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House of Hollow / (by Krystal Sutherland, 2021) -

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House of Hollow /   (by Krystal Sutherland, 2021) -

House of Hollow / (by Krystal Sutherland, 2021) -

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House of Hollow / (by Krystal Sutherland, 2021) -
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2021
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Krystal Sutherland
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Eleanor Bennett
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upper-intermediate
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09:10:30
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

House of Hollow / :

.doc (Word) krystal_sutherland_-_house_of_hollow.doc [2.38 Mb] (c: 4) .
.pdf krystal_sutherland_-_house_of_hollow.pdf [2.04 Mb] (c: 3) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: House of Hollow

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PROLOGUE I WAS TEN years old the first time I realized I was strange. Around midnight, a woman dressed in white slipped through my bedroom window and cut off a lock of my hair with sewing scissors. I was awake the whole time, tracking her in the dark, so frozen by fear that I couldn_t move, couldn_t scream. I watched as she held the curl of my hair to her nose and inhaled. I watched as she put it on her tongue and closed her mouth and savored the taste for a few moments before swallowing. I watched as she bent over me and ran a fingertip along the hook-shaped scar at the base of my throat. It was only when she opened my door_bound for the bedrooms of my older sisters, with the scissors still held at her side_that I finally screamed. My mother tackled her in the hall. My sisters helped hold her down. The woman was rough and rabid, thrashing against the three of them with a strength we_d later learn was fueled by amphetamines. She bit my mother. She headbutted my middle sister, Vivi, so hard in the face that her nose was crushed and both of her eye sockets were bruised for weeks. It was Grey, my eldest sister, who finally subdued her. When she thought my mother wasn_t looking, she bent low over the wild woman_s face and pressed her lips against her mouth. It was a soft kiss right out of a fairy tale, made gruesome by the fact that the woman_s chin was slick with our mother_s blood. For a moment, the air smelled sweet and wrong, a mixture of honey and something else, something rotten. Grey pulled back and held the woman_s head in her hands, and then watched her, intently, waiting. My sister_s eyes were so black, they looked like polished river stones. She was fourteen then, and already the most beautiful creature I could imagine. I wanted to peel the skin from her body and wear it draped over mine. The woman shuddered beneath Grey_s touch and then just . . . stopped. By the time the police arrived, the woman_s eyes were wide and faraway, her limbs so liquid she could no longer stand and had to be carried out, limp as a drunk, by three officers. I wonder if Grey already knew then what we were. The woman, the police would later tell us, had read about us on the internet and stalked us for several weeks before the break-in. We were famous for a bizarre thing that had happened to us three years earlier, when I was seven, a thing I couldn_t remember and never thought about but that apparently intrigued many other people a great deal. I was keyed into our strangeness after that. I watched for it in the years that followed, saw it bloom around us in unexpected ways. There was the man who tried to pull Vivi into his car when she was fifteen because he thought she was an angel; she broke his jaw and knocked out two of his teeth. There was the teacher, the one Grey hated, who was fired after he pressed her against a wall and kissed her neck in front of her whole class. There was the pretty, popular girl who had bullied me, who stood in front of the entire school at assembly and silently began to shave her own head, tears streaming down her face as her dark locks fell in spools at her feet. When I found Grey_s eyes through the sea of faces that day, she was staring at me. The bullying had been going on for months, but I_d only told my sisters about it the night before. Grey winked, then returned to the book she was reading, uninterested in the show. Vivi, always less subtle, had her feet up on the back of the chair in front of her and was grinning from ear to ear, her crooked nose wrinkled in delight. Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. We each had black eyes and hair as white as milk. We each had enchanting four-letter names: Grey, Vivi, Iris. We walked to school together. We ate lunch together. We walked home together. We didn_t have friends, because we didn_t need them. We moved through the corridors like sharks, the other little fish parting around us, whispering behind our backs. Everyone knew who we were. Everyone had heard our story. Everyone had their own theory about what had happened to us. My sisters used this to their advantage. They were very good at cultivating their own mystery like gardeners, coaxing the heady intrigue that ripened around them into the shape of their choosing. I simply followed in their wake, quiet and studious, always embarrassed by the attention. Strangeness only bred strangeness, and it felt dangerous to tempt fate, to invite in the darkness that seemed already naturally drawn to us. It didn_t occur to me that my sisters would leave school long before I did, until it actually happened. School hadn_t suited either of them. Grey was blisteringly smart but never found anything in the curriculum particularly to her liking. If a class called for her to read and analyze Jane Eyre, she might instead decide Dante_s Inferno was more interesting and write her essay on that. If an art class called for her to sketch a realistic self-portrait, she might instead draw a sunken-eyed monster with blood on its hands. Some teachers loved this; most did not, and before she dropped out, Grey only ever managed mediocre grades. If this bothered her, she never showed it, drifting through classes with the sureness of a person who had been told her future by a clairvoyant and had liked what she_d heard. Vivi preferred to cut school as frequently as possible, which relieved the administration, since she was a handful when she did show up. She back-talked teachers, cut slashes in her uniforms to make them more punk, spray-painted graffiti in the bathrooms, and refused to remove her many piercings. The few assignments she handed in during her last year all scored easy As_there just weren_t enough of them to keep her enrolled. Which suited Vivi just fine. Every rock star needed an origin story, and getting kicked out of your ?30,000-per-year high school was as good a place to start as any. They were both like that even then, both already in possession of an alchemical self-confidence that belonged to much older humans. They didn_t care what other people thought of them. They didn_t care what other people thought was cool (which, of course, made them unbearably cool). They left school_and home_within weeks of each other. Grey was seventeen; Vivi was fifteen. They set off into the world, both bound for the glamorous, exotic futures they_d always known they were destined for. Which is how I found myself alone, the only Hollow left, still struggling to thrive in the long shadows they left behind. The quiet, bright one who loved science and geography and had a natural flair for mathematics. The one who wanted desperately, above all else, to be unremarkable. Slowly, month by month, year by year, the strangeness that swelled around my sisters began to recede, and for a good long while, my life was what I_d craved ever since I_d seen Grey sedate an intruder with a simple kiss: normal. It was, of course, not to last. 1 MY BREATH SNAGGED when I saw my sister_s face staring up at me from the floor. Grey_s fine, hook-shaped scar was still the first thing you noticed about her, followed by how achingly beautiful she was. The Vogue magazine_her third US cover in as many years_must have arrived in the mail and landed faceup on the hall rug, smack bang, which is where I found it in the silver ghost light of the morning. The words The Secret Keeper hovered in mossy green text beneath her. Her body was angled toward the photographer, her lips parted in a sigh, her black eyes staring at the camera. A pair of antlers emerged from her white hair as though they were her own. For a short, witching moment, I_d thought she was actually there, in the flesh. The infamous Grey Hollow. In the four years since she_d left home, my eldest sister had grown into a gossamer slip of a woman with hair like spun sugar and a face out of Greek mythology. Even in still pictures there was something vaporous and hyaline about her, like she might ascend into the ether at any moment. It was perhaps why journalists were forever describing her as ethereal, though I_d always thought of Grey as more earthy. No articles ever mentioned that she felt most at home in the woods, or how good she was at making things grow. Plants loved her. The wisteria outside her childhood bedroom had often snaked in through the open window and coiled around her fingers in the night. I picked up the magazine and flicked to the cover story. Grey Hollow wears her secrets like silk. When I meet her in the lobby of the Lanesborough (Hollow never allows journalists near her apartment, nor, it_s rumored, does she host parties or entertain guests), she_s dressed in one of her hallmark enigmatic creations. Think heavy embroidery, hundreds of beads, thread spun from actual gold, and tulle so light it drifts like smoke. Hollow_s couture has been described as a fairy tale meeting a nightmare inside a fever dream. Gowns drip with leaves and decaying petals, her catwalk models wear antlers scavenged from deer carcasses and the pelts of skinned mice, and she insists on wood-smoking her fabric before it_s cut so her fashion shows smell like forest fires. Hollow_s creations are beautiful and decadent and strange, but it_s the clandestine nature of her pieces that has made them so famous so quickly. There are secret messages hand-stitched into the lining of each of her gowns_but that_s not all. Celebrities have reported finding scraps of rolled-up paper sewn into the boning of their bodices, or shards of engraved animal bone affixed alongside precious gems, or runic symbols painted in invisible ink, or minuscule vials of perfume that crack like glow sticks when the wearer moves, releasing Hollow_s heady eponymous scent. The imagery that features in her embroidery is alien, sometimes disturbingly so. Think gene-spliced flowers and skeletal Minotaurs, their faces stripped of flesh. Much like their creator, each piece is a puzzle box, begging to be solved. I stopped reading there, because I knew what the rest of the article would say. I knew it would talk about the thing that happened to us as children, the thing none of us could remember. I knew it would talk about my father, the way he_d died. I touched my fingertips to the scar at my throat. The same half-moon scar I shared with Grey, with Vivi. The scar none of us could remember getting. I took the magazine up to my bedroom and slipped it under my pillow so my mother wouldn_t find it, wouldn_t burn it in the kitchen sink like the last one. Before I left, I opened my Find Friends app and checked that it was turned on and transmitting my location. It was a requirement of my daily morning runs that my mother could track my little orange avatar as it bobbed around Hampstead Heath. Actually, it was a requirement if I wanted to leave the house at all that my mother could track my little orange avatar as it bobbed around . . . wherever. Cate_s own avatar still hovered south, at the Royal Free Hospital, her nursing shift in the emergency room dragging_as per usual_into overtime. Leaving now, I messaged her. Okay, I will watch you, she pinged back immediately. Message me when you_re home safe. I set off into the predawn winter cold. We lived in a tall, pointed house, covered in white stucco and wrapped with leadlight windows that reminded me of dragonfly wings. Remnants of night still clung to the eaves and collected in pools beneath the tree in our front yard. It was not the kind of place a single mother on a nurse_s salary could usually afford, but it had once belonged to my mother_s parents, who both died in a car accident when she was pregnant with Grey. They_d bought it at the start of their marriage, during World War II, when property prices in London had crashed because of the Blitz. They were teenagers then, barely older than I was now. The house had been grand once, though it had sagged and sunken with time. In my favorite old photograph of the place, taken in the kitchen sometime in the sixties, the room was fat with lazy sunlight, the kind that lingers for hours in the summer months, sticking to the tops of trees in golden halos. My grandmother was squinting at the camera, a kaleidoscope of glittering green cast across her skin from a stained glass window that had since been broken. My grandfather stood with his arm around her, a cigar in his mouth, his pants belted high and a pair of Coke-bottle glasses on his nose. The air looked warm and smoky, and my grandparents were both smiling. They were cool, relaxed. If you didn_t know their story, you might think they were happy. From the four pregnancies she_d carried to term, my grandmother had given birth to only one living child, quite late in her life: my mother, Cate. The rooms of this house that had been earmarked for children had been left empty, and my grandparents had not lived long enough to see any of their grandchildren born. There are things in every family that are not talked about. Stories you know without really knowing how you know them, tales of terrible things that cast long shadows over generations. Adelaide Fairlight_s three stillborn babies was one of those stories. Another was the thing that had happened to us when I was seven. Vivi called before I_d even reached the end of the street. I took the call on my AirPods, knowing without even looking at my screen that it was her. _Hey,_ I said. _You_re up early. It can_t even be lunchtime in Budapest._ _Ha ha._ Vivi_s voice sounded muffled, distracted. _What are you doing?