House of Lies–Chapter 15

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Chapter 15—Different Kinds of Lies

As Lucas hopped down the stairs, he noticed one or two of the three-foot-tall human shells on each floor doing odd chores. On the fourth floor there were two, one emptying a trash can and the other on a ladder polishing a door. On the third floor there was only one, but it was close to him, polishing the posts between the third and fourth flights of stairs. When he paused to look at it, it looked back at him with black, empty eyes and kept polishing the wood. The smell of formaldehyde lingered on each floor as Lucas moved on.

The second floor was the same as it had been on the way up with Brandon. Several half souls worked on both sides of the hallway, polishing wood and cleaning windows.

The half-souls hang around Zagan’s office.

As he started down the final stretch of stairs that ended in the foyer, he heard whistling.
He paused halfway down to the first floor and looked behind him. There was the satyr, swaying to his own tune.

“I thought I asked you not to make any noise.”

Phil stopped whistling and put his hands on his hips. “You asked me not to talk to you. You didn’t say anything about whistling, and besides, I never actually agreed.”

Lucas rolled his eyes and hopped the final few steps to the marble floor. The foyer was empty as usual, although he was sure that if he went outside, Carl would instantly appear as soon as he stepped onto the sidewalk. Phil continued to whistle while Lucas looked at the various doorways, puzzling where to search for Max.

The rec room was probably the best place to start. Lucas looked at the doorway for a moment, listening to the sounds of the pool balls clinking and the Triforce of Contention arguing over the rules. He wondered who would put the other in a headlock and steal the pool stick. From what he had seen, it was usually Devon who put Jayden in a headlock.

The vision of the spider crawling over Dee was still fresh. Lucas didn’t really want to go into the rec room, but nothing had happened to any of the other kids…

He walked over and peeked through the doorway, Phil whistling behind him. Ami and Tate were gone. Scanning over the kids and half-solid shadow creatures, Lucas decided Max was not there, either. Pausing on the twins, he shuddered. Bent over their computer screen, they didn’t seem to notice that the rat on their shoulder was now the size of a small dog, nibbling at their hair.

Glad to leave, Lucas headed into the last place he had found Max. The kitchen was clean and shiny. A half-soul stood on a stool and wiped the countertop of the island, its gray skin stretched over its freakishly long fingers. It moved with a steady rhythm, methodically pushing the rag around in circles. It looked over, not at Lucas, but at Phil.

Another toddler-sized half-soul washed dishes, swiping the rag over a plate at a similar rhythm to the one wiping the counter. No, the same rhythm.

And there stood Max, leaning against the counter by the half-soul at the sink, his arms folded across his black shirt.

“You’re back sooner than I thought you’d be.”

Lucas stopped on the other side of the island. Since the sun was on the far side of the house, the late afternoon light coming in the single kitchen window absorbed the shadows with its even light. The harpy that Brandon had drawn of Max was more of a gryphon, with scaled wings on a lion’s body. Snakes writhed on the head where a mane should be, the creature lying on the counter like a cat. Creepier than in the sketch, it looked at Lucas with its black eyes.

“You knew I’d be back?”

Max nodded, “You seemed to be figuring things out.” He looked very gray and tired, even his blond hair streaked with silver. He coughed.

Lucas narrowed his eyes, “How do you know so much.”

The smaller boy shrugged, “Just been here longer, watched things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“The same things you see, Brandon sees, well, sort of sees. I see the half-souls and the creatures in the shadows. I’ve been in Zagan’s office.”

Watching Max’s shadow gryphon for shifts in color, Lucas bit his lip and swiped his bangs out of his eyes. “If you‘ve been here longer, why haven’t you turned yet?”

Max stared at Lucas for a few heartbeats. “Lying isn’t the same for everybody, so turning isn’t either. Dishonesty has a lot of different faces.”

“How long was Dee here?”

“Three days.”

Lucas swallowed. Only three days? How long do I have? “What about Brandon?”

“Brandon is compulsive. He doesn’t mean to hurt anybody, and he doesn’t even need to get something from lying. Actually, he has to try harder to tell the truth. But he knows when he lies.”

Brandon’s dragon had grown darker when Brandon lied about not wanting to leave. Not everything he had said was a lie, just like when he told Lucas the kitchen had bagels. Something like that wouldn’t exactly affect Lucas’s day, but he could see now what it cost Brandon.

“And the others?”

“Dee lied to herself, telling herself things about her video games and her life that weren’t true. She lied to herself until she believed it.”

Lucas nodded. Max just looked at him.

“Keep going.” Lucas ordered. His gut told him this was leading to something important.

“So Cassy, she’s slower. She’s basically told only a couple of lies, but she lets them live, after a fashion, by not telling the truth. She wants people to think that she’s a model, but really she doesn’t feel very pretty and obsesses over it.”

“In the mirror of her compact. I noticed that she always had her make-up out, but didn’t really put any on.”

“I thought you were paying attention.”

“You seem surprised.”

“Not surprised as much as jealous.” Max kept his eyes steady.

“Jealous? Of what?” Lucas had never thought of himself as a person who would inspire jealousy. In anyone.

“You have a reason to figure it out, somewhere to go. The rest of us….well, we don’t.”

Lucas put his hand in his pocket and ran a fingertip over the smooth surface of the marble and thought about that for a moment, watching the half-souls move slowly about the kitchen with their rags. Finished with the dishes, the one that had been standing next to Max at the sink was now wiping the fronts of the cabinets.

Lucas weighed Max with a heavy glare. The gryphon’s snake mane hissed restlessly, but its eyes watched Lucas carefully, like a cat would consider its prey.
“What about you, Max? What kind of lies do you tell?”
Max didn’t appear to be affected by the question at all, but his shadow creature pawed at its face and licked its lips.

“I know I lie. Little ones, but at least I don’t lie to myself. That makes them a little weaker. That’s why I’ve been here so long without turning.”

Lucas shook his head. “The twins are almost gone.”

“They do some of the worst kind of lying, the kind that really hurts people, tricking them into giving away their personal information online, or sending money for a prize that doesn’t exist. Devon and Jayden are just your garden variety liars, consistently trying to make themselves look good even though there isn’t anyone here to impress. Tom is tricky, though, like I said earlier. Sometimes he can be a nasty snitch.”

Max’s gryphon yawned and stretched, then jumped down from the counter. Max leaned down as if he were listening.

“Can you hear them, too?” Lucas asked. He’d been ignoring Phil’s whistling for the past ten minutes.

“Only mine, but yes, I can.”

Lucas nodded. More things made sense now. “I guess if you could hear all of them, it would seem really noisy in here.”

“It’s noisy to me, anyway. That’s why I prefer the kitchen.”

“I guess all the headlocks would start to get pretty old.”

Max smiled, “Ancient.”

Lucas smiled back.

“Well, I’ve got some things to take care of.” Pushing himself away from the counter, Max walked toward the door.

“Hold on,” Lucas put a hand on Max’s chest, stopping him next to the end of the island. He had two others to ask about, two whom Max had avoided mentioning earlier in the rec room even though Lucas had spent the whole conversation watching them. “What about Ami and Tate?”

Max’s dark eyes met Lucas’s blue ones. “I don’t know about them, Lucas. They’re different, but they don’t really matter, none of us really matter. If you want to know how to leave Mendacium, you’ll have to talk to Zagan.”

Lucas opened his mouth to ask another question, then snapped it closed when he heard voices in the foyer.

“Hello, Carl. You’re looking intense as usual.”

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