Chapter One, part 2

June 14, 2026, 00:00

Miles looked down. The tiles below him formed a checkerboard pattern, alternating black and white, littered with broken glass, mostly-empty crumpled beer cans and scuffed with black streaks of shoe rubber. His feet weren’t touching any of it. The ground slid by beneath him as he stood in one spot, staring forward in a daze. There was a voice up ahead, quickly cut out by a powerful and robust bout of laughter that shook the air around him.

The table was a ruddy red square, worn down in many places to reveal the rough plywood beneath and decorated with scattered playing cards. On the left side sat a thin, pale boy with crystal blue eyes set in a narrow face you could hardly see past the fine black hair that fell over it. Miles found it strange that the boy wasn’t wearing a shirt; the strangeness was made even more so by the large, raw burn across his chest, which still had wisps of smoke curling off of it. The boy’s focus was elsewhere and his face was angled upward, brilliant eyes shining in deep thought.

The next face at the table belonged to a man who looked like he was in his late teens or early twenties, broad shouldered with thick brown hair. The boy-man’s skin was slightly tanned, but his face was sickly pale and coated with small droplets of perspiration. In his right hand he tightly gripped a glass of whiskey, making an obvious effort to avoid meeting it with his cold green eyes.

At the right side of the table, Miles spotted a pair of long, slender legs, wrapped in thin black tights. He followed them up past a black silk skirt and over a matchedly slender waist and torso, clothed in a tight-fitting, white cotton tank top. Her left arm held a tall glass filled with blood-red liquid, a stalk of celery poking out of the top. The arm and glass slowly rose and Miles’ eyes tracked them up to a dark red mouth that was twisted to one side in a devious smile. His gaze quickly traced over her upper lip, across her nose and up to a breathtaking pair of violet eyes, which met his in a knowing stare; yet there was laughter in it as well, and a dangerous intelligence. Thick, jet black hair fell across her forehead, the last two inches of it dyed the same color as her irises. The rest of her head looked as though it were wreathed in violet and onyx flames, coming to a narrow ring of jagged points at the back.

The last patron’s back was facing Miles, but even from behind, his generous girth was obvious. He seemed to be shaking, and every couple seconds a sputtering sound escaped the man’s lips as he attempted to subdue his laughter. As he came to a stop at the table, Miles noticed for the first time the pair of eyes sitting in the middle of it. No eyelids, no skull, no face, just a pair of bloodshot eyeballs aimed right at the man in front of him. The eyes spun, aiming right at his own. They were full of anger, full of fear, full of hunger and knowledge, and they seemed to be trying to say something to him. Apparently giving up, the eyes flicked back to the portly man. The message seemed to hit home there, as the man suddenly lost all control of his laughter. It came erupting from deep in his chest, exiting his mouth in a deep, throaty roar, intermittent with choking gasps and the sounds of his monstrous fists pounding on the table. Five, Miles noted.

None of the other people at the table even seemed to notice the racket. The boy on the left was still gazing ponderously at the endless sky, the man in the middle was still not looking at his whiskey, and the beautiful girl on the right still had that smile, watching Miles’ every move intently.

Without warning, the laughing man stood up and turned around, grabbing Miles by the shoulders he wasn’t aware he had until that moment. The man was still laughing; in fact, his entire face looked as though it were made for the act, though to call it a face would be inaccurate. The man’s mouth was beyond enormous, lips stretching from one ear to the other, splitting his skull in two as it flew open in his raucous fit of merriment. As it did, Miles could see straight down the man’s throat, to the muscles contracting with each violent gasp.

The laughter stopped and the voice that followed made Miles’ ears ache.


All he could do was stare…


Miles’ torso shot up off the bed like a piston, panting and dripping with sweat. He placed his hands on the bed behind him for support and began taking deep, gasping breaths as he surveyed his surroundings. It was dark, but the room appeared to be white… completely white. He heard the sound of soft breathing to his left and turned quickly to see the source. Hair as black as onyx all-but covered a pale white face, the violet tips showing brilliantly against the overpowering whiteness of the bed sheets.