_ _I_m out for a run. You know, the thing I do every morning._ I turned left and ran along the footpath, past empty sports fields and the carcasses of trees that stood tall and stripped in the cold. It was a gray morning, the sun yawning sluggishly into the sky behind a pall of clouds. The chill needled my exposed skin, drawing tears from my eyes and making my ears ache with each heartbeat. _Ew,_ Vivi said. I heard an airline announcement in the background. _Why would you do that to yourself?_ _It_s the latest rage for cardiovascular health. Are you at an airport?_ _I_m flying in for a gig tonight, remember? I just landed in London._ _No, I do not remember. Because you definitely didn_t tell me._ _I_m sure I told you._ _That would be a negative._ _Anyway, I_m here, and Grey_s flying in from Paris for some photo shoot today, and we_re all hanging out in Camden before the gig. I_ll pick you up when I get out of this god-awful airport._ _Vivi, it_s a school day._ _You_re still at that soul-destroying institution? Wait, hang on, I_m going through immigration._ My usual path took me through the green fields of Golders Hill Park, the grass sprinkled with a confetti bomb of yellow daffodils and white-and-purple crocuses. It had been a mild winter and spring was breaking already, rolling across the city in mid-February. Minutes dragged by. I heard more airline announcements in the background as I ran along the western border of Hampstead Heath, then into the park, past the blanched milkstone of Kenwood House. I headed deeper into the twisting wildwood warrens of the heath, so tight and green and old in places it was hard to believe you were still in London. I gravitated to the untamed parts, where the trails were muddy and thick fairy-tale trees grew over them in archways. The leaves would soon begin to return, but this morning I moved beneath a thicket of stark branches, my path bordered on both sides by a carpet of fallen detritus. The air here smelled sodden, bloated with damp. The mud was thin from recent rain and flicked up the back of my calves as I pushed on. The sun was rising now, but the early-morning light was suffused with a drop of ink. It made the shadows deep, hungry-looking. My sister_s garbled voice on the phone: _You still there?_ _Yes,_ I replied. _Much to my chagrin. Your phone manners are appalling._ _As I was saying, school is thoroughly boring and I am very exciting. I demand you cut class and hang out with me._ _I can_t__ _Don_t make me call the administration and tell them you need the day off for an STD test or something._ _You wouldn_t__ _Okay, good chat, see you soon!_ _Vivi__ The line went quiet at the same time a pigeon shot out of the undergrowth and into my face. I yelped and fell backward into the muck, my hands instinctively coming up to protect my head even though the bird had already fluttered away. And then_a small movement on the path far ahead. There was a figure, obscured by trees and overgrown grass. A man, pale and shirtless despite the cold, far enough away that I couldn_t tell if he was even looking in my direction. From this distance, in the gunmetal light, it appeared as though he was wearing a horned skull over his head. I thought of my sister on the cover of Vogue, of the antlers her models wore on the catwalk, of the beasts she embroidered on her silk gowns. I took a few deep breaths and lingered where I sat in the mud, unsure if the man had seen me or not, but he didn_t move. A breeze cooled my forehead, carrying with it the smell of woodsmoke and the wild wet stench of something feral. I knew that smell, even if I couldn_t remember what it meant. I scrambled to my feet and ran hard in the direction I_d come from, my blood hot and quick, my feet slipping, visions of a monster snagging my ponytail playing on repeat in my head. I kept checking behind me until I passed Kenwood House and stumbled out onto the road, but no one followed. The world outside the green bubble of Hampstead Heath was busy, normal. London was waking up. When I caught my breath, my fear was replaced by embarrassment that a wet brown stain had spread over the back of my leggings. I stayed alert while I ran home, the way women do, one AirPod out, a sharp slice of adrenaline carving up the line of my spine. A passing cabdriver laughed at me, and a man out for his first cigarette of the day told me I was beautiful, told me to smile. Both left a prickle of fright and anger in my gut, but I kept running, and they faded back into the white noise of the city. That_s the way it was with Vivi and Grey. All it took was one phone call from them for the strangeness to start seeping in again. At the end of my street, I messaged my middle sister: DO NOT come to my school. 2 AT HOME, I found my mother_s red Mini Cooper in the driveway and the front door ajar. It keened open and closed on its hinges, breathing with the wind. Wet footprints tracked inside. Our ancient demon of a cat, Sasha, was sitting on the doormat, licking her paw. The cat was older than me, and so threadbare and crooked she was beginning to look like a bad taxidermy job. She hissed when I picked her up_Sasha had never liked me or Vivi or Grey, and she made her feelings known with her claws_but she was too decrepit these days to put up much of a fight. Something was off. The cat hadn_t been allowed outside for probably ten years. _Cate?_ I called quietly as I pushed the door open and stepped inside. I couldn_t remember when or why we_d stopped calling our mother Mum, but Cate preferred it this way, and it had stuck. There was no answer. I put Sasha down and scuffed off my muddy shoes. Soft voices echoed down the stairs from the floor above, snippets of an odd conversation. _That_s the best you can do?_ my mother asked. _You can_t even tell me where they went? How it happened?_ A tinny speakerphone voice responded: a man with an American accent. _Listen, lady, you don_t need a PI, you need a psychiatric intervention._ I followed the voices, my footfalls quiet. Cate was pacing by her bed, still in her emergency room scrubs, the top drawer of her nightstand open. The room was dark, lit only by a dim honey lamp. Night shift at the hospital called for blackout curtains, so the space always had a slightly sour smell to it from the constant lack of sunlight. In one hand, Cate held her phone. In the other, a photograph of herself with a man and three children. This happened every winter, in the weeks following the anniversary: My mother hired a PI to try and solve the mystery the police were no closer to unraveling. Inevitably, the PI always failed. _So that_s it, then?_ Cate asked. _Jesus, why don_t you ask your daughters,_ the man on the phone answered. _If anyone knows, it_s them._ _Fuck you,_ she said sharply. My mother rarely swore. The wrongness of it sent a prickle into my fingertips. Cate hung up. A glottal sound escaped her throat. It was not the kind of noise you_d make in the presence of others. I was immediately embarrassed to have stumbled on something so private. I went to turn away, but the floorboards creaked like old bones beneath my weight. _Iris?_ Cate said, startled. There was a prick of something odd in her expression when she looked up at me_anger? fear?_but it was quickly replaced with concern when she spotted my muddy leggings. _What happened? Are you hurt?_ _No, I was mauled by a rabid pigeon._ _And you were so scared that you shat your pants?_ I threw her a very funny pout. Cate laughed and perched on the edge of her bed and beckoned me with both hands. I went and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her so she could fix my long blond hair into two braids, as she had done most mornings since I was little. _Everything okay?_ I asked as she ran her fingers through my hair. I caught the prickly chemical scent of hospital soap, overlaid with sweat and bad breath and other telltale hints of a fifteen-hour shift in the emergency room. Some people thought of their mothers when they smelled the perfume she wore when they were children, but for me, my mother would always be this: the cornstarch powder of latex gloves, the coppery tang of other people_s blood. _You left the front door open._ _No, I didn_t. Did I? It was a long shift. I spent a long time with a guy who was convinced his family was controlling him with anal probes._ _Does that count as a medical emergency?_ _I think I_d want some pretty rapid intervention if that was happening to me._ _Fair point._ I sucked my bottom lip and exhaled through my nose. It was better to ask now, in person, than over text later. _Is it okay if I go out tonight? Vivi_s in town for a gig and Grey is flying in from Paris. I want to spend time with them._ My mother said nothing, but her fingers slipped in my hair and tugged hard enough to make me gasp. She didn_t apologize. _They_re my sisters,_ I said quietly. Sometimes, asking to see them_but especially asking to see Grey_felt like asking for permission to take up shooting heroin as an extracurricular activity. _They aren_t going to let anything bad happen to me._ Cate gave a short, complicated laugh and started braiding again. The picture she_d been looking at was facedown on the blanket, like she hoped I wouldn_t notice it. I turned it over and studied it. It was of my mother and my father, Gabe, and the three of us girls when we were younger. Vivi wore a green tweed duffle coat. Grey was dressed in a Bordeaux faux-fur jacket. I was in a little red tartan coat with gold buttons. Around each of our necks hung matching gold heart pendants with our names pressed into the metal: IRIS, VIVI, GREY. Christmas presents from the grandparents we had been in Scotland to visit when the photo was taken. The police had never found these items of clothing or jewelry, despite extensive searches for them. _It_s from that day,_ I said quietly. I hadn_t seen any photographs from that day before. I hadn_t even known there were any. _We all look so different._ _You can . . ._ Cate_s voice split, fell back down her throat. She let out a thin breath. _You can go to Vivi_s gig._ _Thank you, thank you!_ _But I want you home before midnight._ _Deal._ _I should make us something to eat before you go to school, and you should definitely have a shower._ She finished my braids and kissed me on the crown of my head before she left. When she was gone, I looked at the photograph again, at her face, at my father_s face, only a handful of hours before the worst thing that would ever happen to them happened. It had carved something out of my mother, shaved the apples from her cheeks and left her thinner and grayer than before. For much of my life, she had been a watercolor of a woman, sapped of vibrancy. It had carved even more out of Gabe. Yet it was the three of us girls who_d changed the most. I hardly recognized the dark-haired, blue-eyed children who stared back at me. I_ve been told we were more secretive after it happened. That we didn_t speak to anyone but each other for months. That we refused to sleep in separate rooms, or even separate beds. