“Tourists,” I grit the words between puffs of smoke. Even though it’s pitch black out, there’s a family giggling and taking pictures next to the statue in the park. Here I thought we’d be alone.
“You’re a tourist,” Ricky reminds me, laughing. I lean in through the driver’s window, stretching the seams of my jacket, and glare at him. He ignores me, the way he always does, too focused on the babe lounging in the back seat. His words, not mine. To me, she’s always just been Gretch.
Gretch the grouch.
It’s the kind of nickname only I can call her; it’s the right of a blood-oathed friend. Being the two only real outsiders in school, we just resonated and haven’t separated since. Even though she’s a raving witch who can barely look anyone in the eye.
That’s how I like her.
“I’m an outsider, not a bloody tourist.” Returning to the night air, I flick my cigarette to the ground and stamp it out. Even from here, I can feel his judging gaze. Now he pays attention to me. “Fine.” Grumbling, I stoop to retrieve the butt, spit on it for good measure, and then toss it into the nearby bin.
“Your DNA is free game now,” Ricky taunts me. “Someone’s making a clone of you as we speak.” I scoff, pulling the driver’s door open.
“Hope not. He’d be one ripe shi-”
“Rickan.” Damn Gretch, always too lazy to call us in turn. She mashes our names like some ship. I know it makes no sense to hate her for exploring my one desire, but no matter how she dangles it before him, he’ll never notice. And that’s what leaves me so gutted. With a huff, I swing back into the driver’s seat, the door slamming behind me. My window follows as I crank the lever shut.
Non-automatic windows? I know, it’s bonkers. But our van is a classic, gifted by a failed ‘90s rock cover band. They had a bad rep for covering songs outside the ’90s. Apparently that’s an issue? Anyway, it still has their image painted over the otherwise black exterior: the Ghoth Busters. Ricky adores them, so I couldn’t paint over it in good conscience. Plus, they were the first to coin our name: the Ghoths. As a direct descendant of their name, they thought their popularity would earn us fans.
How could it, when they were known for such bangers as: “Ghothster” and “One Ghothlight.” Those are the only ‘90s songs I remember them ruining. Covering.
“Ethan?” Ricky gives me a shove. Can he not pronounce my name with such a hard “th?” “She found something,” Ricky explains, his full body still swiveled to face Gretch. Not his focus, not even for a second. I eye him before my gaze slides to the rear-view mirror. I can see her just fine this way. And him.
“Listenin’, Ethan?” I could hit her. After a prolonged laugh, she continues, “Poli’ scanner’s ablaze with 911 calls.” She has a laptop set up on her fish-netted legs, the gargantuan boots she’s wearing slapped down between us. “Says fire’s rainin’ from the sky.”
“Brill,” I snort.
“That thing really won’t stop,” Ricky adds, his lip twitching in frustration. “It’s been months…”
Three, to be exact. It started in an abandoned factory: our dreams and our nightmare. At the time we were just another goth band: paganism, blood sacrifice, you name it. And then we spawned something. I know how it sounds. I’ve seen the movies, okay?
But we did.
“They’re sayin’ some abandoned mansion met Hell,” Gretch continues narrating over the top of him, interrupting my thoughts.
“Literally, or?” Ricky meets my gaze, his head tilted. My stare keeps him there as it wanders his features. I’ve always liked that wet hair look, although the green doesn’t really suit him. The black always did me in most. I wonder if that’s why he changed it.
Singer or not, he’s always been the face of the band.
“Just tell us where,” I order her, breaking eye contact. “We’ll find out for ourselves. Can’t trust coppers.” I buckle myself in and reverse with a bat-clad Doc on the pedal—hand-painted. Surprise, I might have more than one talent. Being a guitarist and painti—yeah, I think you get the point. Nothing screams vanquisher of a deadly spawn like a black adorned numpty.
“End of Martyr’s Court. Shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Gretch now has her phone in hand. And from the corner of my eye, I can see Ricky flooding around her feet. Do I like the pain of unrequited love? It makes for decent lyrics. It’s about as goth as feelings can get. That’s what I tell myself, but Gretch always tells me he’ll come around. She says we have to get together so no one else can come between the three of us. I guess her master plan is to be a third wheel. Although it’d suit her just fine; she’s not much of a romantic.
We’re good friends. Even so, I jerk the van, pulling Ricky’s attention back to me. I’m petty, what of it?
“Ethan?!” Ricky barks at me in surprise. He catches himself against the window and pants out a panicked breath. “You trying to kill us before the demon does?”