He smiled as he began to remember the events of the previous night. “Well there’s one,” he said softly, feeling his racing heart begin to slow. He let his body fall back onto the soft hotel bed, running a hand through his hair and looking over at the clock on his right. 5:00 am, he mused, closing his eyes, God, I love Phoenix.

Miles’ eyes popped back open three hours later, refusing to drift back closed despite how heavy and achy they felt. He practically fell out of bed, then stumbled across the dark, carpeted hotel room to where he thought the bathroom was and shoved the door open. His right hand crawled up the wall to the light switch panel, stopping just short of turning it on as his wits began to return to him. The walls around him were white. The now tiled floor below him was white. To top it all off, directly in front of him and above the bright marble sinks was a large mirror. On second thought, I’ll shower in the dark, Miles decided, wincing at the image of his eyes melting out of their sockets.

Stripping down quickly, he turned the water up almost as hot as it would go and stepped under the stream. As the scalding water cascaded over his head and shoulders, he thought back to the girl, still asleep in his bed. How exactly had they met? Miles remembered her sitting at a bar somewhere, looking bored. No, he thought, never bored, not this one. He had walked into the club with one of his clients, a quiet — no, silent — man… Despite the temperature of the shower, Miles began to shiver.

Miles stepped out of the bathroom, still toweling his hair and was greeted by a soft yawn and then a groan as the woman in the hotel bed stretched herself awake, sprawling across the sheets like a cat. Her eyes opened and for half a second Miles thought she looked surprised, but it was gone as soon as it had come and that same easy smile crept back across her lips.

“You’re still here,” she observed, “I was worried I might find myself alone this morning.” She stepped out from under the covers, walking naked across the room to one of the windows and began drawing back the curtains. Miles raised a hand to shield his eyes as the stunning rays of light began reflecting off every surface in the room. When the curtains were fully drawn, he lowered his hand slightly and sucked in a breath, staring dumbfounded.

She stood tall in front of the window with her chin raised, pale skin glowing warmly as it drank the Arizona sunlight that flowed in. Her hair was disheveled, but the tangle of violet and black seemed to be aflame as the sunlight caught it. Miles had never seen anything half as stunning.

Veronica, he recalled with a lazy grin. This is the woman from my dream.

* * *

He had picked up the client at precisely 10:30 pm, Friday night. In the thirteen minutes it took to reach the club, not a word was spoken, in fact Miles found it uncanny just how soundless the man in his backseat was. If the man breathed, he was talented at hiding it, and he certainly didn’t fidget. It was right about the point when Miles began hearing white noise in his ears from the silence that he acknowledged just how uncomfortable his client made him. Miles had been told that the client’s name was Jeremiah Dawson, a name he found far too civilian, and quite frankly too human for the creature in his car. Mr. Dawson was five-foot-ten by Miles’ guess, with pale grey skin pulled taut against his bones. In the brief moment of light before the client had switched off the lamps in the back seat, Miles was able to make out that the man’s suit was expensive, but then so were all of those worn by Miles’ clients, however never had Miles seen a suit so match its owner. His three button wool jacket and pants were the grey of storm clouds, while the dress shirt beneath appeared to be a much lighter shade, just distant enough from white to remain dull, even under light. Breaking the monochromatic theme was his necktie, which was black. No, Miles thought, that doesn’t do it justice. Truthfully it appeared as though the tie was woven from shadow, as though a tie-shaped hole hung from Mr. Dawson’s neck.

Miles’ brief look at the client’s face was enough to determine just how extraordinarily unremarkable it was. Jeremiah Dawson had a Roman nose, two eyes, and a thin, clean shaven mouth. It was face that said, “I’m a human. Probably.”

As Miles pulled his white Bentley Continental up alongside the Diamond Club, he noted the time on his watch. 10:43, the night had barely started.