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, our parents would wake to check on us and find us huddled together in our pajamas, our heads pressed together like witches bent over a cauldron, whispering. Our eyes turned black. Our hair turned white. Our skin began to smell like milk and the earth after rain. We were always hungry, but never seemed to gain weight. We ate and ate and ate. We even chewed in our sleep, grinding down our baby teeth and sometimes biting our tongues and cheeks, so we woke with bloodstained lips. Doctors diagnosed us with everything from PTSD to ADHD. We collected an alphabet of acronyms, but no treatment or therapy ever seemed to be able to reset us to how we_d been before it happened. We weren_t sick, it was decided: We were just strange. People always found it hard to believe now that Grey and Vivi and I had come from our parents. Everything about Gabe Hollow had been gentle, except for his hands, which were rough from his work as a carpenter and his weekend hobby of throwing mugs on a potter_s wheel. He_d worn cozy clothing from charity stores. His fingers were long and felt like sandpaper when he held your hand. He never watched sports or raised his voice. He caught spiders in plastic containers and carried them out to the garden. He talked to his kitchen herbs when he watered them. Our mother was an equally soft woman. She drank everything_tea, juice, wine_only from the mugs my father had made for her. She owned three pairs of shoes and wore muddy Wellingtons as often as she could. After it rained, she picked up snails from the sidewalk and moved them to safety. She loved honey_honey on toast, honey on cheese, honey stirred into her hot drinks. She sewed her own summer dresses from patterns handed down to her by her grandmother. Together, they_d worn waxed Barbour jackets and preferred walking in the English countryside to traveling overseas. They_d owned wooden hiking poles and hand reels for fishing in streams. They_d both loved to wrap themselves in wool blankets and read on rainy days. They both had light blue eyes, dark hair, and sweet, heart-shaped faces. They were gentle people. Warm people. Somehow, combined, they_d produced . . . us. We were each five eleven, a full ten inches taller than our tiny mother. We were each angular, elongated, sharp. We were each inconveniently beautiful, with high cheekbones and eyes like does. People told us as children, told our parents, how exquisite we were. The way they said it, it sounded like a warning_which, I supposed, it was. We all knew the impact of our beauty and we all dealt with it in different ways. Grey knew her power and brandished it forcefully, in a way I had seen few girls do. In a way I was afraid to mirror myself, because I had witnessed the repercussions of being beautiful, of being pretty, of being cute, of being sexy, and of attracting the wrong kind of attention, not only from boys and men but other girls, other women. Grey was an enchantress who looked like sex and smelled like a field of wildflowers, the human embodiment of late-summer evenings in the South of France. She accentuated her natural beauty wherever possible. She wore high heels and delicate lace bras and soft smoky eye makeup. She always knew the right amount of skin to show to achieve that cool-sexy look. More than anything else, this is how I knew my eldest sister was different from me: She walked home alone at night, always beautiful, sometimes drunk, frequently in short skirts or low-cut tops. She walked through dark parks and down empty streets and along graffiti-smeared canals where itinerants clustered to drink and do drugs and sleep in piles. She did this without fear. She went to the places and wore the things that_if anything happened to her_would later prompt people to say she was asking for it. She moved through the world like no other woman I knew. _What you don_t understand,_ she said to me once when I told her how dangerous it was, _is that I am the thing in the dark._ Vivi was the opposite. She tried to banish her beauty. She shaved her head, pierced her skin, inked the words FUCK OFF! across her fingers, a spell to try and ward off unwanted desire from unwanted men. Even with these enchantments, even with a zigzag nose and a wicked tongue and unshaved body hair and the dark grooves beneath her eyes carved out by drink and drugs and sleepless nights, she was achingly beautiful, and ached after accordingly. She collected each wolf whistle, each smacked butt cheek, each groped breast, kept them all beneath her skin where they boiled in a cauldron of rage that she let out onstage on the strings of her bass guitar. I fell somewhere between my sisters. I didn_t actively try to wield or waste my beauty. I kept my hair washed and wore no scent but deodorant. I smelled clean but not intoxicating, not sweet, not tempting. I wore no makeup and only loose-fitting clothing. I didn_t take up the hem of my uniform. I didn_t walk alone at night. I went to put the photograph back in Cate_s open drawer. A manila folder, distended with paper, sat beneath her socks and underwear. I pulled it out, flicked it open. It was filled with photocopies of police files, their edges curled with age. I saw my name, my sisters_ names, caught snippets of our story as I riffled through, unable to look away. The children claim to have no memory of where they have been or what happened to them. Officer ????? and Officer ????? refuse to be in the same room as the children, citing shared nightmares after taking their statements. The flowers found in the children_s hair are unidentifiable hybrids_possible pyrophytes. The cadaver dogs continue to react to the children even days after their return. Gabe Hollow insists that all three children_s eyes have changed, and that baby teeth have grown back in places where they were already lost. My stomach pressed against my throat. I snapped the folder shut and tried to shove it back into the drawer, but it snagged on the wood and split open, heaving paper onto the floor. I knelt and gathered the sheets into a pile with shaking hands, trying not to look at its contents. Pictures, witness statements, pieces of evidence. My mouth was dry. The paper felt corrupted and wrong in my fingers. I wanted to burn it, the way you_d burn a blighted crop so the rot couldn_t spread. And there, at the top of the stack of documents, I found a photograph of Grey at eleven years old, two white flowers_real, living flowers_growing out of the paper as if they were bursting from her eyes. 3 I WAS HUNGRY when I arrived at school, even after Cate had cooked me breakfast. Even now, years after whatever trauma had first sparked my unusual appetite, I was still always hungry. Just last week I_d gotten home ravenous and laid waste to the kitchen. The fridge and pantry had been stocked with food after Cate_s fortnightly grocery shopping: two loaves of fresh sourdough bread, a tub of marinated olives, two dozen eggs, four cans of chickpeas, a bag of carrots, chips and salsa, four avocadoes . . . The list goes on. Enough food for two people for two weeks. I ate it all, every bite. I ate and ate and ate. I ate until my mouth bled and my jaw ached from chewing. Even when all the new groceries were devoured, I downed an old can of beans, a box of stale cereal, and a tin of shortbread. Afterward, my hunger finally sated, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror and turned this way and that, wondering where the hell the food went. I was still skinny, not so much as bump. At school, I felt high-strung and jumpy. When a car door slammed in the drop-off line, I smacked my hand to my chest so hard, the skin was still stinging. I straightened my uniform tie and tried to center my thoughts. My fingers felt grimy and smelled of something putrid, even though I_d washed them three times at home. The smell came from the flowers on the photo. I_d plucked one from my sister_s eye before I left. It was an odd bloom, with waxy petals and roots that threaded into the paper like stitches. I_d recognized it. It was the same flower Grey had turned into a pattern and embroidered on many of her designs. I_d held it close to my nose and inhaled, expecting a sweet scent like gardenia, but the stench of raw meat and garbage had made me dry heave. I_d left the files and fetid bloom in my mother_s drawer and slammed her bedroom door shut behind me. I breathed a little easier at school, felt like I was coming back to myself_or at least to the carefully curated version of myself I was at Highgate Wood School for Girls. My backpack, groaning at the seams with books on Python and A-level study guides, cut hot tracks into my shoulders. The rules and structure here made sense. The weirdness that lurked in old, empty houses and the wildwood thickets of ancient heaths found it hard to permeate the monotony of uniforms and fluorescent lighting. It had become my sanctuary away from the baseline strangeness of my life, even if I didn_t belong here with the children of some of London_s richest families. I hurried through the busy corridors, bound for the library. _You_re five minutes late,_ said Paisley, one of the dozen students I tutored before and after school. Paisley was a pint-size twelve-year-old who somehow managed to make the school uniform look boho chic. Her parents had been paying me decent money for weeks to try and teach her basic coding. The annoying thing was, Paisley was a natural. When she paid attention, she picked up Python with an easy elegance that reminded me of Grey. _Oh, I_m deeply sorry, Paisley. I_ll give you a free extra hour after school to make up for it._ She glared at me. _That_s what I thought. Where_s your laptop?_ _I heard you_re a witch,_ she said as she returned to tapping away at her phone, curls of mousy hair falling into her eyes. _I heard your sisters were expelled for sacrificing a teacher to the devil in the auditorium._ Wow. The rumors had gotten out of control in the last four years, but honestly, I was more surprised that it had taken this long for one to reach her. _I_m not a witch. I_m a mermaid,_ I said as I set up my laptop and opened the textbook to where we left off. _Now show me the homework I set for you last week._ _Why is your hair white if you_re not a witch?_ _I bleach it that way,_ I lied. In fact, the week after Grey and Vivi left, I_d tried to dye it darker. I_d bought three boxes of dye and spent a rainy summer evening drinking apple cider while I painted my hair. I_d waited the forty-five minutes the instructions recommended, then a little longer just to be sure, before rinsing it out. I was excited to see the new me. It felt like the transformative scene in a spy movie when the protagonist is on the run, forced to change their appearance in a service station bathroom after they go rogue. When I wiped away the fog of condensation on the mirror, I shrieked. My hair was its usual milky blond, entirely untouched by the dye. _Homework,_ I ordered again. Paisley rolled her little eyes and dug her laptop out of her Fj?llr?ven bag. _There._ She turned her screen toward me. _Well?_ she demanded as I scrolled through her code. _It_s good. Despite your best efforts, you_re picking this up._ _What a terrible shame this will be our last session._ God, what kind of twelve-year-old talked like that? I tsked her. _Not so fast. Unfortunately for both of us, your parents have paid through the rest of the term._ _That was until they found out who your sisters are._ Paisley handed me an envelope. My name was written on the front in her mother_s loopy handwriting. _They_re super into Jesus. They won_t even let me read Harry Potter. Suddenly they don_t seem to think you_re such a good influence on me._ She packed her things, stood to leave. _Bye, Sabrina,_ she called sweetly on her way out. _Wow,_ came a disembodied voice. _Some people are so rude._ _Oh,_ I said as a small bottle-blond figure made her way out of the stacks and pulled up the chair across from me. _Hello, Jennifer._ In the months after Grey and Vivi had left school, when the loneliness of being without them sank so deeply into my body that every heartbeat ached, I_d desperately wanted to make friends with some of my peers. I_d never needed friends before, but without my sisters, I had no one to eat with at lunchtime and no one but my mother to spend time with on the weekends. When Jennifer Weir had invited me to her sleepover birthday party (reluctantly, I suspected_our mothers worked together at the Royal Free), I_d cautiously accepted. It was an appropriately posh affair: Each girl had her own mini tipi set up in the Weirs_ vast living room, each frosted with fairy lights and set among a floating sea of blush and gold balloons. We watched three of the Conjuring movies into the early hours of the morning and ate so much birthday cake and so many delicate baked goods that I thought someone might vomit. We talked about the boys who attended nearby schools and how cute they were. We snuck into Jennifer_s parents_ liquor cabinet and did two shots of tequila each. Even Justine Khan, the girl who_d bullied me and subsequently shaved her head in front of the school, seemed not to mind my presence. For a handful of pink, sugary, alcohol-softened hours, I dared to allow myself to imagine a future that looked like this_and it might have been possible, if not for the now-infamous game of spin the bottle that had landed both Justine and me in the emergency room. Jennifer Weir hadn_t spoken to me since that night, when I left her house with blood dripping from my lips. _Did you want something?_ I asked her. _Well, actually,_ Jennifer said with a smile, _I bought tickets to the gig at Camden Jazz Caf? tonight. I heard your sister was going to be there._ _Of course she_s going to be there,_ I said, confused. _She_s in the band._ _Oh, no, silly, I meant your other sister. Grey. I was wondering . . . I mean, I would totally love to meet her. Maybe you could introduce me?_ I stared at her for a long time. Jennifer Weir and Justine Khan (together, they called themselves JJ), had been making my life a living hell for the better part of four years. Where Jennifer outright ignored me, Justine made up the difference: witch scrawled across my locker in blood, dead birds slipped into my backpack, and_one time_broken glass sprinkled over my lunch. _Anyway,_ Jennifer continued, her saccharine smile beginning to go sour, _think about it. It wouldn_t be the worst thing that could happen to you, you know_being my friend. I_ll see you tonight._ When she was gone, I read Paisley_s note, in which her parents explained they_d heard some _concerning accusations_ and asked for their advance back. I tore it up and dumped it in the bin, then checked the countdown timer on my phone to see how many days were left until graduation: hundreds. Forever. The school had a long memory when it came to the Hollow girls, and it had been my burden to bear since the month both of my sisters had skipped town. My first class of the day was English. I took my usual seat at the front of the classroom, by the window, my annotated copy of Frankenstein open on my desk, its pages frilled with a rainbow of multicolored sticky notes. I_d read it twice in preparation for this class, carefully underlining passages and making notes, trying to find the pattern, the key. My English teacher, Mrs. Thistle, was deeply conflicted by this behavior: On the one hand, a student who did the assigned readings_all of them, always, frequently more than once_was something of a phenomenon. On the other hand, a student who wanted the right answer for a work of literature sent her half-mad. It was drizzling outside. A flicker of strange movement caught my eye as I set up my things, and I looked through the glass over the wet gulch of grass between buildings. There, in the distance, was the man in the bull skull, watching me. 4 I STOOD SO suddenly and with such force that my desk toppled forward, my books and pens spilling across the floor. The entire class, startled by the sudden violent intrusion on the tedium of the school day, went silent and turned to stare at me. I was wide-eyed, dragging breaths, my heart punching inside my chest. _Iris,_ said Mrs. Thistle, alarmed, _are you okay?