“It’s not a demon,” Gretch drones over him. “Take a right.” I swerve, braking hard.
I’m in a mood.
“Ethan!” Ricky’s wails of fear rise. There’s a smutty joke here I could make. Too much? Sorry.
I lumber around the turn and then slow gradually. Even from here, I can see the sky flaming. The spawn’s really having a go at them this time. Sirens are wailing, lights flashing.
He’ll kill them. All of them.
“Satan’s cross.” Gretch’s mouth falls open. She takes the goth thing too far sometimes; she’s most the reason the spawn came through. She just had to play with witchcraft. I park with a screech and immediately step out of the van. Between the three of us, I’m the only one stupid enough to take this thing head-on.
I may be a wanker, but I don’t condone murder.
Stepping around the back of the van, I shove open the rear door. In a panel just beneath Gretch’s excessive baggage, there’s a collection of weapons. No guns though; am I savage? I close a gloved hand around my favorite axe, struggling to contain the sick grin lifting the corner of my mouth.
The spawn was fated on us for good reason, at least, that’s what I believe. We’re all a bit ill.
“Wait.” Ricky blocks me.
“Let him go,” Gretch mutters, leaning against the van behind me. Her gaze is held by her flashing screen. If she’s still playing Tappy Birds, so help me—
“—I’m not releasing this reckless Brit on a helpless town,” Ricky argues.
“Excuse me?!” I meet his sheepish gaze with fury. My fist tightens around the shaft of the axe, despite my inner pleas to remain calm. “Bloody—”
“—Really?” Gretch finally reduces herself to eye contact, glaring at Ricky as she steps between us. “This Brit has kept this thing we spawned”—she points from her chest to his—“from destroyin’ our entire world. Want the world to end?” Flushed with embarrassment, Ricky shakes his head. Remind me why I fancy this twat? Lowering my gaze, I pass by both of them and then fumble for a smoke.
Don’t start with me.
Once it’s lit, I inhale, closing my eyes. In the back of my head, I can hear the rumble of drums. They transform as the bass kicks in, beating a heart-racing rhythm. As my “part” comes in, I step forward, bobbing to the beat.
“Hey, kid, stay back!” a bobby shouts at me. I ignore him, weaving through the poorly spaced vehicles. From here, the spawn is hulking, devouring the sky in darkness. The bobby reaches for me anyway, barely missing the pant leg of my jeans. A sneering laugh bursts from within.
“Jog on!” One hand lifts a two-fingered salute, the other brandishes my axe. As I pass him I wink, sprinting straight for the spawn’s leg. My blade chews through its ankle. It screams in agony, clapping a claw down beside me. To the metal in my head, I dodge the other retaliating swipes. A bounce to the left, a hop to the right, one quick headbang.
Frustration emanates through his roars until he’s swinging aimlessly. That’s my opportunity. I mount his hand after another of his lumbering strikes and delve my axe into the knuckle of his claw. That spurs him to raise it above him. So I ride the movement over his head, my axe the only handle.
And then I rip it free.
Wind rustles past as I fall. One somersault, two. I slam down on its shoulder. My legs catch me in a crouch. With a fumbling stride, I delve my blade into its neck. This is as close as I’ve gotten to it. I might actually kill it this time.
Victory, sweet, sweet victory.
Chuffed, I step back, preparing another swing, but his claw snatches me up into the air. My axe tumbles beneath me. My legs dangle. My smoke whips from between my teeth. He just holds me there. I can see Gretch and Ricky. She’s still messing about on her phone, and he’s watching from over her shoulder.
The music in my head dies.
Why am I fighting so hard to fix their mistake? We’ve chased this thing across the country, but not once have they raised a black-varnished nail to help me. Anger seethes within as fire burns up the spawn’s throat. He’s going to char me alive.
I laugh maniacally, and then shout, “Bugger off!” Whether it’s to the demon or my supposed friends, I’m not sure. Maybe both. The flames envelop me before I’m sent to the ground. My body rolls several times, skidding across the dirt. How many times can a human body meet the ground with ferocious intensity and live through it?
Let’s count the licks.
One. Two. Thre—am I pissed right now? No, maybe just brain damaged. For a moment, I lie there, processing. I may as well burn to death, except it f-ing hurts.
“Ethan!” Gretch drops beside me, slapping at the flames with her jacket. Tears are flowing down her typically emotionless face. But Ricky, he’s just standing there. I could hardly guess we were friends if I saw him from afar.