The client let Miles lead him to the bouncer, Paul, a physically intimidating but overall pleasant man who Miles knew to be terrible at bowling. As they approached, Paul gave a nod and unhooked the chain in front of the door, smacking Miles on the back with a grin as he made his way in. His ears relished the return of sound and he inhaled the smell of liquor, perfumes, and body odor that filled the building. Dawson moved past him and immediately began scanning the mass of thrashing people for a specific face. Miles turned away from the surging sea of bodies and flashing lights to survey the bar.

He wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, after all it wasn’t like he expected to be drinking tonight. And I’m definitely not picking up a date while I’m he-… Miles’ thought was cut short as he noticed the pair of eyes watching him from the edge of the bar. At first he wasn’t entirely sure it was him and not something in his direction the eyes were fixed on, but as he watched one of them collapsed into a sly wink. Miles followed the outside edge of the closed eye down to the upwardly turned corner of a mouth painted dark red, set crooked in a cool, playful smile. His gaze drew out to take the rest of her in, and that’s when he noticed her hair. How had he missed it? Like a vortex of black flame. With a smile of his own he began to take a step forwards, only to be yanked back to reality by a sharp grip on his shoulder. Miles spun, following Mr. Dawson’s skeletal arm to see that his head was turned towards the dance floor still. That’s quite a grip, Miles thought, moving towards Dawson to follow his gaze. Up until that point, he wasn’t sure what his client had been looking for, just that he wasn’t expecting the spectacle he was staring at now. The man could only have been as old as Miles, perhaps even younger, and dressed in an all black, likely custom suit. The jacket was unbuttoned and underneath was a scarlet button-up silk shirt and a gold necklace of some sort that danced about his neck as he moved. The man currently had one arm wrapped around the waist of an attractive blonde in a very short silvery dress, which clung tightly to her slim figure and glimmered brilliantly under the flashing lights. The man’s face was against the girl’s neck as their bodies twisted and ground to the pounding music.

Miles took a quick glance over his shoulder to verify what he already feared. Noting that the corner seat at the bar was now vacant, he took what he assumed was his cue from Dawson and began moving towards the dancing man. Again he felt the surprisingly firm and biting grip of Dawson’s hand on his shoulder. Man, do that again and I don’t care how scary you are, that hand is coming home with me. Miles calmly turned and met Dawson’s gaze, looking for some sort of explanation. Instead, his client took three steps towards the dance floor before stopping again. Miles confusion lasted only seconds as the dancing man almost instantly seemed to take notice of Dawson’s presence and straighten up. He leaned down and whispered into his date’s ear before unwrapping his arm from her waist and walking towards a staircase that led to the lounge above. Wordlessly, Dawson began walking in the same direction, and Miles could only assume he was meant to follow as well.

Miles hadn’t previously noticed the way his client carried himself, the way he moved, but now it was all he could stare at. Every step was immaculate; left knee rose, extended the calf, heel touched the floor, left toe fell as the right knee rose, calf extended, and no sooner or later did the right heel contact the floor than the left rolled its weight forwards onto the toe. Meanwhile Dawson’s hands rested in his jacket pockets, his elbows pointing out and back, his shoulders back, and his back as straight as a sword. Yet he seemed to flow forward, like snake. Miles was so intrigued that he couldn’t decide whether it made Dawson more or less unsettling.

As he followed Dawson up the staircase, Miles examined the people above and below. There were multiple couples leaning against the balcony rail talking, arguing, or sharing drinks in silence. The nearest stood right at the edge of the staircase and could be heard over the music, though not quite well enough to understand what they were arguing about. The man had a short, square glass of clear liquid in his hands that sloshed occasionally as he waved his arms about, and the woman held a martini glass perched between her fingers, using her free hand to point at the man as she yelled. Next down the line were two men, one dressed in a blue suit jacket, slacks, and a black or dark blue cotton shirt while the other wore a white tank top under a brown leather jacket, and what appeared to be black Adidas track pants. Miles guessed they had met at the club. Both were holding green beer bottles and seemed to be shouting a pleasant conversation at each other, though theirs was not loud enough to be heard at all past the music. The man in the leather jacket must have said something funny because both men burst into laughter suddenly, and the man in the suit clapped him on the shoulder playfully. Looking down Miles examined the multi-colored heads of the dancing patrons. Like looking into a bowl of M&Ms, he thought with a smirk. Shining gold spikes, silver curls, a green ponytail, all bounced hypnotically to the throbbing beat. He knew what, or who, he was looking for, but he and Dawson had reached the top of the stairs, and his time was up.

