“And she,” he paused, unsure if he even wanted to continue. “She tore my face apart. But, somehow she didn’t? And she forced something down my throat, some kind of burning liquid.”
“Right,” Dave agreed.
He didn’t believe him.
John could see it written across his best friend’s face.
Dave’s red eyes pierced him, poking holes in his story without words. Dave didn’t believe one fucking word he was saying. He was analyzing John, with a hard look and still fingers. He still gripped the skinning knife in his hand, probably ready to use it if John snapped.
“Right,” Dave repeated, and stood up. “I think this is more of a family problem.”
“I- what?” John sputtered. “Don’t tell my dad, oh my god, no, you can’t!”
“Not your family. My family,” Dave corrected. He pulled his sunglasses off of his head and set them down on his work bench, right next to the skull.
Something about the skull, something about it was different. Usually when Dave skinned things, John had to look away. This time John couldn’t look away. He swallowed hard, licking his lips. He was salivating. His stomach lurched. It’s eyes were sitting on the table next to it, ready to plop into a jar to preserve them. The sockets were clean and hollow. Pitch black on the inside. John stared, the skull stared back.
“Alright,” Dave’s voice pulled his attention back to his friend. “I gotta tell you something now. I’m completely serious when I say this to you, alright?”
“Alright,” John agreed.
Dave just nodded, placed his knife down and took a deep breath.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Ready,” John affirmed.
Dave took another deep breath, and then he spoke. “Okay, so, basically? We’re a bunch of witches. Well, everybody except me.”
John leaned back in his chair. He searched Dave’s face, looking for a ghost of a smile or a twinge of a joking tone. Nothing, Dave’s face was stone wall serious. Cold as ice. This had to be some elaborate joke.
“Oh, this is real funny!” John scowled. “First you leave me in the woods, and then you and your brother just find me so easily, bring me here and what? Was that girl in on it too? You know her? Where’d you get the contacts? What kind of joke is this, Dave? Come on!”
“I’m not joking. This isn’t a joke,” Dave insisted, “I had nothing to do with you getting lost, or you getting attacked, I swear on my life, dude. I believe you, I believe you got attacked, and I wanna help you.”
Dave strode over to Roxy’s car, and pushed the driver’s side mirror.
“Come here, you have to see yourself.”
John huffed, but he got up anyway. He stopped next to his best friend. Dave pushed the mirror again, adjusting it so John could see himself. He almost couldn’t believe his eyes.
Dave’s red eyes reflected in the mirror, contrasting his pale skin and bleach blonde hair. John could see his freckles, dusting across his face faintly. He could even see a faint layer of concealer, pasted on top of reddened pimples.
John’s own face though, something was off. He’d looked in the mirror millions of times. He knew what his own face looked like. His eyes were off. Something was wrong with their shape, not the corners or his eyelids, his pupil, he realized. His pupils were huge, almost covering his iris, which had darkened from the usual blue grey to a stunning cobalt, bright and luminescent even in the florescent lighting.
He gasped, and John saw a flash of his own teeth. His mouth was a reproduction of Vriska’s, his buck teeth, the ones he’d had though childhood, were gone. He didn’t have a blunt tooth in his head anymore, all too long and too inhuman.
“See, man?” Dave asked rhetorically. “I wanna help. Would you let me?”
John could only nod, transfixed by his own reflection.
Dave left him, going to the door to open it and shout though the house.
“Hey, guys?” Dave hollered. No one responded, so he continued speaking. “I told John.”
Roxy groaned over dramatically, like something you’d hear in a movie, and something thumped in the living room.
“Goddamn son of a bitch, Dave!” Dirk’s angry voice shouted from upstairs, and his heavy foot falls thumped on the floor above him. A door upstairs shut too, and that could only be Rose. The Strider family converged in the garage.
Dirk was pissed as all get out, and he looked like he wanted to wring Dave’s neck. He held off, leaning on Dave’s work bench with folded arms. Rose was next, the family’s black cat under her feet and a heavy, leather bound book wrapped in her arms. She flanked the door, and stood there as Roxy entered the room.
“Davey, sweetie, why?” The middle aged woman sighed, looking bored and annoyed, a half full wine glass grasped in her left hand.
“Yeah, ‘Davey’,” Dirk mocked, “why do we always gotta clean up after your mess, huh? Not like you can erase his memory.”
“Whoa, what?” John interjected.
