“Missing your breasts, big sister?” Lum said to Cruellest, who had been staring at his cleavage the entire time they had been waiting on a balcony outside the window of Darlene’s aunt.
“It’s not that, little brother.” Cruellest grinned. “I enjoy my three Moon Days as a man as much as you enjoy yours as a woman. I was just thinking that you are so damn lucky. It has been ages since I was with someone to whom I could show my true self every day of the month. And I can’t even remember the last time I was in love and was loved back.”
Lum let Cruellest’s words simmer in his mind, as they waited for Darlene to enter a room where Big Bear Vasilescus, a man who was convinced Darlene had killed his brother, tested a sharp knife on her father’s flesh. “How do you know what she feels? It could be lust.”
Cruellest stuck a finger in the soil of a flower pot whose inhabitants had been victim of a recent severe frost. Bright green shoots sprouted out of the dirt, and after a couple of seconds the pot was bursting with purplish flowers that smelled like a fresh pizza. “One shake of her hand, little brother, and I can bring Greek oregano back from the dead.” Cruellest winked.
“Is that why Grandmother sent her The Spark?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is Grandmother trying to bind Darlene to me without giving her—?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Luminous. Not even G.G. would be that reckless. Something old and hungry fled the pits of Pre-Chaos and is hiding in New York City. The foretelling showed you and Darlene at the center of this thing’s mess. G.G. wants to give Darlene a way to protect herself.”
“I will protect her.”
“Don’t shame me by speaking like a brainless testosterone factory while your body has a vagina and your boobs are bigger than my head, little brother. Ridicule doesn’t suit you or womankind.”
Lum was going to say something, but let it go when Juliana, Darlene’s aunt, left the room. He’s going to pay for that, he thought. Vasilescus had forced Juliana to crush her own fingers with a cast iron teakettle. Seeing the bloody towels around her hands had infuriated Lum enough to want to forget about his promise to Darlene, and run into the apartment to break the man’s neck.
“Are you ready?” Lum said to Cruellest, after he saw Darlene enter the room, Juliana following her with a small pile of blades cradled in her arms.
“Better be, your woman is weaponless.”
“Darlene is her own woman.”
Cruellest nodded. “Yes, she’s her very own unarmed woman. Now shut it. We don’t want to miss our invitation, do we?”
Luminous tried to open a wider gap in the semi-closed blinds, but the tips of his fingers flattened against the invisible barrier of the home’s natural protections. “Fuck.”
Cruellest looked at her brother’s hand and echoed his curse. “You’ve never been here.”
“I have not. And she probably forgot that she has to invite me in.”
Lum heard Darlene call his name at the same time she reached for the knife she had been concealing in a sheath on her back.
Vasilescus shot her before she could draw, and then stabbed Darlene’s father in the shoulder.
Juliana dropped the knives and rushed Vasilescus, but he had his gun to her neck before she could do anything. When Darlene’s aunt struggled, he grabbed her by the hair and smashed her face against the table until Juliana went limp.
Darlene sat against the wall breathing fast, bleeding from a wound in the middle of her chest, staring at Vasilescus.
Lum banged his fists on the invisible barrier and screamed. But the blinds where partially closed and no one inside the house paid him any attention.
“Stop that,” Cruellest said. “Stay still for a second. Can’t you feel that?”
“Wind,” Lum said.
“And the trees.” Cruellest pointed at the trees lining the sidewalk.
The leafless branches were swaying. The trees were dancing. Even the resurrected oregano had intensified its scent. “Grandmother is coming.”
“Yes,” Cruellest said. “And look at your Darlene.”
Darlene was on all fours. Her right hand was creeping towards Bloom, the knife she borrowed from Cruellest before going to rescue her family. Her eyes were on Vasilescus.
Vasilescus noticed the knife in Darlene’s hand, and smirked.
Darlene pushed herself up and threw Cruellest’s knife. It grazed Vasilescus’ arm, right before he shot her again. She collapsed.
“She got him, Luminous!”
Lum stared at Darlene’s body on the floor. “He shot her twice, Cruellest. She’s human and he shot her twice in the chest.” He looked at The Spark, now useless in his hand.
“Watch his arm, little brother.”
He looked, and the worst part of him smiled. One small cut from his sister’s knife had been enough. The blade’s edge was poisoned with Cruellest’s Bloom, a little white flower created by Lum’s big sister on one of her worst days. The flowers spread like wild fire and fed on flesh and bone. They didn’t stop multiplying until the last body tasted by the blade was consumed. Little Bear Vasilescus had lost an arm and most of a shoulder. His mouth remained untouched. It was screaming.
Lum fed on Vasilescus’ agony, while trying to reject the life force leaking out of Darlene. But he was what he was, and her nearness to death was calling to him.
“G.G. is here,” Cruellest said, moving out of the way of the oregano plant, which had grown as tall as the window ledge.
Lum’s grandmother appeared kneeling in front of Darlene’s aunt, a healing hand touching Juliana’s face. After whispering in Juliana’s ear, she turned towards Darlene’s father.
Juliana regained consciousness and stumbled to the kitchen. She opened the blinds, and stared at Cruellest and Lum. “Please come in,” she said in a ragged voice.
Lum leapt through the window, not slowing down until he neared the puddle of blood blossoming around Darlene’s trembling body. As he lay on the floor in front of her, he heard Cruellest apologizing for broken dishes, and explaining to Juliana why she was not to touch the bejeweled caterpillar his little brother had dropped in the sink.
Darlene’s father first asked and then begged that Lum’s grandmother helped Darlene. “Your daughter is beyond the kind of healing I can do, good man. It’s up to her and my grandson.”