Eyes back on his client, Miles noticed something else strange. Is his hair dyed grey? This close to the man, he could now see straight to the scalp, and right at the edge were jet black roots. Why would somebody do that? How old is this guy, really? They had reached a table where the dancing man and two others sat, a very fat man with a nervous smile that might have been wider than any mouth Miles had seen, and a tall businesswoman in an expensive looking pants suit with her red hair in a ponytail, sitting with her legs and arms crossed impatiently. It was easily the oddest gathering of people Miles had ever seen, only offset by the apparent normalcy of the dancing man. As Dawson took his seat, the businesswoman cleared her throat and gestured towards Miles. Does anyone here talk? Miles thought just as the dancing man stood up and turned to face him.
“It’s Mr. Kendrick, right?” He had such a cool, strong voice. It felt exceptionally out of place tonight.

“Miles, please,” Miles responded with a light nod and smile.
The dancing man’s hand reached out, and Miles met it for a firm handshake, “Thank you so much for seeing Mr. Dawson here safely, we all greatly appreciate it.”
Really? Maybe you should tell them that. Miles smiled, “Of course.”
“However my colleagues and I have work to attend to tonight and tomorrow, so Mr. Dawson will be staying with us for the remainder of the evening.” This resulted in Dawson’s head pivoting to face the dancing man, though his expression remained cool and emotionless. Their eyes met and held for a moment before Dawson slowly turned his head forwards again, looking past both the heavy man and the businesswoman. Dancing man’s hand returned to his pocket and removed a clasp of bills, folding out four hundred-

You’re a few hundred ligh-

-before handing the rest of the clip to Miles, who stood, dumbfounded as he looked at what must have been three-thousand dollars.

“Enjoy your night, Mr. Kendrick. We’ll be in touch soon.” The dancing man then returned to his seat, and Miles turned back towards the staircase, feeling like he was in some some surreal dream.

Miles put the clip of cash into his jacket pocket, and turned to walk down the stairs. The combination of sounds, smells, flashing lights, and what had just transpired had him in a trance, like he was sitting in the back of his skull and going for a ride in his own body, just watching through two portals in his face. His fingers absently counted the cash in his pocket as he descended the staircase. Twenty-eight hundred for a twenty minute escort job, Miles inwardly remarked, I can deal with weird for that. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, Miles placed his hand on the railing and spun around the corner on his heel, coming face to face with a stunning pair of violet eyes.

“Oh shit! I’m sorry!” She exclaimed as Miles felt and smelled the gin spreading across the middle of his shirt, noting the now empty martini glass in her left hand.
“I’m the one who should be sorry, I wasn’t…” Miles head cocked to the side as he recognized the vortex of onyx. He now noticed how it flared out into a crown of purple points at the end. She was wearing a long sleeved black leather vest over her tank top now, the collar of which was worn high and open, which put off a sort of gothic royalty vibe. How about that? He thought with a smile, “I’m Miles.”

“Veronica. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up so you can buy me a new drink.” As she turned he couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. Veronica spun back around, one eyebrow raised, “Oh?” she said, placing her free hand on her hip.

Miles felt his face growing red and very warm, “No, no, it’s not that! It’s just… I’ve had a really weird night,” he said chuckling again.

Veronica’s right hand reached out and grabbed Miles’ left, “Well it’s not quite over yet.” And with a devious grin she turned back around and led him towards the restroom.