg as Seth flicks his tongue. It slithers under my shirt and pokes at my stomach, just above my navel.
Seth lets out a clipped, deep laugh. “I think it wants to help.”
“What does that—oh.” The tendril dives between the crease of my leg, lower, brushing over my cock. I wonder how long it is, or how long it can get, as it prods at me, tentative. “It’s not gonna bite me, is it?”
“I think it wants to do the opposite,” Seth murmurs, nuzzling my thigh.
I shiver at the implication, but for whatever reason, I trust Seth’s judgment in this situation. “I’ve, uh, never done this before.”
“What, been with a guy with a demon?” Seth grins up at me. “Most people haven’t.”
The tendril nudges at my slit, and Seth bends down to continue sucking my cock. I brace myself as the demon edges inside me with little resistance, since I’m wet with my own pre-come and Seth’s saliva.
Of course it feels weird as it worms its way through, but it’s good. The tendril vibrates on its own, and I don’t feel anything sharp or painful like teeth. It eases out, then back in again, and I groan.
“Feels good?” Seth asks before he licks me, slow and firm.
“Y-yeah,” I say, throwing an arm over my face.
He kisses up my thigh, stroking me with his thumb. “Think you can take us both?”
“Uh…” I blink at him. “I can try?”
“Overachiever,” he says fondly, releasing me so he can unbutton his pants. “We’ll take it easy, yeah?” He pushes his pants and underwear down, his cock breaking free. “I want you to enjoy it.”
He twists around, digging his wallet out of his back pocket. The tendril pulls out of me, and I slide forward. I reach for Seth’s cock just as he faces forward with a condom in hand.
“Oh, hello,” he says, curling his hands into fists before he places them on his hips. “What do we have here?”
“I still want to try that thing,” I say. “But this first.”
“No arguments here,” Seth says with a wild grin.
I spit into one hand and close my fingers around him. It’s a nice dick, not too big, not too girthy. I can work with it. Oddly enough it’s as cold as the rest of him, like shoving an actual popsicle down my throat.
I work Seth in and out of my mouth, cupping his balls, and he writhes above me. I realize he’s on his knees, and that has to feel awful, so I push on his leg and edge forward when he sits back on his feet. I shut my eyes and focus, dragging my tongue from base to tip before I suck noisily on the head. Popsicle, indeed.
My eyes fly open when something nudges my cheek. I think it’s Seth’s finger or knuckle but it’s not. I pull off, eyeing the tendril now perched in front of my face. I glance up at Seth. “Does this mean what I think it means?”
He chuckles. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“Is it—” I swallow. “I mean, you feel it too, right?”
“Oh yeah,” he breathes. “It’s different, but still really good.”
I keep one hand on Seth’s cock, jerking half-assed while I close my fingers around the tendril. I can feel it pulsing, thrumming, and I wonder if it’s full of blood. What does it even taste like? The mouth is gone, maybe receded, but it bobs gently in my grip.
I open my mouth, wider than I probably need to, and the tendril slithers forward. I almost gag when it passes my lips—it’s as cold as Seth and writhing. I pull back and cough. “It’s too wiggly,” I sputter.
“Try again,” Seth urges, and I catch something dark in his voice. I don’t look at him. Instead I squeeze the tendril gently and bring it to my mouth again.
It’s still this time, but thumping as if mimicking Seth’s heartbeat. It feels like skin when I press my tongue against it, but doesn’t taste of salt or musk. I suppose flavorless is better than something rank.
I suck, pulling the tendril tight before popping it out. I lick the tip, flattening my tongue and dragging it out. Seth moans above me, and his body shivers as he says, “Goddamn.”
Suddenly the end of the tendril splits, and something black darts out across my lower lip. A tongue, I guess? I shove it back in my mouth, and the slender tongue slides across mine.
“Ah, fuck,” Seth grunts, and I remember his cock is still in my hand and I’d stopped moving. I stroke him again, fingers slowing and twisting when they pass over the tip of his dick.
“Ah, god—” he says.
Something explodes against my tongue, a cool gush of fluid that hits my gag reflex like a rapid.
Did this fucking thing just come in my mouth?
“Fuck, I’m so sorry,” Seth says. “Shit, I didn’t know it was going to do that. Are you okay?”
I release him and the tendril and scoot back, dragging the back of my hand over my mouth. The taste is sterile, like toothpaste with too much baking soda. Not entirely unpleasant; again I remind myself that it could be worse. “I’m fine,” I say around a rasp in my throat. “Just—give me a second.”
Seth tugs his underwear back up, leaves his pants behind, and crawls away. I wonder if he’s about to dash out of there, but he returns with another beer. “Here. Wash the taste out.”
My mouth is pretty fucking parched, too, after all that. I pop the tab and gulp several sips before my throat burns from the carbonation.
“If that was too much, we don’t have to do anything else,” Seth says, kneeling in front of me with his hands on his thighs. “I get this is weird. Even I’m kind of weirded out right now.”