_ _Don_t get too close to her,_ Justine Khan said to our teacher. I had once thought she was beautiful_and she probably still was, if you couldn_t see past the veneer of her skin to the pool of venom stagnating beneath. She now wore her curtain of dark hair long and straight, and carried a brush in her backpack to groom it at recess. It was so shiny and so well cared for that it was almost embarrassing. It also served the double purpose of concealing the scars my fingernails had left on either side of her neck when she_d kissed me. _Everyone knows she bites._ There were some titters of laughter, but most people seemed too rattled to know how to react. _Uh . . ._ I needed an excuse, a cover to get out of there. _I_m going to be sick,_ I said as I knelt to shove my things into my bag. I left my desk and chair where they lay. _Go to sick bay,_ Mrs. Thistle instructed, but I was already halfway out the door. Another good thing about being a shameless teacher_s pet: They never doubted you if you said you were sick. Once clear of the classroom, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and bolted for the spot outside where I_d seen the man, in the shadowy slip of space between two buildings. The day was gray, grim: typical London. Muddy water flicked up the back of my socks as I ran. I could already see from afar that there was no one there now, but I kept running until I stood where he had stood. The air around me was dank with the smell of smoke and wet animal. I could see into my classroom through the mist of rain. I called Grey. I needed to hear her voice. She_d always been good at calming me down. It went to voicemail; she must be on the plane from Paris already. I left a message. _Hey. Uh. Call me back when you land. I_m kind of freaking out. I think someone is following me. Okay. Bye._ Reluctantly, I called Vivi. _I knew you_d change your mind!_ she said after one ring. _I haven_t._ _Oh. Well, this is awkward. Turn around._ I turned. In the distance, in the parking lot, I could see her waving. _Ugh,_ I said. _I_ve got to go. Some weird woman is stalking me._ At nineteen, my middle sister was a tattooed, pierced, clove-cigarette-smoking bass player with a blond buzz cut, a zigzag nose, and a smirk so sharp it could cut right through you. When I reached her in the school parking lot, she was lounging on the hood of some teacher_s red midlife crisis car, unbothered by the rain. Despite just landing from Budapest, she carried no luggage but a small leather backpack. She was dressed like that old Cake song, in a short skirt and a long jacket. Two years ago, when Grey_s scar had become the season_s hottest fashion accessory and teenage girls had started carving half-moons into their necks, Vivi had covered hers with a wisteria tattoo that unfurled across her collarbones, her back, halfway down her arms. Her tongue was pierced, her nose was pierced, and her ears probably contained enough metal to melt into a bullet. Grey was high fashion, but Vivi was pure rock _n_ roll. I looked her up and down. _Lose your way to the Mad Max set, Furiosa?_ She let her black eyes linger on me while she took a draw of her cigarette. Few people could pull off a shaved head and a gross smoking habit and still manage to look like a siren, but Vivi could. _Like you can talk, Hermione._ I thought of the Cake song again: A voice that is dark like tinted glass. _Oh, sick burn,_ I said, shaking my head. _Your mind is slipping in your old age._ We both laughed then. Vivi slid off the car and pulled me into a bear hug. I could feel the tensile strength of her muscles beneath the heavy curtain of her coat; she could handle herself. She_d been serious about self-defense classes ever since that guy had tried to pull her into his car. _It_s good to see you, kid,_ she said. _God, you smell terrible. What is that?_ _Ah._ Vivi wafted air from under her armpits in my direction. _That noxious stench would be Grey_s perfume._ Hollow by Grey Hollow, her eponymous scent, the one she stitched in little vials into her couture. For Christmas two years ago, she_d sent me a bottle of perfume that smelled like smoke and forest, with something wild and rotten scratching beneath it. One sniff made me drop to my knees, gagging. Like everything that Grey Hollow made, it became a bestseller. Fashion magazines called it heady and cryptic. Grey sent a carton of the vile stuff to my school, a fuck-you-look-at-me-now gift for every teacher who_d ever given her grief. They wore it like drugstore perfume. It clung to their hair and clothing, a damp green aura. It seemed to sweep other scents into its orbit and take them hostage, hints of curdled milk and wood rot tugging at the edges of the perfume whenever the heating climbed too high. Classrooms stank of it. Nobody else seemed to mind the smell. _How many of your friends said no to meeting you today before you called me?_ I asked, though we both knew that, much like me, Vivi had no friends in London. _Like, five, six max,_ Vivi said. _Everyone_s getting jobs. It_s disgusting. So are you coming or not?_ _I can_t just leave school._ _You can. I should know. I did it every day._ _Yes, well, some of us want to go to university. Besides, Cate will freak out if I cut. It was hard enough getting permission to come to your gig. You know what she_s like._ _Cate_s codependence on you and your respect for authority are equally repulsive. Give me your phone._ Vivi guessed my passcode_16 for Grey_s birthday, 29 for Vivi_s birthday, 11 for my birthday_then called our mother, who picked up immediately. _No, Cate, nothing_s wrong._ Vivi rolled her eyes. _I_m kidnapping Iris for the day._ We locked eyes on the word kidnapping. I shook my head. _She_s not going to be at school, so don_t flip when you check your creepy, privacy-invading tracker, okay? . . . Yes, I know. No, Grey isn_t here. It_s just Iris and me, I promise . . . I will . . . I know . . . Yes, Cate, I know. She_s safe with me, okay? . . . Yeah, I_m going to crash at home after the show. I_m looking forward to seeing you too. Love you._ Vivi hung up and threw my phone back to me. _Done. Easy._ I wondered what Cate_s reaction would be if Grey showed up at my school unannounced and tried to pull me out of classes for the day. There would probably already be police sirens screaming in the distance. _Kidnapping?_ I said. _Really? Stellar word choice._ _It was an accident. Oh shit, incoming._ Mrs. Thistle was hurrying toward us. _Iris,_ she said, _I was on my way to check on you. Are you feeling better?_ _Oh,_ I said. _No. I think I need to go home._ I pointed at Vivi. Mrs. Thistle_s gaze slid to my sister. _Hello, Vivienne,_ she said flatly. _Hello, Thistle,_ Vivi replied with a wave . . . which she then turned around into the middle finger. Mrs. Thistle pursed her lips and went back the way she came, shaking her head. Vivi hadn_t been the easiest student. I smacked her in the stomach with the back of my hand. _Vivi,_ I said. _What? No matter how many times I tell that old hag my name is just Vivi, she insists on calling me Vivienne. Plus, she failed me in English._ _Yeah, because you never, ever went to English._ _Allegedly._ I rolled my eyes. _Have you heard from Grey today?_ _No. Not for a few days. I tried calling her when I landed, but her phone must be out of juice. She knows the plan, though. Come on. Let_s go get food and wait for our terribly busy and important sister to grace us with her presence._ Vivi slammed through the day, chain-smoking clove cigarettes and drinking spiked Earl Grey tea from a flask. I forgot how much fun she could be. After lunch at a kebab shop, we spent the afternoon crashing her favorite London haunts: guitar shops on Denmark Street, vintage shops in Camden, Flamin_ Eight Tattoo Studio in Kentish Town, where she spent a good fifteen minutes trying to convince me to get a full sleeve. We snacked on croissants and slices of sourdough pizza, and Vivi told me all about the six months since I_d last seen her: the European tour through Germany and Hungary and the Czech Republic, the gigs in ruin bars and abandoned warehouses and empty swimming pools, the beautiful European women she_d bedded along the way, in more detail than I cared to hear. The time Grey was supposed to meet us came and went. It felt almost strange to spend time alone with my middle sister, just the two of us. All our lives, even after Vivi and Grey had moved out, whenever we met up, it was almost always the three of us together. Always a set, never a pair. Without Grey, I felt unanchored somehow, like the internal hierarchy of our sisterhood had collapsed into chaos. We all knew our roles: Grey was the boss, the leader, the captain, the one who took charge and made decisions and forged ahead. Vivi was the fun assistant, the suggester of mischief, the teller of jokes, the wild one_but even with her penchant for anarchy and dislike of authority, she always fell in line behind Grey. I half suspected the reason Vivi had set off on her own at fifteen was to escape Grey_s iron rule. My role was to be the youngest, the baby, a thing to be protected. My sisters were kinder and gentler to me than they were to each other. Grey rarely pulled me into line the way she did Vivi. Vivi rarely snapped and yelled at me the way she did Grey. As afternoon turned into evening, we sent her pictures on WhatsApp of us hanging out without her, of all the fun she was missing. It was a special kind of sisterly punishment: Grey hated being left out, hated us embarking on plans that had not been sanctioned by her in advance. She was a general and we were her small but fiercely loyal army. _If Grey jumped off a bridge, would you?_ my mother had asked me once as she splinted my broken pinkie finger. Grey had broken her pinkie hours before, so I had found a hammer in my father_s pottery shed and used it to shatter my own. It was a question without answer. It was not a question at all. I didn_t follow my sister. I was my sister. I breathed when she breathed. I blinked when she blinked. I felt pain when she felt pain. If Grey was going to jump off a bridge, I was going to be there with her, holding her hand. Of course, of course, of course. In the evening, we met up with Vivi_s bandmates for dinner before the gig: Candace, a hard-drinking German with a voice like Janis Joplin, and Laura, the Danish drummer, who looked like a pixie and played drums like a banshee. I_d had something of a crush on her since I_d first seen her play, on a weekend trip to Prague six months ago. Grey had met us there and we_d spent two nights wandering the labyrinthine stone alleys of the Old Town, eating nothing but trdeln?k and drinking nothing but absinthe. When we_d watched the band play at a red-lit basement bar, Grey had mouthed the words to each of their songs. It was one of the things I loved most about her: you might not see her for months, and then she_d show up and know every word to every song you_d written and recite them back to you like they were Shakespearean poetry. Grey didn_t just know I got good grades; she contacted my teachers and requested to read every essay I handed in, then commented on their merits the next time we met up. So where was she now? For dinner, we ate bowls of spicy chicken karaage at Vivi_s favorite pub, the Lady Hamilton, named after the famous eighteenth-century muse and mistress Emma Hart. Vivi_s first ever tattoo had been George Romney_s painting Emma Hart as Circe, a soft beauty with round eyes, pouting lips, and hair whipped around by the wind. I wasn_t sure if Vivi had discovered the pub or the woman first, but either way, whenever she came to London, we inevitably ended up eating here. Inside, the pub was warm and cozy, the walls and furniture all dark wood, the roof a lattice of Bordeaux cornice and ceiling roses. Candles dripped white wax onto our table as we ate. Vivi slipped me a sneaky glass of house red wine. Another difference between my sisters: the budgets. If Grey were here, we_d likely be eating the tasting menu at Sketch and knocking back twenty-pound cocktails like they were candy. I thought about the classes I had the next day, all the prep work I was missing out on by taking a night off. I thought about the skin of Laura_s neck, what it might taste like if I kissed her. I thought about how young I looked in my uniform. I thought about the horned man, and how Vivi couldn_t be in town for ten minutes before weird shit started happening. After dinner, we wandered down Kentish Town Road toward Camden, past convenience stores and late-night barbers and the hot-oil smell that lingered around the doorways of chicken shops. Even on a weeknight in winter, the streets around Camden Town Station were humming with people: a punk in a leather jacket and a fluorescent-orange Mohawk was charging tourists a pound for photographs; a vape company handed out free tester kits to the crowds coming home from work or heading to the nearby market for food; revelers spilled out of honey-lit bars; couples held hands on their way to the Odeon cinema; shoppers carried bags of groceries from MandS and Sainsbury_s and Whole Foods. Vivi_s band, Sisters of the Sacred, had been booked to play at the Jazz Caf?, which, contrary to what its name would suggest, was not actually a jazz caf? but rather a nightclub/live music venue in an old Barclays Bank. Its white columns and arched windows gave it a faux Grecian vibe, and blue neon letters loudly declared it LONDONS FAMOUS JAZZ VENUE. There was a line out the front already, despite the cold, which made Vivi and her bandmates stop. _Oh my,_ Laura said. _Are we famous now?