To catch up on earlier chapters of The Reader’s Fairy Tale–Lucas and the House of Lies, go to the House of Lies Page. Thanks for reading!
I have to get out of here. He thought of Dee’s half-human form and shuddered, then looked behind him for the eyes of his own shadow. They were there at his heels, black and glossy, and the rest of the face faded in and out.
He glanced at the front door as he passed through the foyer and stopped.
Brandon followed him out of the rec room, his sketchpad pinched to his side and his pencil tucked back behind his ear. Lucas had forgotten about his roommate, and everything except Pa, when he saw the creatures climbing and slithering out of the shadows.
“Have you ever tried it?” Lucas asked the other boy.
“Leaving. Just walking out the front door.”
Careful not to drop his sketchpad, Brandon pulled up his skinny jeans. “No, never wanted to.”
Lucas noticed Brandon’s shadow now. It was a little dragonlike creature, with two tails and flat gray scales. It looked more playful than evil, flitting restlessly and watching the shiny iridescent shards of light thrown on the floor by the chandelier.
As Brandon spoke, the dragon became a shade darker.
Wait, Lucas realized, not darker, more solid.
After catching Brandon’s eye, Lucas asked, “What part of that was the lie, Brandon? The ‘no’ or the ‘never wanted to’?”
“Huh?” Brandon’s eyebrow went up. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you lied, I just can’t tell which part.”
“Oh,” he pulled the pencil out from behind his ear and scratched his nose. “That I never wanted to. I wanted to, but I really don’t have anywhere to go, so I’ve never tried it.”
The dragon didn’t change, just tried trapping a rainbow sequin of light against one of the black tiles, its little taloned hand smacking silently on the marble. Lucas noticed that the light from the crystals traveled through the gray flesh. He was still mostly shadow.
That was the truth. “I’m going to try it again.”
“Again?” Brandon asked. “You tried this before?”
“Yeah,” Lucas looked at the door, “when I left you the note for Ami.”
“Oh, that was only this morning.”
“Did it work?” Brandon looked at Lucas and blinked.
Lucas just stared back at him.
“Oh, I guess not.” Brandon blushed and looked at his feet. “So what happened?”
“Carl.” Lucas looked at the door again.
Lucas took a deep breath, “I think I’ll try it again.”
“I want to see something.”
“Can I watch?”
Lucas shrugged, “Sure.”
The knob was cool to the touch. Lucas pulled the door open slowly and glanced down the sidewalk. An afternoon breeze ruffled the bushes that divided the cement from a small swath of grass. Where it had been almost painfully bright that morning, now this side of the house was shaded all the way to the driveway.
The sidewalk was empty.
Brandon came up behind him to peek out, close enough to breathe on Lucas’s neck. Lucas pinched his shoulders up and stretched his neck around to give Brandon a glare.
“Sorry,” Brandon whispered and took a step back. “Just trying to see.”
“It’s empty. No one there.”
Brandon gave him a thumbs up.
Pushing the door open, Lucas stepped out onto the porch and looked around. Still no one. He hopped down the two steps to the sidewalk, then looked back at Brandon, who held his thumb out through the door.
Goofy kid. Lucas held his thumb up in return. Brandon grinned.
Turning to head down the sidewalk, Lucas looked directly at the large button of a black dress jacket.
“Hello, Carl,” Lucas kept his eyes on the button.
“Going somewhere?” Carl raised one eyebrow.
It had to be something that wouldn’t make Lucas forget, something that would come true about someone else. “I was coming out to watch for Vanessa. She’s supposed to be here today.”
The black button heaved in and out as Carl breathed. “You can watch from a window.”
“Sounds good,” Lucas slowly backed away, keeping his eyes on Carl’s black ones. Once he was inside, Brandon slammed the door and leaned on it.
Lucas headed up the stairs.
“Is Vanessa really coming today?” Brandon sprinted half a step behind him, pulling on the rail to pop up by Lucas’s face every other tread.
“I’m betting that she does.”
“Why do you think she would come here today?”
“I don’t know. I just think so.”
They reached the second floor and paused. Small humanlike creatures worked up and down the hallway, polishing the wood, wiping the walls, and cleaning the windows on each end. They looked like the thing that Dee had become when the spider crawled into existence out of her shadow, gray skinned shells with black eyes. Their stretched hands held rags and cleaning supplies, the smell of wood polish and glass cleaner mingling with the formaldehyde odor that filled the floor.
“Do you see them, too?” Brandon’s eyes got big.
“Yeah,” Lucas answered, still staring at the three foot tall walking corpses.
“Cool,” his colored beanie bobbed. “Nobody else admits to it. I don’t know if they can all see them, but I’m pretty sure Max can. He still says he can’t, though. Probably just to make me think I’m weird.”
Lucas took a final glance and continued up the stairs. Brandon followed behind him now, all the way to their bedroom on the fifth floor.
“Nice blanket,” Brandon sat on Lucas’s bed. “I really like this.” He rubbed his hand on the blanket. It was one of the soft, fuzzy kind.
“You should,” Lucas pulled the note out of his pocket, “you gave it to me to use.”
The shadow dragon licked at Brandon’s notebook, and Brandon moved over to his bed and curled his legs underneath him like he had been sitting that morning when Lucas woke up. Lucas paced the floor at the end of the beds, staring at the note and thinking of Pa. After a few steps he realized he was moving around the eyes. He looked down and a fully formed face with small horns looked back at him. Standing on goat legs with black hooves, the creature was as tall as his knee.
“How did you…?”
He blinked, “Every lie counts.”
“I didn’t…” Lucas stalled. I’m coming out to watch for Vanessa. She’s supposed to be here today. “Oh. How does that count? It was an experiment.”
“Are you talking to me?” Brandon looked up from his sketchpad.
Lucas glanced up.
His little goatman shadow tugged at his pant leg. “Experiments are still lies.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t like a lie kind of lie.”
“What wasn’t a lie kind of lie?” Brandon’s mouth pinched.
“I’m not talking to you.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Lucas looked down. “I’m talking to this thing that keeps tugging on my pants.”
Brandon leaned over the bed to look. “I don’t see anything.”
“No?” Lucas was surprised. “Anything?”
“I see your shadow on the carpet. Is that what you’re talking about?” Brandon looked up at Lucas and scratched his nose with his pencil.
“He can’t see me,” the goat man said.
“Yeah, I’m talking about my shadow,” Lucas agreed. “I’m talking to my shadow.”
“You know,” Brandon flipped his pencil in his fingers, “You don’t look so good. A little gray.”
Lucas smoothed his bangs out of his face. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah, and you have tiny horns growing on your head.”
He stopped pacing, “I do?” He looked down at the shadow creature by his leg, with horns poking out of the dark, curly hair on his head. “Are you sure?”
Brandon looked closely, concentrating. “Yep.” The dragon laid down at his feet. “Here,” he flipped his sketchpad open and held it out, “You look like this. Like a satyr.”
The paper was smooth, almost velvety, against Lucas’s fingertips. The sketch was a close-up of Lucas’s face as he slept, Brandon’s blanket tucked up beneath his chin. Even though the scene was in the gray shades of a charcoal pencil, Lucas could easily picture the bright rainbow colors of the blanket. The art was amazing. Lucas was impressed with the details of the sketch, the texture.
One detail in particular caught his attention. On the top of his head were two small horns, identical to those on the head of his shadow goat man.
Feeling through his hair for any hint of horns or bony nubs, Lucas looked at Brandon, who sat with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands.
“Do you have more of these?”