Rose laughed, her blackened lips curling in a smirk, “Dirk, you shouldn't mock our brother for not inheriting our gifts, or our brains, or our dashing good looks, or-”
“Shut the fuck up!” Dave cut her off, furious.
“Kids, don’t fight!” Roxy interrupted, trying to play referee. “Johnny, sweetie, just stay real still, okay?”
“Mom, no,” Dave shouted as she rose a hand to John’s face, “look at him.”
Roxy paused, gazing intently at John, and then she lowered her hand in favor of stepping closer. John watched surprise etched itself onto her features as she took his chin between her fingers. “When did this happen?”
“I literally turned around and his face was changing,” Dave replied, standing off to the side. Dirk made a face, and shoved his brother aside. He was next to grip John’s face, and he wasn’t gentle. He took John’s upper lip with his thumb and peeled it back, revealing rows and rows of sharp, saber like teeth.
Dirk whistled, long and low. “That is one nasty curse.”
“It’s not a curse,” Roxy corrected, “it’s a soul split.”
“How do you know?” Dirk inquired, man handing John’s jaw open for a better look.
“Look at his eyes,” Roxy murmured, tilting her head, as if a different angle would change the problem. “Eyes are the window to the soul.”
“Do you suppose there’s something in the grimmore that can change him back?” Rose asked, working her way between her brother and her mother for a look see.
Roxy grimaced. “No. This isn’t something our magic can fix. John, how did this happen?”
Dirk released his face, allowing John to recount his story. “I tripped over something and I fell, after I got separated from Dave, and fell into this gut pile. And then this.. Thing came out of the woods, and I called to it, thinking it might be Dave, and it changed into a girl. Then she jumped on me and bit me-”
John motioned to his face, “here. She tore me apart. She fed me something, her blood maybe? And then she was just gone.”
“Did she say anything?” Rose followed up, her interest piqued.
“She uh, she said it was a pleasure doing business with me, and that she’d send help my way.” John shivered. The memory was still fresh in his mind. Her voice was wet with his blood, and soft when she spoke.
“Business?” Roxy mocked, her eyebrows raising. “You made a deal with her?”
“No, I just told her I wanted to go back to the trail. I just wanted to find Dave,” John expressed. He took a deep breath and sat down, pulling away from the family that had crowded him in to the side of the car.
Roxy tisked and looked to Dirk next.
“I didn’t sense any girl. Hell, I didn’t even sense him when I started looking,” Dirk grumbled, “ I found Dave right away. She must have masked John, and herself.”
Roxy huffed, folding her arms very lady like after downing her drink and smashing the glass on the floor. “God damn it,” she cussed, frowning deeply. She looked perplexed, unsure of her next move.
“What, uh, what’s gonna happen to me?” John mustered up the courage to ask, “or, what’s currently happening to me?”
Roxy pressed her lips into a thin line. She didn’t reply. Dirk didn’t give either way, and Rose had returned to her spot near the door. Dave. Poor Dave, stood nearby.
John’s eyes drifted back to the skull. He had a pretty clear view of it from where he sat. A housefly, one of the few remaining from the first frost, had found it. John watched it buzz around the severed head, landing on the dried out flesh, or what was left of it. Lucky bastard. John’s stomach lurched again.
“John, darlin’, look at me,” Roxy stepped into his line of view, obscuring the skull from his vision. John immediately looked up at her face. “Are you hungry?”
“I- no?” John replied, like it was a question.
“Are you sure?” She debated. Was he sure? Before John could reply she was padding her way to the workbench. She took the spike horn’s skull by what was left of an ear and tossed it to him. She threw it underhand, like a bowling ball, right for John’s head.
Without thinking, John reached out and grabbed, his thumbs finding the eye sockets and his teeth finding purchase in the arid flesh of the forehead. John ripped, jerking his head back, and tearing the flesh from the bone. His teeth scraped the skull, sliding along its smooth surface with a disgusting scraping sound. He didn’t even chew it, he just fucking swallowed.
He didn’t taste it, he didn’t feel it’s coarse hair on his tongue, he just swallowed, and dug in for more. He ripped a hole in the meaty part of its neck, and there was still blood there. Rich, gamey tasting blood, and it made John’s brain sing. John felt like moaning. He hadn’t realized he was starving, absolutely starving. He’d eaten, what? Three hours ago? He shouldn't be this hungry.
