Home > Strange Angels (Strange Angels #1)(7)

Strange Angels (Strange Angels #1)(7)
Author: Lili St. Crow, Lilith Saintcrow

Dad’s truck was gone, but he’d left the light on in the kitchen and a fifty-dollar bill next to a note. Don’t wait up. Order pizza. Homework before TV, kiddo, and do your katas. Love you. Dad.

Other dads actually sat at the dinner table. Mine left me a fifty and a reminder to do my goddamn katas.

I was cold anyway, so I dropped my bag in the kitchen and bashed my way out into the garage, the big broken-spring door rattling as the wind teased at it. The heavy bag creaked, swaying a little, but I shucked my coat and shivered in the middle of the concrete floor instead.

Dad liked karate, and he was big enough that it was a good choice for him. But I’m built rangy, like my mom, except she had nice chestworks and a pretty curve to her hips. I’m just angles except for the breasticles, which are more trouble than they’re worth, especially when it comes to boys. I don’t have the kind of muscle mass you need to meet a punch with direct force.

So for me, it’s tai chi and what Dad called “The Basic Dirty-Fightin’” when he was sober and “Six Great Ways to Bounce an Asshole” when he’d had a few Beams. I like tai chi—I like the slow way each movement flows into the next and the breathing smooths everything out. It’s still hard work, because your knees always have to be a little unlocked, and after a while it really murders your quads and hamstrings, but it’s nice.

Push-pull. Part the horse’s mane. Catch the swallow’s tail. Warmed up and loosened, and feeling a little better, I finally inhaled and exhaled, as close to at peace as I guess you can ever get. The outside world rushed in as soon as I opened my eyes, and I began worrying about Dad again before I even opened the door to the kitchen and stamped through, making a lot of noise I really didn’t have to.

It’s the only way to fill up an empty house.

I dug through the fridge and eventually settled on a bowl of Cheerios. I’d scarfed a greasy slice of pizza at the pool hall, and the thought of more half-cardboard cheese didn’t appeal to me, even with pepperoni. So I wolfed the cereal, spiked a glass of Coke with some of Dad’s Jim Beam, and wandered up to my room to lie on the bed and look at the light on the ceiling. Every room is different, and the way outside light reflects up onto the spackle stuff smeared on most ceilings is unique. I could probably describe pretty much every place we’ve ever lived in terms of ceiling light.

The worst part about Dad being out on hunting runs was the way whatever house we were in got really creepy around dusk. Night is when most of the stuff in the Real World comes out to play—and by play you can mean “have a little fun,” “go grocery shopping because sunlight burns like acid,” or “make unwary people disappear, yum yum.” Take your pick.

I pulled Mom’s red-and-white quilt around me, snug as a bug in a rug, and sipped at the Coke until my taste buds burned off a little—I’d made it about half and half, and began to get a warm glow after a while. My clock blinked its little red eyes, and darkness gathered deeper and deeper in the corners. The wind made the glassed-in screen door on the enclosed back porch rattle.

When we lived in apartments, I would play the game of listening to the sounds in the building as everyone came home, and imagining stories for all of them. Most apartment buildings aren’t quiet if you’re really listening. After a while the noises begin to seem like family, and you catch the rhythm of each separate life in your building working together to make the melody called home. One place we lived, the guy next door played the cello after dinner every night. That was nice to listen to, even if the other guy down the hall beat his wife once a month when rent came due.

Houses are different. They creak to themselves, muttering, when night comes around. An empty house around dusk starts to talk, no matter how newly built it is. I used to play music to cover it up, but after a while the thought that I wouldn’t be able to hear if anything was sneaking around the hallways got to me.

When you can see apparitions and poltergeists in living, solid color, that sort of thinking usually does start getting to you.

So I mostly listened and waited on nights when Dad was “out.” Night gets kind of strange when you’re waiting for someone to come home. I’ve seen shit on TV you wouldn’t believe, stuff that only happens when you’re alone and nobody can verify the sighting. Once Dad found me curled up on the floor of the mobile home we were renting in Byronville, clutching a baseball bat and sound asleep while a Twilight Zone rerun blared out of the television. I’d eaten a TV dinner and my hair had gotten into the empty tray. After that he made me promise to go to bed and not wait up, but that just meant that I fell asleep sitting up in bed and thinking about all the ways things could go wrong.

Things can go very, very wrong. They go wrong all the time in the normal world, and the Real World just means they go wrong with teeth and claws, quicker than your average bear. August called it “the Situation.” Dad called it “gone south.” Juan-Raoul de la Hoya-Smith called it “mala goddamn suerte, chingada.”

I didn’t know what Dad was after this time. He hadn’t said anything on the way from Florida. That was a little unusual—normally he had me looking through the boxes of old leather-bound books he picked up here and there, searching for odd bits of information. Or helping him make bullets and sharpen the knives, bouncing ideas off me or quizzing me on tactics. I’m probably the only sixteen-year-old girl in a three-hundred-mile radius who knows how to distinguish a poltergeist from an actual ghost (hint: If you can disrupt it with nitric acid, or if it throws new crap at you every time, it’s a poltergeist), or how to tell if a medium’s real or faking it (poke ’em with a true-iron needle). I know the six signs of a good occult store (Number One is the proprietor bolts the door before talking about Real Business) and the four things you never do when you’re in a bar with other people who know about the darker side of the world (don’t look weak). I know how to access public information and talk my way around clerks in courthouses (a smile and the right clothing work wonders). I also know how to hack into newspaper files, police reports, and some kinds of government databases (primary rule: Don’t get caught. Duh).

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