He’s a proper twat.
The hellfire transforms to hellsmoke but Gretch doesn’t relax. She clenches her fists on the leather of her jacket, her eyes wandering over my form. With grit’ teeth, she finally hisses, “Ethan, I’m so sorry. I’ve done my best to pretend this doesn’t affect me, but I can’t do this anymore. I can’t let you get hurt for us. I can’t.”
“What do you expect us to do?” Ricky interjects.
“Are you kiddin’?!” Gretch wipes her eyes, smearing eyeliner across her cheeks. “Ef’s the only reason we’re still alive! H-he’s…” I’ve missed that nickname—hard e, soft f. I’m no f-er. “Ef probably hates us.” Her hand clenches my shirt, sobs clawing from her throat.
“Gretch, I don—” I begin, but she’s already up and running. “Gretchen! Ricky, stop her!”
“I-I’m not much of a fighter,” he mutters. This useless pretty boy. Planting my hands in the dirt, I force myself to my feet, but I’ve definitely broken something. My left leg screams with every step. It’s just venting the anger I feel. Not at Gretch. I’m hard on her, sure, but I never really expected her to help me. Ricky’s the one I’m disappointed in.
“Gretch, please,” I’m practically begging her, but my pleas deflect off deaf ears. She pushes her way past the coppers and goes for my fallen axe. I can’t run to catch her. Dammit. Dammit to Hell! Her thin arms swing my axe with fervor, but it’s nothing. She misses, fails to dodge the spawn’s aggravated swat, and slumps to the ground.
“Get these kids out of here!” one of the coppers dashes to her side, another blocks my path to her. I shove him aside, but he pulls me back again. So I give him another hard push. I need to get to her. I know she’s fine, but I need to.
“Just stop kid,” he growls at me. “We’ll bring her to you. We’ll call an ambulance. Just stay out of the way.” I relent. It’s finally dawning on me.
I’m not beating this thing today. In fact, I’m probably never beating this thing. I’m not strong enough on my own, but I can’t ask them to become as insane as I am.
Ricky steps up to my side, straining to see Gretch. One of the bobbies is carrying her to us. She’s barely conscious but alive. Ricky immediately rushes to her, grasping her into his arms. That’s all I want to do to her right now. I just want to wrap that tiny frame in against my chest.
“Bruv,” I grumble. I don’t even know who I’m talking to, I’m just frustrated. Ricky’s a twat. Gretch has finally lost the plot. And I’m in pain. That’s when the gunfire starts. I briefly glance at the erupting scene before regretting it. I’m not able to save any of them today.
Well, maybe just the one, just her.
I reach out a hand for Gretch who slips her fingers around mine. “Don’t do that again, hear me? I’m doing this to protect you.” Ricky carries her to the van with me limping after them. “I’m doing this because I adore you.” I open the passenger-side door for her, beckoning for Ricky to set her down. But she stops him.
“You can’t drive like this,” she insists instead of answering me.
“It’s my left leg,” I argue.
“Let him go,” Ricky mockingly repeats Gretch’s earlier words before forcibly setting her down. He steps back, glowers at me, and then climbs into the back seat. What has him so twisted? He’s the only one of the three of us who’s useless. Gretch has her tech, I have my insatiable recklessness. What does he have? And why is he still so damn pretty?
“Ef”—Gretch bites her lip—”I know you adore me, but you don’t love me.” She glances down at her boots, tapping the toes together. Her hand searches for mine. “You can’t know how I feel when I watch you throw yourself at that thing for me.” I lift my free hand to her cheek and lean to kiss her forehead. I can feel her subtle bend. She wants to kiss me, but I can’t let her. We exchange a knowing, heartbroken look before I limp my way to the driver’s seat. With all of us buckled in, I screech back onto the road, turning up the volume of our stereo; it’s finally playing my favorite of our songs, Gretchen’s vocals ringing out.
In the darkness of night, we’ll give you a fright,
Three forsakers of light, three too many.
On the ground where you stand, we’ve placed our hand,
Bringing the dead back to land, get ready.
Oh, they’ll get you! No one there to save you!
So just keep running, go on, and on, and on.
Through the trees, we’ll be waiting,
ready to put you on your knees, your heart will seize!
Oh, we’ll get you! No one there to save you!
We’ll keep hunting, we’ll go on, and on, and on.
Willing victim, drank the venom,
Now let’s get him, there’s no escape.
Maybe it’s time for this goth band to return to their music.