There was more blood in the shriveling veins, John could smell it. He shoved his tongue into the hole he’d created, tilting his jaw to pull his meal closer, and sucked. Cold, clotted life blood spurted into his mouth, staining his lips a dark crimson, and flowing down his throat. He was so thirsty all of a sudden.
Somewhere, what felt like miles away, he heard Rose gasp.
John blinked, his entire body tensing before it relaxed, and he dropped the skull. It fell to the floor with a cushioned thunk.
John didn’t know what had come over him. He kept his head ducked, afraid to look up. With trembling hands, he used his sleeve to wipe his mouth. “I’m gonna be sick.”
“ You? ” Rose mocked, earning her a disapproving glare from Dirk.
“This is worse than I thought it was,” Roxy confessed, coming closer to pluck the skull up from the floor. “Even if you didn’t mean to make a deal with her, you did. Demons don’t play fair.”
John watched her as she walked the spike horn to Dave and pressed it into his hands.
“She split your soul, and make you like her.”
John swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “So, s-so, I’m just stuck like this? Forever?”
“Unless you can bargain your soul back, yes,” Rose snarked, picking up the family cat to hold him close to her chest. “On the plus side, road kill is much, much cheaper than groceries.”
John groaned. That was not a plus. Not at all.
“It’s not as bad as you think it looks,” Dave offered.
“Kids, hush up,” Roxy clipped, scowling. She turned back John’s way, her expression quickly brightening. “no, John. We’ve known you since you were in kindergarten. We’re gonna find a way to turn you back.”
“We should induct him,” Dirk spoke up. Three sets of eyes set on him.
“I don’t know if we should go that far,” Rose frowned. Roxy looked conflicted.
“He’d be safer,” Dirk insisted. He uncrossed his arms in favor of placing them on his hips.
“Induct?” John repeated, “what?”
“Witches belong to a coven,” Rose filled in. “It’s like a family, except coven bonds are stronger than blood.”
John didn’t know if he wanted to belong to something that sounded so… Cult sounding. But, on the other hand, it was the Striders. Roxy was right, John had known them since kindergarten.
“If John wants to, later, we can, let’s not push him,” Roxy insisted instead, “right now he needs something so he can go to school Monday morning, and I need a Brandy. I’m gonna call Daddy Egbert, tell him you're staying over.”
Roxy motioned for Rose to follow her out, and both women left the room. Rose toted the cat along with her. Dirk looked down, kicked at a crack on the floor and walked out too, his hands still on his hips.
The only sound in the house for a long time was Roxy chatting on the phone in the kitchen. Dave went back to his stool, and sat down. He plucked his sunglasses up off the bench and placed them back on his face. John couldn’t tell where he was looking after that, but he hoped it wasn’t at him. John didn’t want him to stare.
“Soo,” John spoke finally, effectively killing the awkward silence. “You guys are totally a bunch of witches.”
“We are totally a bunch of witches,” Dave smirked, stifling a chuckle. “Except for me.”
“Except for you,” John repeated, deadpan.
“Yeah,” Dave affirmed, “I’m not gifted. Skipped right over me.”
“So, you're just a regular guy?”
Dave flipped his hair out if his face and nodded. “I’m just a regular guy.”
“You don’t know how relieved I am to hear that.”
This time Dave couldn’t stifle his laughter. “You don’t know how long I’ve wished I could tell you all about this bullshit.”
“I’m kind if glad you kept it to yourself,” John joked. Dave only laughed harder.
“I have something so fucked up to tell you.”
“Somehow I don’t think it’s going to surprise me,” John was smiling. Today was literally the worst day of his life, and he was smiling.
“You know our cat, Jaspers?” Dave inquired, his tone light and fun. John nodded, unsure where he was going with that. “Remember when my dad 'left’,” he used air quotes, “in the fifth grade? And then we got Jaspers right after?”
John did remember that. Dave had.. Oddly been alright with the entire issue. John’s jaw went slack, deep in thought. Then it clicked. His eyes widened.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” John asked in utter disbelief. He’d heard enough fanciful, fantastical bullshit tonight to last a lifetime. The cat? The one Rose had been holding? Surely this time Dave was joking.
“I wish I was man. Shit. How was school, son? Great, scratch me behind the ears and clean my shit box,” Dave’s arm snaked around his own middle, holding his stomach. He was laughing so hard his face was red.
“How did that happen?” John gaped.