_ Sisters of the Sacred was semi well known in the underground scenes of the mainland_s coolest, grungiest cities, but they certainly weren_t famous. Not in the way that Grey was famous. Vivi stared at the line and lit a cigarette. _I may have told the venue manager that my sister and a gaggle of scantily dressed supermodels would come and watch our show if they booked us._ _This is the correct term for a multitude of supermodels?_ Candace asked. _Gaggle?_ _It is indeed, Candace._ _Pimping out your own sister for exposure is a bit morally bankrupt,_ I said. _Supermodels were invented to sell shit to people,_ Vivi said. _What_s the point of being a direct blood relative of one if I don_t occasionally utilize her for profit?_ _Oh my God, Iris!_ A hand waved frantically from the line. _Here!_ Jennifer Weir and Justine Khan were standing close to the front. Jennifer was the one waving at me. Justine had her arms crossed and was staring straight ahead, her jaw set tight. _Friends of yours?_ Vivi muttered as Jennifer ducked out of the line and tugged Justine after her. _Mortal enemies, actually,_ I muttered back. _Oh my God, I hoped we_d run into you!_ Jennifer said. _We got here early and have been waiting in line for, like, an hour._ _Big fans of the band?_ Vivi asked. _Oh, sure, yeah,_ Jennifer said. Vivi_s gaze slid to Justine. _You look familiar._ My sister clicked her fingers and pointed at her. _I know! You_re the girl who shaved her head in front of the whole school! That was so metal._ Vivi reached out and curled a lock of Justine_s long hair around her finger. _It_s a shame you let it grow out. I much preferred it short._ _Don_t fucking touch me, witch,_ Justine snapped. She turned and stormed toward an Italian restaurant across the road. _Justine! Justine!_ Jennifer called. _Sorry about her. I don_t know what her problem is._ Jennifer turned back to me. _Is your sister here? Is she still coming?_ _I_m her sister,_ Vivi offered. _I think she_s coming,_ I said. _We haven_t heard from her today._ _Do you think you_ll go to Cuckoo afterward?_ Jennifer asked. _Oh my God, do you think Tyler Yang will be there?_ _Cuckoo?_ _Only the coolest and most ultra-exclusive nightclub in London. Duh. It_s impossible for regular humans to get in, but Grey and Tyler go all the time when she_s here._ A slow, sharp smile spread across Vivi_s face. She despised when people talked about our sister like they knew her. Grey was ours. She belonged to us. _We_ll be sure to let you know,_ she said, maintaining the smile. _See you later._ Jennifer was apparently unaware that she_d been dismissed. _Oh, actually, I kind of lost my place in line. Do you think I could come in with you? I would love to see backstage._ Vivi took one long last drag on her cigarette and let the clove-scented smoke bloom in Jennifer_s face. _Do you know any of our music_or are you just here to starfuck Grey? Can you name one song?_ Jennifer stumbled over her words. _I . . . I don_t think . . . That_s not fair._ _Actually,_ Vivi said as she stubbed out her cigarette with her boot, _what_s our band called?_ Again, Jennifer made gasping fish sounds. _Yeah, that_s what I thought,_ Vivi said. _Back in line._ _Ah. Classic Vivi. Making friends wherever she goes,_ Laura mused as the bouncers opened the doors for us and we made our way inside. Vivi threw her arms around her bandmates_ shoulders and swaggered into the club like the rock star she was. _Starfuckers never change,_ she said, oblivious to the fact that I would be the one who_d have to face said starfucker_now glaring at me with her arms crossed_and her henchwomen at school tomorrow. We hung out backstage while the support act warmed up the crowd. Then, when Sisters of the Sacred took the stage and Grey was still MIA, I messaged her again: They_re starting. WHERE. ARE. YOU? It was weird for her not to have seen my previous messages. Vivi could go weeks without checking social media, but Grey was chained to it. I opened Instagram. My account was set to private, but I had thousands of message requests. Everybody wants a piece of you when your sister is famous. Or rather, they want a piece of your sister, and they want you to deliver it to them. Ghouls haunted my Instagram, my Facebook, hungry for a filtered taste of her. You go to school with my cousin. I think you_re so hot. Send me a pic of you naked, beautiful. (Or your sister if you_re too shy!) Tell Grey that if she breaks Tyler_s heart I will literally kill her. Literally. Hey, I have a theory about what happened to you as a kid. Have you considered the possibility that you were abducted by aliens? My best friend_s great-uncle works at Area 51 and she says he has proof. I can share the details for a low price. Message me back! I know you will probably never read this but I feel like I am DESTINED to become a catwalk model and I would REALLY appreciate you passing my headshots on to your sister. I checked Grey_s page to see if she_d posted recently. Grey Hollow, supermodel, had ninety-eight million followers. NINETY-EIGHT MILLION. There were pictures of her with other supermodels, pictures of her on magazine covers, pictures of her backstage at concerts with pop stars, pictures of her on yachts, pictures of her with her model boyfriend, Tyler Yang, at some pink-lit club_Cuckoo, I guessed_in Mayfair. Grey had first told me about Tyler six months ago on our trip to Prague, after we_d each drunk a few shots of absinthe from delicate glasses. We sat close together at a booth in a nightclub, warm and glittery on the inside from the alcohol and the wormwood, her head resting on my shoulder as we watched Vivi move on the dance floor with a girl she_d met at the bar. Grey held up her left hand and I held up my right and we pressed our fingertips together in an arch. I felt her heartbeat in my skin, in my chest, felt the strong thread that bound us together. _I think I_m in love with him,_ she_d said quietly, her breath carrying a trace of sugar and anise. I could hear the smile in her voice. I already knew she loved him. I_d known it since the day before, when we_d met at V?clav Havel Airport and I_d hugged her for the first time in months. She_d smelled different. She_d smelled . . . softer, somehow. It suited her. Being in love made her even more intoxicating. I was surprised and unsurprised in equal measure. Unsurprised because I already knew they were together. I_d seen paparazzi shots of them holding hands on the front of tabloid magazines, and Tyler had started to appear more and more frequently in her Instagram stories. Surprised because Grey had never had a real boyfriend before, only lovers who interested her for a short time, and_unlike Vivi, who frequently offered the details of her love and sex life_Grey was a locked box. She shared no more than morsels. _Tyler Yang?_ I_d asked her, and she_d nodded sleepily. _He_s quite special,_ she_d continued. _You_ll know what I mean when you meet him._ The meeting had yet to happen, but maybe it would tonight_if she bothered showing up. Grey_s last post was from five days ago, an image of her in a green tulle gown lounging against a red banister with a glass of champagne in her hand, her skin saturated in fluorescent pink light, her blond head wreathed in baby_s breath. TBT London Fashion Week, the caption read. The location was tagged as the Cuckoo Club. Just over fifteen million people had liked it. There were two levels inside Jazz Caf?: the lower level with the stage, the audience pressed up close to it, the band soaked in orange light and laser beams. Overhead, a mezzanine restaurant and bar wrapped around the space for those who preferred sipping wine to getting doused with beer in the mosh pit. I spotted JJ sitting at a round table, both looking sullen. Grey wasn_t there for the first song, or the second, or the third. Candace moved across the stage with Mick Jagger swagger, sex on legs, but I watched Laura, a thimble of a woman with Bambi eyes transformed into a she-beast as she attacked her drums. Hair in her face, sweat and spit flying, her T-shirt riding up to reveal a soft slip of stomach. The crowd was loving the band, but by the fourth song I was distracted, worried. I kept looking around for my eldest sister, sure she would sneak up behind me and put her hands over my eyes at any moment, but she didn_t show. Then, somewhere toward the end of the gig, something happened. Onstage, Vivi stopped playing her bass and let her arms fall slack to her sides. She was staring at someone or something in the crowd behind me, a veil over her eyes. I turned to look at what she was fixated on, but the room was dark and crowded. Laura and Candace exchanged confused glances and tried to catch Vivi_s attention, without any luck. Vivi was frozen, wide-eyed, drawing quick, shallow breaths through her shuddering mouth. Candace moved across the stage as she sang and nudged Vivi, who blinked furiously and shook her head. She found my eyes in the crowd. A tear slipped down her cheek. I knew then that something was very wrong. Vivi swallowed and picked up her instrument again. The band played two more songs, but Vivi_s heart wasn_t in it, and she kept making mistakes. When the crowd called for an encore after the last song, only Candace and Laura came onstage to do an acoustic cover. I made my way through the crowd and slipped backstage. Vivi was sucking on a cigarette like it was hooked up to an oxygen tank, her head between her knees. _Jesus,_ I said. I ran to the sink and wet a cloth, then draped it over the peach-fuzz crown of her skull. _What the hell happened out there? Are you okay?_ _I don_t know. I don_t know._ A necklace of saliva sagged from her open mouth and drooped to the floor between her feet. _I think I had a panic attack._ _You saw something,_ I said. Vivi shook her head. _Yes, you did,_ I pushed. _What did you see?_ She sat up straight. Her lips were tinted faint blue and her skin was clammy with sweat. _A man. Except not a man. A . . . dude with a bull_s skull over his head._ I stood up and took out my phone. _I_m calling the cops._ _What? No. Iris, seriously, it was dark and I was probably hallucin__ _I saw him today too. Twice. He was at my school. Tall shirtless dude cosplaying a decomposing demon Minotaur._ _What?_ _Yeah. So, no, you weren_t hallucinating. Some freak stalker from the internet has decided to try and scare us like that woman who broke in when we were kids, and I_m not putting up with that._ Vivi frowned. _Iris . . . you know this is not that, right?_ I hesitated. _Uh. No?_ _I recognized . . . the way he smelled. I can_t explain it. It felt . . . familiar._ I stared at my sister for a long time, then at my phone, which still showed no notification from our eldest sister. _Where_s Grey, Vivi? Why isn_t she here?