The tendril drapes around his neck like a loose rope, and even in the dark I can tell it’s quivering. I grin at Seth. “How long until your buddy is ready to go again?”
He smiles back. “I don’t know. This is uncharted territory for me.”
“So I was his first?” I grimace. “That’s kind of sweet, I guess.”
“You’re hilarious,” Seth says, rocking forward on his hands and knees as he crawls toward me. “And I think I owe you one after that.”
I recline and Seth dips his head between my legs again. He slides two fingers inside me, curling them, and sucks hard on my cock. I grind into it, looping my fingers through his inky hair.
He pulls his fingers out, and I’m momentarily disappointed until I hear the rip of a condom wrapper. Somehow Seth manages to roll it down his dick without removing his tongue. So talented.
“You ready?” he asks, circling a finger against the upper base of my cock.
“As much as I can be,” I quip.
Seth lifts up, and I see the tendril crawl down his torso. I feel it squirm against me, slick with my spit and whatever came flooding out of it. It slides in easy, and instead of feeling weird, the movement feels good. It doesn’t thrash so much as flail, lazily stroking my insides as if searching for the ideal response.
Seth eases in alongside the tendril, and my eyes threaten to pop out of my skull at the intensity. The tendril wriggles and makes me clench as Seth slots his body against mine.
“Oh, fuck,” he moans, barely moving his hips. “Fuck, that’s so good.”
I’m beyond speaking, but I wholeheartedly agree, especially when the tendril curves upwards and presses against a sensitive spot. My eyes roll up into darkness, and my fingers find Seth’s back and dig into his skin.
It’s as if the tendril is working with him, not against, as it rubs against my sweet spot over and over. Seth grabs my legs, ramming into me as he grunts from the effort. His knees have to hurt and I don’t know why that’s anywhere near my primary concern.
“Let’s switch,” I mumble, pressing a hand into his stomach to halt him.
Seth pulls himself and the tendril out, his face dazed, but he understands as soon as I flop over on my hands and knees. He grabs my hips and thrusts into me, panting as soon as he works back up to his previous momentum.
I glance up and see our faint reflection, pointed back at us in varying degrees of warp and bulge. Seth’s eyes are pitch-black as sweat pools on his forehead and slicks his hair.
Then the tendril brushes over my back hole, and my eyes split wide. I whimper as it nudges me, as if intrigued.
“You want it?” Seth asks over my shoulder, that deep, dark tone returning to his voice.
“Yeah,” I say, tilting my hips.
The tendril is still slick as it wriggles through tight muscle. Seth slows and I imagine he’s watching, waiting to see what his appendage does. It’s hard to tell how much he controls it, whether it obeys him or has a mind all its own.
As if sensing my unease, the tendril goes still. It’s not moving, but vaguely vibrating. Then Seth surges forward, slamming into me, and I moan. I bend my elbows, trying to provide resistance, as he fucks me and the tendril pulses in my ass.
It feels fucking amazing.
The tendril picks up on that, too, and starts moving in time with Seth’s thrusts. I brace myself on one elbow and reach down to my swollen cock, splitting my fingers around it. I’m closer than I realize, and my hips swivel into my fingers and then back on Seth and the tendril. I clench tight as I come, my shout echoing off the walls.
“Ah, fuck, I’m gonna—” Seth buries himself, his breath coming like hiccups, as his movements run aground and his palms dig into the back of my hips. In the mirrors’ reflection I see him swipe a hand through his hair.
Then I look at myself and scream.
Seth darts back, tearing his tendril out of me. “What? What’s wrong?”
I crawl closer to the mirror, fingers pulling my cheek down to wrench my eye open. Staring back at me are two colorless voids, just like Seth’s.
“What the fuck?!” I yell, turning to him.
He blinks and whispers, “Holy shit.” I find some small comfort in the fact that his eyes are still black, too; that this wasn’t some ploy to pass his demon onto me, that in some twisted way we’re in the same sinking boat.
Something tickles my neck and my eyes lock with Seth’s. “Is that…”
Seth gives me a wicked grin and reaches out. Out of the corner of my eye, his fingers trail over something pitch black, something throbbing against my clavicle with a quiet heartbeat. A tendril identical to Seth’s brushes my jaw, nudging curiously at his outstretched hand.
“Shit,” I say as the tendril jerks away and swipes my cheek. I should run screaming for my fucking life, but I can’t move. Not out of frozen fear, but a hushed calm that seeps into my muscles. I’m not afraid because I can’t even think about what this means, what will change; I can’t even remember what I might have left to lose.
I turn to the mirror again and hold my fingers out. My tendril careens into them and click-purrs, basking at the contact.
In the mirror’s warped reflection, Seth crosses his arms, his own tendril curling around his head like a black crown. “You’re one of us now,” he says with a sharp edge to his voice. His lips curl into an enamored grin. “Lucky you.”