Dave couldn’t contain himself, John could barely understand him. “Rose hexed him accidentally, mom can’t figure out how to turn him back! Like, 'Sorry you're a cat, hubby, but I bought you the fancy tuna this time,’ Jesus! ”
Now that was funny. John split, laughter bubbling from deep in his chest. His eyes leaked, and oh, oh god he couldn’t breathe. His diaphragm ached, and his lungs begged him for air. This was like the crown jewel of insanity on a night where it seemed anything could happen.
“Hey! If you two are done, mom found something!” Dirk shouted.
Dave stood up, carried his skull over to the freezer, and placed it inside among all his other yet to be completed projects. That freezer was like a furry mass grave. He was still giggling, smiling genuinely. “Come on man, we gotta wash our hands.”
Wash his? Oh. John’s hands were covered in gross, slick matter. His thumbs were covered in some kind of grey, chunky material. John hoped it wasn’t the creature’s brains. Suddenly Dave’s cat dad wasn’t quite so funny..
Dave lead the way into the family’s kitchen. Roxy liked modern things, and dark wood. Stainless steel appliances were a must, and so were cherry cabinets. Her dining table and chairs matched.
Rose had made herself scarce, but Jaspers was still hanging around. He lounged on the counter next to Roxy, swishing his tail lightly. Did he..did he remember being human? John was never going to be able to look at that cat the same way again.
Roxy was parked at the kitchen island, clad in a pair of reading glasses. She didn’t look up, too busy pouring over a couple of old looking books. She’d push one away only to pull another close. From what John could see, the writing wasn’t in any language he’d seen before.
Dirk was leaning up on the counter. Looking at the back of a pizza box. Next to him was a large pot, and the stove was on. He took a can out of the cupboard and read the label. “Corn?”
“Mm,” Roxy hummed, “just as good as maze, isn’t it?”
“It’s the same,” Dirk shrugged.
Roxy didn’t look up. “One cup. John, do me a huge, huge favor alright? I need you to snip a little piece of your hair off and put it in that pot there.”
“Way ahead of you, mom,” Dirk leaned over, a pair of scissors in his hand, and clipped off a chunk of John’s messy hair. John was a bit taken back, leaning away from Dirk and the offending shears.
“I guess all we need now is intent,” Roxy finished, closing one of the grey bound leather books in front of her.
“Can we eat first?” Dave piped up, pushing past his brother to the sink. He used his elbow to turn the handle. Dirk got out of John’s way so he could scrub his hands too. Both boys made sure to use liberal amounts of soap.
“No, 'cause it’s nasty. It’ll leave a bad taste in Johnny’s mouth,” Roxy rejected. Box pizza was pretty nasty anyway, John wasn’t sure if it mattered.
Dirk was busy measuring corn out of the can. John didn’t see where the lock of his hair had gone, but he had a pretty good idea where it went. The concoction in the pot was a pale yellow, with thin broth, like chicken noodle soup. It didn’t smell any, but it didn’t look appetizing.
He was gonna have to drink that, wasn’t he?
Dirk moved his hands, very slowly, one on each side of the boiling pot.
John watched Dirk’s hands hover next to the hot metal. John was almost afraid he was going to touch it and burn himself when his hands sparked. Orange crossed green like lightning bolts in a storm. The pot smoked with white hot steam as electricity arced off of it. The light above him dimmed, and all John’s hair stood on end. The crackling bicolored current lingered, dancing across the metal even after Dirk removed his hands.
Next he grabbed a mug from the cabinet and skimmed some of the thin broth out for John.
John’s lip curled in disgust as he took the cup. “It’s not gonna electrocute my tongue, is it?”
“No, but I might,” Dirk snarked, his expression sour. “It’ll make you look human again. At least to other humans.”
Dave smirked, elbowing his best friend in the ribs. “Bottoms up.”
John used his left hand to pinch his nose shut, and with his right he brought the mug to his lips. He sucked in a deep breath and chugged. The liquid was hot, hotter than safe, but it didn’t burn him. There were a few chunks here and there, but overall it went down pretty smooth. Roxy had been right about the taste though. It tasted absolutely rancid, like sour milk tea brewed with coffee grounds in pickle juice. The after taste was unbelievable.
He managed to keep it down, but he had to take a seat right after. The pizza cooked for another fifteen minutes in silence. Dave had located his phone charger and played a game to pass the time. John placed his head down on the dinner table, content to stew with his now upset stomach. The oven timer went off, and Dave got up. When he returned, he brought John back a plate.