_ _I don_t know._ _Grey doesn_t miss these things. If she says she_s going to do something, she does it. If she_s not going to come to us, we_re going to go to her._ 5 WE SLIPPED OUT the back entrance of Jazz Caf? while Laura and Candace were still onstage, then hurried toward the crowded mouth of Camden Town Station, checking over our shoulders the whole way that we weren_t being followed by whoever_or whatever_was stalking us. Vivi was still rattled. On the train, she breathed into her cupped hands to settle her stomach. It took a few stops before the color started returning to her cheeks and dots of sweat stopped rising from her forehead. We emerged from the Underground at Leicester Square, into a world in which Vivi no longer belonged. In Camden, her tattoos and piercings didn_t look out of place, but here, as we hurried past crowds of tourists and chain restaurants and kiosks selling tickets for Matilda and Magic Mike, she was an oddity. We let ourselves into Grey_s apartment building with the keycodes she_d sent us when she bought the flat a year ago, though she was so infrequently in London that neither Vivi nor I had ever actually visited yet. Horrible images slotted into my thoughts as we caught the lift up to the penthouse, one after another, like an old-fashioned slide projector: Grey, OD_ed on her bathroom floor; Grey, murdered by the man in the bull skull. When we opened the front door, though, we found the place neat and vast and impersonal. City lights seeped through floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the Thames. The London Eye turned slowly in the distance. There were no signs of anything weird. In fact, there were very few signs that anyone lived here at all. A couple of coffee table books about fashion but no bookshelves stuffed to bursting with the dark fairy tales Grey had loved most as a teenager. A sleek galley kitchen of gloss white and marble with floors of polished concrete, but no wood, no warmth, no food. The air tasted bitter, the smack of bleach and ammonia. All the furniture looked as though it had been chosen by an interior designer, then styled and lit for a Vogue photo shoot about bland celebrity homes. It didn_t feel like Grey. Grey_s brain was chaotic. When she was a teenager, her room had never been clean. Her socks had never matched. She was always at least fifteen minutes late to everything. Nothing in her life had ever been neat or ordered. She slammed through the world, a tornado in the form of a girl, and left a trail of destruction behind her. That_s what she_d been like at seventeen, anyway. Maybe becoming a supermodel and fashion designer had changed that, but it seemed as impossible as switching out the bones of your skeleton. Vivi and I moved through the apartment in eerie silence, trailing our fingertips over Grey_s possessions. The couches, the mirrors, the clocks and cabinets. It felt clandestine to be in someone else_s personal space like this. Like I could open any drawer or door or cupboard and there find my sister_s bare-naked soul, neatly folded. A thrill settled over me. Suddenly I was ten years old again and obsessed with my big sister. Back then, Grey_s bedroom had been a temple in wartime, a place of worship I had to sneak into when its guardian was unawares. Whenever I knew she_d be out of the house for a couple of hours, I_d push open the door and start exploring. I only did it when I knew I could take my time, savor the experience. Her makeup bag was a favorite, a seemingly bottomless chest of treasure filled with glosses and glitters that left my skin sticky and shellacked. I wanted to live in her skin, to know what it was like to be as beautiful and mysterious as Grey Hollow. But the apartment was not the home of the sister I knew. When Grey daydreamed about running away, it hadn_t been to a place like this. It had been to some rich, dark hidey-hole in Budapest or Prague, a place swaddled in velvet and brass. Vivi_s request to Grey was that the place have a library. All I wanted was black-and-white chessboard floors in the kitchen and bathrooms, like I had in all my houses in Sims 4 whenever I played. At thirteen, I_d considered it the height of opulence. We found neither of those things here. _It_s like an interior designer masturbated in here,_ Vivi said, tapping her fingernails against a vase, _and came on everything._ _Gross._ _But true. None of this is Grey. She must_ve paid someone to do it. Either that or a reptilian shape-shifter is wearing her skin._ _I didn_t know reptilian shape-shifters were renowned for their interior decorating skills._ _And that_s why you_ll never be part of the Illuminati._ The master bedroom was something out of a luxury hotel_chic, modern, soulless. The bed was made with neat hospital corners and there were no personal items on display, not so much as a hairbrush or photograph. I opened the walk-in closet. Here, too, it was painstakingly ordered. Rows and rows of unworn heels, bright as beetle backs. I ran my fingers over the clothes. Sequins and braided velvet and silk, all heavy and expensive. Oscar de la Renta, Vivienne Westwood, Elie Saab, Grey Hollow. Vivi held up a pair of snakeskin pants. _The reptilian shape-shifter theory is starting to check out._ _It doesn_t look like anyone has been here for weeks,_ I said. _It doesn_t look like anyone has been here ever._ _I suppose she has a cleaner or something?_ Vivi trailed a finger over a shelf in the closet; there was no dust. _Has to be, right? Grey is not this tidy._ _What do we do now?_ I asked. Vivi shrugged. _I don_t know if we need to worry. Maybe she never even made it home from Paris._ I looked back at Grey_s closet. The green tulle gown she_d worn to Cuckoo Club in her Instagram post from five days ago was wedged in there, pressed and lifeless now that it didn_t have her body to animate it. _If she_s in London, I think I know where she might be._ It felt like some holy ritual. Something I had waited my whole life for. To sit where she sat, to paint my face with her makeup, to slip my body into her clothes. To become Grey. We thumbed through her wardrobe and draped ourselves in her vestments. Even Vivi, who was generally unimpressed by fashion unless it was ripped or studded, was breathless and giddy at the prospect of unlimited access to Grey_s wardrobe. We tried on piece after piece. Eventually, I settled on a gold minidress and a green silk coat that drifted over my skin like cobwebs. Vivi chose a cardinal-red power suit with cigarette pants and lipstick to match, her peach fuzz slicked flat to her skull with shimmery gel. I called Grey again and again during the cab ride to Cuckoo Club, certain that we were overreacting, certain that she would answer my next message and Vivi and I would spend the rest of the week cringing at our silliness, but Grey never answered, never read any of my messages. We got out of the cab on Regent Street and walked beneath a huge shadowed archway to the backstreet that Cuckoo called home. Fairy lights were cast over the street like a net, and restaurants still hummed with late-night drinkers and diners huddled beneath outdoor heaters. There was no line outside the club. The door was unmarked, unassuming. A couple walking in front of us buzzed, and it opened an inch to seep out neon-purple light and electro house music. They had a hushed conversation with whoever answered and were turned away. Vivi and I stepped up next. I buzzed. The door was opened by a short blond woman with eyes like a cat. _Sur la liste?_ she asked, and then she looked at us closely and her mouth fell open a little. We were the ghosts of Grey; of course she would recognize us. _She_s not here,_ she said in English; her accent was so heavy, her tongue sounded swollen. _Do you know where she is?_ Vivi asked. _I told your friend yesterday_I haven_t seen her._ _Someone else was looking for her?_ I asked. _Who?_ The woman_s expression darkened. _A man. A man who smelled like . . . death and burning._ My heartbeat shifted into a higher gear. I thought of the woman who_d slipped through my bedroom window when I was a child and cut off a lock of my hair, of the man who_d tried to pull Vivi into his car because he_d read about her on the internet. _Did he say why he was looking for her?_ I pressed. _What he wanted?_ The woman shook her head. _I didn_t let him in. He was . . . His eyes. They were black, like ink. I was afraid of him._ Vivi and I shared a look, and a thought: We need to find her. _We want to talk to this guy._ I showed the hostess a picture of Grey_s boyfriend. _Tyler Yang. Is he here?_ _Yes, but it_s a private event tonight,_ she said hesitantly. _If you_re not on the guest list, I can_t let__ _I won_t tell if you don_t,_ Vivi said, practically purring. She put a finger against the woman_s lips_and that was all it took. The woman closed her eyes at Vivi_s touch, dazed and drunk on the heady smell of my sister_s skin. With her eyes still shut, she opened her mouth and sucked on Vivi_s finger. I had seen my sisters do this thing before. I had done this thing before too, a couple of times, though the power of it terrified me. The things I could make people do when they were high on me. When the woman opened her eyes, her pupils were huge and her breath smelled like honey and rotten wood. Vivi stroked her cheek, then leaned in to whisper, _You want to let us in._ The hostess opened the door, giddy, a dumb smile on her face. Her gaze was fixed on Vivi. In the purple light of the vestibule, I saw what she saw: how frighteningly beautiful my sister was, sharper and skinnier than Grey, like a rapier where Grey was a broadsword. _You shouldn_t do that to people,_ I said as we headed down a hall toward the source of the music. A thick bass jumped in my chest. _Do what?_ Vivi asked. _Whatever the hell that is._ The club_Grey_s favorite, if her Instagram was to be believed_was lit from all angles by screaming pink neon. For the private event, the ceiling had been laced with a forest of cherry blossoms that dripped down over the dance floor. Oversize buckets of Dom P?rignon with glow-in-the-dark labels gave every table a soft green phosphorescence. The bar was gold and glass and framed by a set of sumptuous purple velvet curtains. Drinks were served in tall, impossibly elegant glasses that looked remarkably similar to the tall, impossibly elegant women who drank from them. The crowd was made up mostly of people in the fashion industry_models, designers, photographers_but I also spotted a famous rapper, an actor couple from an American cult teen TV show, the socialite daughter of an old British rock legend. Many did a double take when they saw us, then leaned together to speak in hushed tones. _Keep your eyes peeled for him,_ I told Vivi. _How did you know he_d be here?_ _Grey_s here all the time. Tyler is always in her pictures._ Tyler Yang was a heavily tattooed Korean British model who_d gained a reputation in the fashion world for the ease with which his style blurred gender boundaries. Rarely was he seen in something that wasn_t daring: Gucci floral suits, bespoke lace blouses, strings of antique pearls, pussybow shirts, heeled loafers. His eyes were always lined, his lids and lips slicked with a candy shop of bright pop colors. Grey_s sexuality was a much discussed but ultimately unconfirmed topic of gossip. Was she dating this Victoria_s Secret Angel or that new Hollywood leading man? Vivi and I both knew that Grey was straight. It had always been men for her, the same way it had always been women for Vivi. For me, it had always been both. My very first kiss had been with Justine Khan in the game of spin the bottle at Jennifer Weir_s sleepover. Her mouth had been soft and her perfume had smelled like lip gloss and vanilla frosting. It was supposed to be a bit of giggling fun, but it lit something inside me. A disco ball in my chest, an insistent hunger somewhere within me that made me want to thread my fingers through her then-short hair and press my hips against hers. It confirmed something about myself that I had suspected for a while. The kiss did something to Justine too_something strange and ugly. She kissed me again and again, hungry and insistent, until I tried to push her away and she forced me down, until she bit my lip so hard it burst and bled, until her fingernails raked claw marks into my arms and I had to start fighting her off, until all the girls who were watching us realized it wasn_t a game anymore and had to wrestle her, keening and frothing at the mouth, off me. The story had twisted over time, so now girls at school said I was the one who bit her; I was the one who wouldn_t let her go; I was the mad witch who_d tried to bite her face off. It remained the less terrifying of the two kisses I had endured. _There,_ Vivi said, nodding toward the back wall. Tyler was in a pink velvet booth wedged between a pop star and a supermodel. An ex_Disney teen star hovered nearby, trying to find her way into the conversation. I could see why Grey liked Tyler: the bouffant of black hair tied in a knot at the crown of his skull, the strong line of his jaw, the muscles that moved beneath his tattoo sleeves. Tonight his brown eyes were rimmed with kohl, his lips shellacked with green lipstick. He wore a sheer lilac blouse and high waisted trousers, the kind men favored in the 1920s. The glowing Dom P?rignon label gave his skin an absinthine quality. The women were beautiful, but Tyler Yang was_like Grey_utterly striking. I licked my lips. _Damn, is that who I think it is?_ Vivi said, eyeing the supermodel. _The Victoria_s Secret Angel, right? I think she just broke up with her girlfriend._ _Keep it in your pants,_ I said. _We_re investigating our sister_s mysterious disappearance. This is no time for fraternizing._ _Says the girl salivating over Tyler Yang. Said missing sister_s boyfriend._ _I_m not salivating._ _At least not with your mouth._ _Gross._ _Yet true._ Tyler spotted us then. We made and held eye contact across the room. _Uh . . . He does not look super pleased to see us,_ Vivi said. Tyler_s expression had fermented into vinegar. He was staring now, his eyes dark and jaw set. He raised a thin finger, curled it toward himself. Come. _It appears we are being beckoned,_ I said. _Well, that_s all the invitation I need._ Vivi pushed past me and made a beeline for the model. Shameless. As we approached the table, however, Tyler had a quiet word with the women, and they rose and made their way toward the bar, two goddesses draped in starlight. _No, why are they going away?_ Vivi said, staring after the women as they glided through the crowd. My phone pinged in my hand. I glanced at the screen, but the message was from my mother, not Grey. Shit. In all the panic of trying to find Grey, I_d forgotten about my curfew. Heading home soon, I messaged Cate, then I turned on airplane mode so she wouldn_t show up at the club to escort me home. _Little Hollows,_ Tyler said, looking from Vivi to me. _You have to be._ _We_re Grey_s sisters,_ I said as we sat. _If she sent you to apologize, I_m not interested in hearing it._ _Apologize for what?_ Vivi asked. _Oh, you know, for being a lying, cheating witch._ Vivi raised her eyebrows. I pressed my teeth together. We both hated that word. _We_re here because we can_t find Grey,_ she said. _We_re worried she might be missing._ Tyler laughed, though not kindly. _No, she_s not._ _When did you last see her?