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Chapter 6 A Trick of the Light

  • Spyder walked with his head down, not allow-ing himself to look around no -matter how odd or enticing the visions: black hooves, crows chatting wit_ats, the suddenly sinister insect-silhouettes of panhandlers he'd seen _housand times before.
  • He smelled musk and ambergris, cook fires and sewage. It reminded him of th_oroccan souks, but he was very far away from Morocco. In fact, very far awa_rom anything familiar right now.
  • A sense of relief came over Spyder when he entered the tattoo studio an_losed the door behind him. A couple of college girls were inspecting th_lash designs on the walls and giggling nervously to each other. They didn'_ave wings or horns or extra eyes. They were a beautiful sight. Spyder coul_ear Lulu in the back with one of her piercing customers. "You'll feel _ittle pressure and then a slight sting, but that's all," she said. "Relax."
  • Hungry for a normal moment he spoke to the college girls. "If you have an_uestions about the tattoo work, that's what I do around here, so you can as_e."
  • The girls looked at him and the taller one, a café2dau-lait brunette wit_right green eyes, said, "How much for the black panther? That's a rea_raditional one, right?"
  • "Yeah. All the pieces on that wall go way back. And we charge by the hour, s_he price depends on how big and where you want it. We have a hundred dolla_inimum."
  • The girls whispered to each other, then turned to Spyder. "We're going t_hink about it. Do you have a card?"
  • Spyder went behind the counter and found one of the studio's cards. He fel_elf-conscious handing it to the brunette. The card had a symbol on it. Spyde_new it was something Celtic, but he had no idea what it meant.
  • "Thanks," said the dark haired girl, letting her fingertips brush agains_pyder's as she accepted the card. Under normal circumstances, Spyder woul_ave taken that as a signal to go into his charming act, complete with self- effacing patter and a certain calculated awkwardness that gave him the look o_omeone who might need just a little looking after. Today, however, all h_ould muster was a tired smile. "Any time," he said and turned away from th_irls, looking for his appointment book so he could cancel everyone set fo_hat day. Maybe for the rest of the week, he thought.
  • His head and body ached and his hands shook a little as he leafed through th_ppointments. "Every rabbit hole has a bottom," he said quietly, rememberin_omething that Sara Durango had told him after giving him his first hit o_cid when he was fourteen.
  • Lulu and her female client were coming out of the back room when Spyde_ettled on the numbers he needed to call. He didn't look up, not ready to dea_ith the world, much less make eye contact with Lulu or the girl.
  • "Remember," said Lulu, "you're going to want to soak in a sea salt bath an_se that antibiotic cream every day."
  • "Every day," said the other woman. Spyder heard the little bell over the doo_ing as she left.
  • Spyder had to concentrate to make his fingers punch the right numbers into th_hone. It rang a few times then gave a subtle click as it switched over th_oice mail. "Hi. This is Spyder Lee over at Route 666 Tattoos. Sorry, but _ave to cancel our appointment for this afternoon." He settled back in hi_eat, giving Lulu a pained smile. "I'm not feeling that well and… holy shit… ."
  • Spyder set down the receiver and stood up, coming around the counter.
  • Something was terribly wrong. He took Lulu gently by the arm. "Goddam," sai_pyder -leading her to a chair. "What happened to you?"
  • Lulu looked at him, puzzled. "Nothing happened to me. You're the one who go_tomped, 'member sugar?" She laid her hand on his cheek. The hand was cold an_he skin was stiff, like dried-out leather.
  • "What happened to you?" Spyder repeated more insistently.
  • Lulu kept smiling. She had to. She had no lips. All the flesh from the lowe_art of her face had been cut neatly away, leaving her with a permanent leer.
  • She wore a low-cut shirt and her dry white skin was criss-crossed with ol_cars and stained stitching. Spyder thought of the cheap boots and vests he'_ought on teenage roadtrips to Tijuana. Bad leather sewn together crudely an_arelessly. Most disturbing of all were Lulu's eyes. They were gone. Over he_mpty sockets torn scraps of paper were taped, each with a smeared, childlik_rawing of an eye.
  • "What the fuck happened to you?"
  • The exposed muscles around Lulu's mouth twitched a little. She reflexivel_ulled away from Spyder and covered her face with her hands, then quickl_owered them. "Oh my god, " she said. "You really had your brains rearrange_ast night."
  • "Tell me I'm fucked up," Spyder said. "I've been seeing the most horrible shi_ll day. Monsters. Buildings that aren't there. Dead people."
  • "Not dead, most likely," Lulu said. "There's a whole lot more range betwee_ead and alive than they taught us when we were kids, Spyder."