“Got you meat lovers, man,” Dave smirked, “since you seem to have a hankering.”
John looked up long enough to stick his tongue out at his friend. He didn’t much feel like eating anymore. Roxy ate standing up, munching on crust and sharing her pepperoni with the cat. She leaned over and lit a candle, pumpkin pie by the smell off it. Rose appeared in the kitchen without being called. John wasn’t sure if that was a witch thing or if she could smell it all the way up in her room.
“You still trying to talk Jade in to going to that shitty vampire movie?” Dave teased, talking with his mouth full.
Jade. Jade? Oh, he must mean Rose’s best friend. Was that her name? He knew immediately which vampire movie Dave was referring to. Some thing like a new age Twilight. John loved shitty movies, but that crossed a line.
“It’s none of your business what I’m doing,” Rose replied haughtily.
“Oh, but it so is, what if, like, you got bit by rabid fan girls? We’d have to put you down Rose, just like ol’ yeller. 'She’s my sister, ma, I’ll shoot her.’ Shit, if you bit mom, we’d have to put mom down too. Who would buy me apple juice?”
“Dirk, obviously,” his sister replied dryly.
“I ain’t buying him shit!” Dirk scoffed, “and I also don’t want any more of that fucking vampire shit in my house.“
“I’m not going to see the vampire movie! ” Rose hissed.
“What are you gonna see then? The new fifty shades?”
“Dave!” Roxy interrupted, “can’t you leave your baby sister alone for one minute?”
Dave swallowed his food before he answered. “No.”
Roxy groaned and went for a bottle of liquor. She didn’t even bother with a cup, just sipped the dark liquid straight from the bottle. “I am not nearly drunk enough for this.”
“Sure you're not,” Dave smarted, “you wanna go watch a movie, John?”
John moaned, dreading the thought of moving, and he agreed anyway. “Sure.”
Actually getting up from the table was the hard part. He pretty much drug himself to the family’s upstairs living space. Once there he threw himself on the overly plush couch. Dave plopped down on the bean bag nearby after popping in a DVD.
John couldn’t watch the movie. He couldn’t even unbury his head from the cushions. From the sounds of it, Dave had turned on a horror movie. Appropriate for the time of year with Halloween fast approaching. John mused the possible plot options of a movie based around his stomach ache. Something like in Alien, maybe, where it finally rips open his torso and kills him. Yeah. That sounded about right.
"You want some ginger ale or something man?” Dave asked finally, about a half hour into the gorefest on television.
“No,” John managed through the upholstery. “For as shitty as I feel, do I look any better?”
“I can’t tell, the spell only works on humans,” Dave sounded off. John couldn’t see his face, but he knew his friend well enough to know his feelings were hurt.
John felt sorry after that. He quickly changed the subject.
“What’s it like to live with a brother that can make electricity?”
John heard the beans in the bean bag move as Dave shifted. “Put it this way, both my siblings can kick my ass three ways to Sunday.”
“Mmmm,” John groaned into the sofa. “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn't I be?” The blonde asked, surprised.
“This affects you too dude.”
Dave was quiet for a while before he spoke again. “Yeah I guess that’s right. I’m fine, man. Thanks for asking.”
“Thank you .” John rolled over, facing Dave now. “You pretty much saved my ass. My whole entire ass.”
“What are best friends for?” Dave held out his hand for a fist bump. John pounded it, and exploded it with a grin.
“Hey rugrats!” Dave’s bro shouted, from the staircase by the sound of it. “Moms passed the fuck out, everybody else is doing the same.”
A door down the hall creaked open. Rose’s voice carried down the hall, she said something like, “why, Dirk, I had no idea you felt this way about me.”
“Lights out,” Dirk sounded strained, “and put some goddamn clothes on.”
The door shut with a slam, but John could still make out Rose’s response. “Grow up, you changed my diapers. And this is my room!”
“Dave, get the lead out if your ass. Bed, chop chop,” Dirk appeared in the doorway moments later. “Figure out where John’s sleeping.”
“It’s Saturday night!” Dave argued. Dirk reached over and flipped the light switch.
“And now it’s a dark Saturday night,” Dirk replied factually. And then he disappeared, down the hall to his own bedroom.
Dave huffed and slouched back into the bean bag.
“Wanna stay up all night?” John inquired.