The carpet felt rough against the side of Lum’s face. “I’m here, Darlene.” Her eyelids shuddered, and then her nearly black eyes were looking at him. “She’s awake, Grandmother.” Lum eyes focused on Darlene’s eyes, his face just a couple of inches from her face. “Please help her.”
“I’m dying,” Darlene said.
He wanted to ease her fear, but he could feel her essence leaving her body and entering his.
“She doesn’t have to die, Luminous. But if the choice is not made with haste, she is going to. She will be lost to this world and to you. You must give her The Spark.”
“Who…?” Darlene tried to turn towards the voice, but the movement made her body jerk.
Lum held her. “There is a way to keep you, Darlene, but the price—”
“Just tell her, Mr. Luminous. My daughter’s mind is stronger than you might think.”
“Daddy, you okay, Daddy? Aunt Juliana?”
“We’re fine, honey,” Darlene’s aunt said. “We—”
Cruellest began to cough. “Something’s coming. It’s dead and nasty and close.”
“Luminous Winter of my heart,” Lum’s grandmother said, from where she loomed at Darlene’s back. “Just because it was foretold, it doesn’t mean that the two of you can’t choose how it will happen. She will die without it, Luminous. Her death will mark the beginning of suffering and chaos this world hasn’t seen in a long time. We need her to live. I need you alive, and whole.”
Lum looked at the earthier of his two mothers. She was dressed in autumn’s mountains and valleys. The hand she extended to him showed the colors of a forest floor covered in fallen leaves. The Spark glowed in the middle of her left palm. Lum took it, and said, “Give us space.”
“What’s he going to do to her?” Darlene’s aunt said.
“He’s going to use his essence, his life force, to rekindle hers,” Lum’s grandmother told her. “We should move into the kitchen. That kind of exchange can be shocking for those not involved.”
“You’re dying, Darlene. And I—”
“It’s snowing inside your eyes,” she said.
“I’m nervous,” Lum told her, and choked on a bit of laughter. “Darlene,” he put The Spark in front of her eyes, “there is a stone inside this jewel, a Mythica Stone. It will heal your wounds, but… it will also create an everlasting bond between us.”
“I’m not afraid of really long dates.”
He sighed. “The Spark will bind you to me. You will fade if you’re away from me for too long.”
“And you?” she said.
He looked at her in silence for a few moments, trying to find the best way to say the words and settling for the simple truth. “I would only gain. My nearness to you will keep you alive. Your nearness to me will make me stronger.” He caressed her face with the back of his hand. “I don’t want you to die. And I don’t want you to have to be leashed to anyone.”
“People will suffer if I die.”
“Not your fault,” Lum said.
“You will suffer if I die.”
“I don’t want you to suffer, Luminous. I don’t want to die yet.”
“This is going to hurt a lot,” he said.
“I’m ready. I’ve hurt before.”
Never like this, Lum almost said aloud, as he put The Spark in his mouth, cracked the jewel with his teeth, and wrapped his arms and legs around Darlene.
Lum’s skin began to frost until a cocoon of ice encircled his body and Darlene’s; she screamed and bucked. He held her tight against his breasts; she fought the pain of her flesh and bones knitting back together. When she stopped convulsing, he released the energy of the Mythica Stone into her. They were joined.
The shell of ice that protected them from outside energies exploded.
Lum’s arms were still around Darlene, their eyes on each other.
“You changed back,” she spoke into his mouth, her still cool lips hovering over his.
“My three Moon Days are up. The Silver Mother returned my shape.” He touched her cheek, delighting in the new bluish-white of her irises. “You also changed. Inside and out, it seems.
Lum’s grandmother removed the memories of herself, of Cruellest and of Big Bear Vasilescus’ visit from the minds of Darlene’s father and aunt. She replaced the nightmare with a late night of dominoes where Juliana impressed her niece’s partner with fresh oregano butter on hot rolls.
“How is it that Aunt Juliana and Dad aren’t shocked by the oregano jungle growing in the kitchen?” Darlene lay in her childhood bed, facing Lum. “And they said nothing about my eyes.”
“I cast glamour over your eyes and my outfit.” Lum’s six feet of lean-muscled man had stood in front of Darlene’s family wearing a tight silver mini-dress and five inch stilettos. “You have to ask Grandmother about the intricacies of memory tempering. I don’t know how it’s done.”
“And the bond, does it frighten you?” she said, the intensity of her words filling the bedroom.
“Are you scared, Darlene?”
“Immensely curious and anxious,” she told him. “But scared? No. I trust you.”
Lum moved closer to her, laid his head between her breasts, pressed his cheek against the spot where the man had shot her. He breathed in pure relief when her arms wrapped around his neck. “I am terrified, Darlene.” To stabilize the energy of the Mythica Stone while outside its natural environment, Lum’s grandmother had to give years of her life. “Whatever is coming must be terrible for Grandmother to feel that she had to use one of her rekindling Sparks.”
“I’ll protect you, little Luminous,” Darlene said, kissing the top of Lum’s head.
He laughed into the swells of her breasts. His mirth brought out bursts of her laughter. He fed on the energy of her joy, squeezed her as tight as it was possible without causing her pain, and pushed his essence into her body until he felt her skin burn with the cold fire of his life force.
They would have to be strong of mind and flesh, as individuals and as a team, if they were to stand in front of the horror that had escaped Pre-Chaos, New York, to threaten The City.
This is the conclusion of the Lum and Darlene web serial. To read the tale from the beginning, visit my Stories page and scroll down to the Lum and Darlene heading. A novella, which will include the web serial and the events taking place right after, will be published this October. This is a tendril of a much bigger world…