_ I asked. _I don_t know. A few days ago, when we broke up. I suppose I haven_t seen her since then._ _You broke up?_ Vivi asked. _Yes._ _Why? Did you fight?_ _That_s usually what happens when people break up._ Vivi_s jaw tilted down. There was still the ghost of a smile on her lips, but her eyes were sharp. Going in for the kill. _Did you get angry?_ The way she asked it, it was almost like she was flirting. _Did you hurt her?_ Tyler stirred his drink. _I don_t like where this is going._ He tried to stand then, but Vivi grabbed him by the collar and pulled him down. She sidled up close to him and hooked her leg over his thigh; to anyone watching, it would look flirtatious, not threatening. _You_re the first person the police are going to come to after we call them,_ said Vivi, her lips close to Tyler_s ear. I sat up straighter at the word police. Vivi was bluffing, surely. It wasn_t that serious yet_was it? _The ex-boyfriend. You know it_s true. So tell us what happened._ She stroked his cheek, but whatever cloying spell she_d used on the hostess, it wasn_t working on him. He_s quite special, Grey had told me. You_ll know what I mean when you meet him. Is this what she_d meant? Tyler looked the way I felt: afraid. _Whoa, whoa, whoa. Police? Why are you getting them involved?_ _Because we can_t find her, you idiot,_ Vivi said. _Grey is uncontactable. The hostess here tonight said a weird dude was looking for her. Something might have happened to her._ _Grey is always disappearing. That_s nothing new._ _What do you mean?_ I asked. _For days at a time, she disappears off the face of the earth, okay? Won_t answer calls, misses work, dates, fittings. Everyone else got used to it. It was part of her mystery. Would she show up or wouldn_t she? All very exciting. But it sucks when you_re dating her. Your sister was a lousy girlfriend._ Vivi prickled. _Be very careful what you say about her._ _Why? Would I bad-mouth her if I_d done anything to her? No. I mean it, Grey was a bad girlfriend. There was someone else, I assume. That_s why we broke up. That_s probably who she_s with right now._ _Grey cheated on you?_ I asked. It didn_t sound like her. Grey was wild, sure, but not flippant_especially not with other people_s hearts. _Well, she didn_t admit it to my face, but what else am I supposed to assume? Where does she go when she disappears? All I know is when she was here, she was only ever here halfway_ if I was lucky. We were together for a year and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of who she was. She kept so many secrets, so much of herself compartmentalized. Especially the occult stuff._ Vivi and I exchanged glances. Tyler had our attention, and he knew it. _Oh, I suppose you don_t know much about that, do you?_ he said. _I don_t either, really. All I know is the one time she let me come to her apartment, it was the creepiest place I_ve ever been. Full of weird shit. Dead things, dark magic. Grey thinks she_s some kind of witch._ _We were at her apartment tonight,_ I said. _There was nothing like that there._ _Everybody keeps secrets, Little Hollow. Perhaps your big sister has been keeping more secrets from you than you realize._ It was no surprise to me that Grey was still interested in the occult. It had been that way all her teenage years. Grey liked things that were obscure and dangerous: older men; drugs; s?ances in graveyards; heavy leather-bound books that smelled of chocolate and promised spells to commune with demons. _What did you fight about when you broke up?_ Vivi asked Tyler. _I saw a man leaving her apartment,_ he replied. Vivi and I shared another look. _That was the final straw._ _Did he . . . ,_ Vivi began. _Uh, how does one phrase this? Was he, perchance, some kind of Minotaur with all the flesh stripped off the bones of his face?_ Tyler stared at her for a few moments, then smiled. _I think we_re done here, Little Hollows,_ he said as he finished his drink and shrugged on his velvet jacket. _When you find Grey, tell her I hate her._ With that, he stood and was gone. 6 I HAD SEVEN missed calls and a dozen messages from my mother when we left the club, all of them dinging into my phone at once when I turned airplane mode off. _Damn,_ I whispered as I tapped Cate_s name to call her, my heart fast and swollen with guilt. _Our mother is going to kill me._ _Iris?_ Cate said instantly. I could taste the panic on her tongue, a sour scent that made my stomach crumple. _I_m so sorry._ Vivi and I were walking to the Tube, the cold stripping the skin off my legs, turning me inside out. _I_m okay. We_re heading home now._ _How could you do that to me?_ my mother demanded. _How could you do that to me?_ _I_m sorry. I_m sorry. I_m okay._ _I_m at work. I almost called the police._ _I_m okay, Mama._ I hadn_t meant to say it. Sometimes it just slipped out. I could hear Cate breathing on the other end of the line. _Please don_t call me that,_ she said quietly. _You know I don_t like that._ _I_m sorry._ _Go home immediately._ _We_re on our way already. We_ll be there in about half an hour. I_ll message you when we_re there._ I hung up. The cold had sent my fingers numb and I struggled to bend them enough to slip my phone into my coat pocket. I could feel Vivi staring at me disapprovingly. _Iris,_ she said. _Don_t say anything,_ I snapped. _What is Cate going to do next year when you go to university, huh? Move to Oxford or Cambridge with you?_ _We_ve been looking at places and she_s been putting some feelers out for jobs._ _Are you kidding me?_ _It_s not like we_ll live together. Just close by. Just so I can see her from time to time and so she doesn_t feel__ _Iris._ _Look, it_s easy for you to lecture me. You_re never here. I_m all she has left, okay? I have to be everything for her, every day._ Cate Hollow had suffered more grief in her lifetime than most people. Her parents had died suddenly, a terrible thing had happened to her children, her husband had lost his mind and then his will to live, and then her elder daughters had left home so young and all but cut off contact with her. I couldn_t understand the way my sisters treated her sometimes, like she was a stranger. All Cate wanted was to be needed. _I_m all she has left,_ I said again, softer this time. It seemed like the least I could do, to let her track me on an app and braid my hair like she had when I was little. _That_s a pretty heavy burden to bear,_ Vivi said. _Being everything for someone._ _Yeah, well. Aren_t you lucky you don_t have to carry it._ Vivi placed her hand in the middle of my back, between my shoulder blades. I felt the warmth of her skin through the silken fabric, felt the cord of power that connected us. Blood to blood, soul to soul. The knot of panic that had been tangling somewhere between my ribs and throat started to come undone. _Come on, kid,_ Vivi said. _Let_s get you home._ We caught the Northern Line back to Golders Green, the late-night commuters drinking in my bare legs and collarbones with big, hungry eyes. I felt like a thing to be devoured, sucked down to the marrow. I shrank in my seat and tried to stretch my short dress a little farther over my thighs. The Tube rattled and squealed. The woman sitting next to me smelled of sweet alcohol, her breath a cloud of fruit and sugar. The curved windows on the other side of the train carriage reflected a strange beast back at me. There were two Irises: one my regular reflection, one upside down, both joined together at the skull. A creature with two mouths, two noses, and a shared pair of eyes, empty black ovals distorted and made huge by the curve in the glass. Vivi and I walked home together along our well-trod path, past the red double-decker buses at the station exit, along a long, straight street lined with low houses with darkened leadlight windows. We had always come this way even though the route to our house was faster through the backstreets, because the main road was brightly-lit and busy. We knew all too well what could happen to girls on poorly lit streets at night, because it had happened to us. Then again, all girls knew that. Tonight, that old danger felt close. We checked behind us every few paces to make sure no one was following. An old woman in a nightdress and coat stood smoking on the balcony of an apartment block, watching us with sunken eyes as we passed. Would she remember us if we ran into the horned man between here and our house and never made it home? What would she tell the police if they came knocking, looking for witnesses? They seemed agitated. They were underdressed for the weather. They were in a hurry. They kept looking behind them, as though they were being pursued. What did they expect, dressed like that? We turned left, then looped back onto our street. It was darker than the main road and lined with skeletal trees that looked monstrous in the low light. The man, whoever he was, knew the route I ran through Hampstead Heath in the mornings. He knew where I went to school. He knew where Vivi_s show was. He knew, I was certain, where we lived. After we locked the door behind us, I messaged Cate to let her know I was safe while Vivi checked all the windows and doors were secure. We changed out of Grey_s gossamer clothes and into pajamas_harsh against our skin after designer silk and wool_then sat cross-legged on the kitchen island, eating pasta from a bowl Cate had left in the fridge. Sasha meowed from the floor, begging for more food even though she_d already been fed. We still hadn_t heard from Grey. I called again_nothing_and sent another message that went undelivered. We decided to give her the night before we called the police. There were no signs of a struggle at her apartment, and besides, she was a jet-setter; she could be on a yacht in the Caribbean for all we knew, her phone out of service. Just because a creep was stalking us and just because a man with black eyes who smelled like death had been asking after her didn_t mean something bad had happened to Grey. I am the thing in the dark, she had said once, and in that moment, I had believed her. _Why do you think we_re so strange?_ I asked Vivi as we ate. _Why do you think we can do the things we can do?_ _Like what?_ Vivi said around a mouthful of pasta. _Make people do what we want them to. Other things._ _That doesn_t feel strange to me. It feels right._ _Other people can_t do what we do._ _Sure they can. Other people can do weird stuff too, you know; they just don_t talk about it. There have always been people like us, Iris. Look in any history book, any folklore: witches, mediums, Wiccans. Whatever you want to call it. We_re connected to the world and to each other in a different way. We might be peculiar, but we_re not new._ I shook my head. _There_s something wrong with us. I feel it sometimes. Something rotten on the inside._ It was why I buried myself in books on coding and robotics and titration, so the wrongness had less room to seep in. I was certain that others_people like Justine Khan and Jennifer Weir_could feel it too. Maybe they were right to be cruel to me. Maybe I let them get away with it because some part of me believed I deserved it. _Do you think that thing_the guy in the skull_do you think he has anything to do with what happened to us? Do you think he_s back to finish what he started?_ I reached out to trail my fingers over the scar at my sister_s throat, hidden now beneath a twisted vine of ink. _Who cuts little girls_ throats?_ Vivi chewed her mouthful slowly, her eyes boring into me. _I think it_s time we went to bed._ She slid off the kitchen bench and left without another word. I brushed my teeth, tried to catch up on some of the classwork I_d missed that day, then went to find her in her old bedroom, curled up in her childhood single bed. I crawled in next to her. The stink of the perfume had faded, and Vivi_s natural scent_sylvan, milky_passed through now. I wiped some smudged eyeliner from her cheek and watched her while she slept. None of us were attractive sleepers. All of the sharp angles that made us striking when we were awake gave way to slack jaws and puddles of drool the moment our heads hit pillows. We_d once spent an entire month seeing who could take the most hideous sleeping pictures of the others. I stroked Vivi_s cheek and felt a pang of longing for her, and for Grey, for the years we_d been inseparable. Not yet split apart by countries and time zones and careers and lives. I pressed my fingertips lightly to her throat, right at the point where her heartbeat sprang beneath her skin. It was how we_d slept as children, our finger resting on one another_s pulse points, a cross-hatched thicket of wrists and necks and hands. For a long time, years, I couldn_t sleep deeply unless I felt the heartbeat of both my sisters thrumming beneath my fingers. But they had grown up and left home, and I_d realized there were scarier things in the world than the monsters that lived in my nightmares. Grey, I thought in silent prayer, knowing somehow that, wherever she was, she_d hear me. I hope you_re okay. I woke before dawn, as I always did, and messaged my mother, and checked my Find Friends app, and ran through Hampstead Heath, cursing the Romans for settling in such a damp, miserable place. It was raining again, because it was London. The weirdness of yesterday felt washed away, but I still stuck to the busier paths and avoided the wooded area where I_d seen the man yesterday. I ran until it hurt to breathe and my body begged me to stop, and then I ran some more. I held my phone in my palm the whole time, willing it to vibrate with a message from Grey, but every time I looked, there were no new notifications. When I got home, Cate was cooking breakfast in her scrubs. Vivi was sitting on the kitchen island again, her long tattooed legs dangling as she plopped cherry tomatoes into her mouth. _Look who I found,_ Cate said when she saw me. _The prodigal daughter returns,_ Vivi said, opening her arms wide and staring off into the distance like a Renaissance painting of Jesus. _You know the definition of prodigal is _wastefully extravagant_?