  • "What are you talking about?"
  • "There's a lot no one taught us. Deep, dark secrets. Other worlds. Other kind_f people. Hidden, but right in front of us."
  • "This is a mistake."
  • "I wish. There's monsters in the world. Some of 'em were born and some wer_ade. I was made."
  • "This isn't happening. I'm still in the alley. I'm knocked out and I'_reaming."
  • "I'm so sorry, darlin'. You're not ready for this. You were never supposed t_ee or know about it."
  • "Know about what?" Spyder shouted. "What are you?"
  • "I'm Lulu, baby. Just Lulu." She sat down next to him again, a horrible, broken toy. "You're just seeing another part of me. And I'm so sorry fo_hat." Tears fell from her empty eye sockets, staining the paper drawing_aped there.
  • Spyder walked across the room and sat on the floor with his back against th_ounter. "I refuse to accept any of this," he said.
  • Lulu got up and locked the door to the studio, then sat back in the chair i_ront of Spyder. "Darlin', we've known each other since we were six years old.
  • You're the first person I came out to," she said. "I guess I'm coming ou_gain."
  • "As what?"
  • Lulu leaned forward and laid her hand on his knee. "Please don't touch me,"
  • Spyder said. She withdrew the hand.
  • "I'm not really a monster," said Lulu. "I'm a damned fool, but I'm not _onster. I just got into something a little over my head."
  • "That part's obvious."
  • "I just had my eyes opened, so to speak," she said, -pulling her expose_uscles into a smile. "Just like you." She slid down next to him on the floor, careful not to let her body touch his. Spyder shifted away from her a fe_nches.
  • "Remember four, five years back when I was all strung out on oxy? I couldn'_ork. Couldn't do much of anything but steal and score."
  • "You still owe me a CD player," Spyder said.
  • Lulu let out an airy laugh, like wind through a keyhole. "Rehab didn't work.
  • Then, I met some people through this dealer. They said they could get m_lean. Make my hands steady, so I could work again. Did I want to try it? O_ourse, I said Yes."
  • "When was this? I remember you getting better in rehab," said Spyder.
  • "Jesus, Spyder. I didn't last a week there," Lulu said. "I wouldn't let yo_isit, remember? I always called you? I checked out and was on the stree_coring until I met these people."
  • "Who were they?"
  • "Real monsters. Born monsters," she said. "But I didn't know that back then.
  • They offered me the deal of a lifetime. I'd get clean, get healthy and get m_alent back. They promised they could make me better than ever. Can yo_magine what that meant to me back then?"
  • "How'd you end up like this?"
  • "You know how dealers are. The first one's always free. Then the price jus_eeps going up. You got a cigarette?"
  • Spyder pulled a pack of American Spirits from his jacket pocket, took one, gave one to Lulu and lit them both. They smoked in silence for a few moments.
  • Lulu blew a series of small smoke rings through the center of bigger rings, something Spyder had been watching her do since junior high. "The price fo_iving me back my life was my eyes," she said, "They said that sight's mostl_n the brain and that in this Sphere of existence, they could make it so I'_ee better without them." Lulu took a long drag off the American Spirit.
  • Spyder wanted her to stop talking. "They were right, only they didn't tell m_t wouldn't last. Every year or so, my sight would start to go and they'd sho_p, ready to deal. They'd already taken my eyes, so they took something els_ach time. Stomach. Liver. Skin. I don't know what all anymore. But not m_eart. You'd be surprised what you can live without, but not your heart."
  • Another long drag. A cloud of blue smoke. "Each time, they'd do their littl_oodoo so my body'd keep going, till the next visit. No one ever noticed th_ifference. When they took my eyes I saw a whole new world. The world, _uess, you're seeing now. Shit, Spyder, no one knows anything. All th_eachers and cops and priests and shrinks they sent us to, they don't kno_hat's really going on. When I saw the real world, knowing how long I'd bee_lind scared me a lot more than the monsters."
  • "You think this is some kind of goddam gift?" asked Spyder.
  • "For you it is. You got it for free. It cost me a little more."
  • "Fuck this world and fuck this gift."
  • "I'd rather fuck your sister."
  • "I'll trade you for your mom."
  • "Deal," said Lulu. She stuck out her hand, the traditional end to a stupi_oke that they'd done since they were kids. Eventually, Spyder shook Lulu'_and.
  • "Goddam," said Spyder. "It is you, isn't it?"
  • "Yeah, it is."
  • Spyder slid his arm around Lulu's shoulders and pulled her to him. She hugge_im and laid her head on his chest. They sat on the floor until the sun wen_own and the studio was dark. People knocked on the door, but they ignore_hem.