_ I said as I went to the fridge in search of milk. Vivi put her arms down. _I thought it meant _favorite,_ and I_m going to stick with that. Pour me one too,_ she said as I set out a glass. _Please,_ Cate said out of habit. _Please,_ Vivi said. I handed her a glass of milk and sat at the breakfast bar while Cate scrambled some eggs. Vivi had an easier relationship with our mother than Grey did. Cate had always been overprotective_how could she be expected to be any other way, after what she_d been through?_which Grey had taken as a personal threat to her freedom. Vivi, on the other hand, was never bothered by our mother_s rules, because she never followed them. If Vivi was busted, which wasn_t often because she was so good at sneaking around, she would apologize with handwritten cards and breakfast in bed. They were very different women who had lived very different lives and were interested in very different things, but somehow_despite each considering the other an anomaly_they usually managed to find some middle ground. They spoke on the phone at least once a month. They teased each other constantly: Cate sent Vivi links to tattoo removal clinics, Vivi sent Cate links to pictures of body modders with split tongues and their teeth filed to points, captioned Do you think this would suit me? When Vivi sent recordings of her new music, Cate responded with comments like I think you sent the wrong track? This is a recording of cats being murdered. They were silly with each other. Sweet with each other. _Have you heard from Grey?_ I asked Vivi. Vivi shook her head. _Cate doesn_t seem to think we should worry._ _Grey can look after herself,_ Cate said. The way she said it without even looking up from what she was doing made me purse my lips. My thoughts went to the night Grey left home. They had been at odds with each other for months, Cate and Grey, squabbling over curfews and boyfriends and parties and alcohol. Grey was pushing the boundaries, seeing what she could get away with. One night, she stumbled home rotten drunk and vomited on the kitchen floor. Cate was furious and grounded her on the spot. Grey was a seventeen-year-old girl, filled with the rage and power of a thunderstorm curling beneath her skin. When she snapped, she put her hands around our mother_s throat, forced her against the wall, and whispered something in her ear. A needle. A pinprick. Something that was so small, so quiet, I didn_t hear it. Cate was still. Then whatever Grey had said splintered through her, electrifying her. She was a tree split by lightning. One moment a woman, the next something wild and ruptured. She slapped my sister so hard across the face that Grey_s lip split; there were still three brown specks on the wall where her blood had soaked into the plaster. Filtered the fuck out of my house,_ Cate had ordered in a low, steady voice, _and don_t ever, ever come back._ The sudden violence of it had made me hyperventilate. For years, as my father_s delusions had swollen inside his mind, I_d become more and more afraid that he would hurt us, put a pillow over our faces while we slept. It wasn_t unusual to wake in the middle of the night to his shadowy form hovering at the end of my bed, whispering softly. _Who are you? What are you?_ Yet even as the spools of himself unraveled, he never laid a finger on us. Then here was Cate Hollow, a small, gentle woman who had done something so brutal, so indefensible. I still wasn_t sure what terrible thing Grey had said to her to make her snap like that, to pull her so far out of herself. Grey hadn_t cried. She_d set her jaw and packed her bags and done what our mother asked: left the house and never come back, except once, to clear out her room. They hadn_t spoken since that night, four years ago now. _Should we call the police?_ I asked. _Should I not go to school?_ It was a tempting thought. I wondered what fresh punishment JJ had in store for me for embarrassing them last night. _You are going to school,_ Cate said as she pointed from me to Vivi. _One day of cutting class with your miscreant sister is tolerable, but no more._ _I think you meant to say _genius rock-goddess sister,_ but okay,_ Vivi said. _I would like a doctor in the family,_ Cate said, her fingers crossed on both hands. _Or at least one daughter to finish high school. So go and get ready._ _What if we don_t hear from her?_ I asked. I looked to Vivi, who shrugged. I was immediately frustrated by the sense that if Grey were here and Vivi were missing, Grey would know exactly what to do. There would be forward motion. There would be a plan. Grey was like that: There was no problem so large that it couldn_t be solved. The universe seemed to bend to her will. Vivi and I, in comparison, were too used to being foot soldiers under our eldest sister_s rule. Without our unifying central command unit, we were lost. _I was supposed to fly back to Budapest this afternoon, but I guess I can push my flight until tomorrow,_ Vivi said. _I_ll call her agent and manager after nine. I_m sure they_ll know where she is._ 7 I CALLED GREY on my walk to school and again between each of my classes, already knowing it would go to voicemail. I checked Find Friends_Vivi and Cate were both at home_but Grey_s location came back as unavailable. I was distracted in class, refreshing Instagram and Facebook to see if she_d posted anything new. By lunchtime, I wondered if JJ might just let me get away with the sin of having Vivi for a sister. Justine had ignored me in English, and I hadn_t yet seen Jennifer_and then, when I sat down to eat, I found the picture. A piece of printer paper had been folded twice and slipped into my backpack. On it was a medieval image of three women burning at stakes, their hands clasped behind them in irons as flames licked at their toes. Their faces had been digitally altered to look like my sisters and me. There was no accompanying note, though the message was loud and clear. You will burn. I sighed. My first instinct was to throw it away or take it to a teacher. Instead, I folded it up and put it back in my bag. Grey would like it, would probably find it funny, would appreciate the artistry that had gone into making the burning women look like us. It was the kind of thing she would have framed and hung on her bedroom wall when she was my age. I picked up my phone to call her, forgetting, for a moment, that she was unlikely to answer. Instead, I called Vivi for an update, but her phone rang and rang and rang. When her avatar disappeared from Find Friends a few minutes later, I was left with a panicky feeling in my stomach that whatever had happened to Grey had happened to Vivi too. I cut class for the second day in a row and jogged home through the spitting rain. When I got there, Cate_s car was gone and the house was shut up, dark. _Vivi?_ I called when I unlocked the front door. No answer. _Vivi?!_ _Up here!_ she answered. _In Grey_s room!_ I ran up the stairs, my heart thrashing. Vivi was in Grey_s old empty bedroom, sitting on the floor with Sasha in her lap and the Vogue magazine open in front of her. _How did you get in here?_ I asked, breathless. _The door has been locked for years._ _Grey_s gone, Iris,_ she said without looking up at me. Lightning flashed outside. Thunder followed a moment later, stuttering through the house and making the window glass jitter. My hair was wet and my teeth were chattering from the cold. Cate told me that the three of us were all born in the middle of storms. Grey was lightning, Vivi was thunder, and I was the sea in a tempest. Grey had always hated storms, but Vivi loved them. When a second curl of thunder crawled in through the open window, I wondered if she_d somehow summoned it. _What do you mean, Grey_s gone?_ I asked. _I talked to her agent, her manager, her publicist, the photographer she was supposed to shoot with yesterday. I talked to her friends in Paris and London. I talked to her doorman. No one has seen or heard from her in days._ Vivi held up the latest Vogue, the one I_d hidden under my pillow to save it from my mother. _Have you read this?_ _A couple of paragraphs, but__ _Read some more._ _There are more important__ _Seriously, read it._ _What am I looking for?_ _Oh, you_ll know it when you see it._ I opened the magazine and picked up where I left off. New Year_s Day marked the ten-year anniversary of one of the world_s most enduring modern mysteries: the disappearance of the Hollow sisters. On a quiet street in Edinburgh, three little girls vanished right out from under their parents_ watchful gaze. Then, exactly one month later, they came back, to the very same street they were taken from. They were naked and carried nothing with them but an antique folding hunting knife. They had no serious injuries nor signs of sexual assault. They weren_t dehydrated or malnourished. All three of them bore a fine half-moon incision at the base of their throats, nestled in the crook of their collarbones, that had been stitched closed with silk thread. The wounds were healing nicely. No one has been able to say where they went or what happened to them_not even Grey Hollow, the eldest of the three. She was eleven at the time, certainly old enough to remember snippets of her experience, though she refused to give a statement to Scottish police and has never spoken publicly about her suspected kidnapping. Conspiracy theories abound, the most popular of which are alien abduction, parental hoax, and (perhaps because of the Celtic setting) fairy changelings. There were several large out-of-court settlements from news organizations that had falsely accused the girls_ parents of being involved in their disappearance. The funds went toward enrolling the three sisters in Highgate School for Girls, a lavishly expensive day school that counts famous actors, poets, and journalists among its alumni. One of the Old Girls recently married into an extended branch of the royal family. The grounds are green and expansive, the main building a timber-framed Tudor mansion with wisteria growing thick on the facade. Grey Hollow struggled to thrive there. A series of family tragedies followed in the ensuing years, the most devastating of which was a Capgras delusion_Hollow_s father, Gabe, reportedly believed his children had all been replaced by identical impostors. After two years in and out of psychiatric institutions, he killed himself when Grey was thirteen. Little more is known about her teenage years, but at seventeen, she had a falling-out with her mother and found herself homeless. She dropped out of high school, moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Hackney with three other girls, and tried her hand at modeling. Within six months of leaving home, she_d walked for Elie Saab, Balmain, Rodarte, and Valentino. Within two years, she was the highest-earning supermodel in the world. Now, at the age of twenty-one, Hollow is the owner of and head designer at House of Hollow, whose creations have become some of the most sought-after in the industry after the label_s launch at Paris Fashion Week just under eighteen months ago. One of the first things I tell her is that stitching bits of paper into her creations reminds me of another infamous unsolved crime: the mystery of the Somerton man. In 1948, an unidentified man was found dead on a beach in Australia. All the labels had been cut from his clothing, and police later found a tiny scroll of rolled-up paper sewn into his pants pocket. It read _Tam?m Shud,_ which means _finished_ in Persian. The words had been torn from the final page of the Rub?iy?t of Omar Khayy?m. _That_s where I got the initial inspiration from,_ Hollow says eagerly as she wraps her long fingers_preternaturally dexterous, like she_s a seamstress who_s been working for a hundred years_around a cup of unsweetened Ceylon tea. Her voice is surprisingly deep, and she rarely blinks. With white-blond hair, black eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her nose year-round, she is the definition of ethereal. I have interviewed many beautiful women, but none so truly otherworldly. _As a child I was obsessed with mysteries_probably because I was one._ I_m under strict instructions from her publicist not to ask her about the missing month, but since she was the one who brought it up, I press my luck. Does she really not remember anything? _Of course I remember,_ she says, her ink-drop gaze holding mine. Her smile is slight, sly; the same mischievous pixie grin that has made her famous. _I remember everything. You just wouldn_t believe me if I told you._ The article continued, but I came to a snap stop at that line, the line that Vivi had no doubt been talking

  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever /  .   (by Jeff Kinney, 2011) -   The Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
  • Toy Story 3 /   3 (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story 3 /
  • Toy Story /   (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story /
  • The Summer Children /   (by Dot Hutchison, 2018) -   The Summer Children /
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