I recognize the grim’s scent from my time Underhill.
It likes the color red. And little girls.
But I lose the trail between two trees in the park.
So the following night, I put makeup on my face and a flared jacket to hide my lack of breasts. It’s easy to make my hair curl, and three sparkling red barrettes later I am perfect bait. In the pulsing shadows where the girls have recently gone missing, I’ll be indistinguishable from that fairer sex.
I prowl the edges of the park, swinging west where clubs and bars pound out music and magic, yew on my tongue so I can taste the grim on the wind. It hunts quickly, in and out of buildings, and I follow – we are like the head and tail of a water snake, arcing up out of the water and back down, the one hidden again before the other emerges.
Bodies press against me in the dark bar. I squeeze through, batting eyelashes in response to the leering smile and drunken flirtation. I am groped, my ass grabbed, my jacket snatched by desperate fingers. They paw at my face and hips, beseeching me to dance, to lean into them.
I remember the dances Underhill: “Dance with us, Thomas!” screamed the pixies, tugging at my hair and fingers. “Dance with us,” cried the gremlins with their tin drums, and the hinky-punks flashing bright lights in my eyes. I was dragged in, stripped, flung around – my feet stomping and skipping, arms wild, eyes closed against madness.
Here, a sharp word or forceful glare keeps me safe, keeps me sane. Humans are easily dissuaded from what they want. Not like the Shining Ones, who are too simple for ulterior motivations. Discover what a goblin wants, and you own it. Discover what a human wants, and you can destroy him.
Usually the goblin wants you.
I find it in the third bar, a hip club with purple lights and a high tolerance for fake-IDs. No one notices me as I slip past their security check: wiry and thin and much-too-young.
The grim’s glamour makes it look like a twenty-year-old boy, with smooth cheeks and slick hair. It dances with a girl dressed in red tights and a silver mini-skirt. Her hair is short like a boy’s, but her lips full and open constantly. I can see her tongue; it’s pierced with silver. The grim likes it, is entranced by the flash of light between her teeth.
On the floor, I trip her. She falls out of the grim’s embrace and cusses at me, calls me a little girl, though she can’t be much older than me. The grim grabs my arm. I cringe away, because I can’t help it.
My fear excites it and it pulls me closer. Finding balance, I slink in and look up at it through my eyelashes.
“Your eyes,” the grim says, “I know them.”
I shrug and slide my hands down its hips. “From your dreams, maybe,” I whisper, my lips against its ear.
Laughing, the grim gathers me up and spins me around, through the crowd, to the bar. “Drink?” it offers as it cups my elbow.
“I’d rather go somewhere quieter.” I don’t have to play coy. I know what it wants.
We’re only out on the street before the grim turns to me and says, “Do you like the park?”
I nod, because it won’t attack me here in the concrete alleys, where the forest is metal and stone. “All the trees,” I say as the grim takes my hand and leads me, “remind me of home.”
“How old are you?” It leans in to me when we step onto the damp grass.
“Fifteen.” Not even a lie.
The park is a thin strip of nature stretched out between a boulevard and a row of hundred-year-old townhouses. It doesn’t seem dangerous until you are inside and realize the leaves muffle all sound, even your breath. I dash forward, laughing and pulling the grim’s hand. It chuckles, and I suddenly realize that the hand in mine in warm.
Warm and alive.
I stop. But the grim shoves me into a thick tree. The bark grates against my jacket and pinches at my hair. I stare at the grim. It takes advantage of my shock, and kisses me. Its hands are on my face, lips burning, and all I can think is that I’ve made a mistake. The grim should be cold enough to dim candles. But its fingers and mouth are hot.
I reach into my jeans for the bundle of honey-locust thorns, and slash it up at the grim’s face.
It stumbles back, blood dripping down its cheek. I say, “I bind thee, Grim, by thine own blood.”
But the grim smiles. I can see its blunt human teeth. “This is not my own blood.” Stalking a circle around me, it hisses, “But I shall taste yours.”
The thorn amulet falls to the grass. I unsheathe the silver dagger from under my shirt. “Try.” Blue faerie light slides down the blade, and I hold it up. I see the grim’s reflection in the silver – the same young brown eyes and handsome face. It has possessed the human boy’s body, not glamoured itself to look like him.
I should run, I know. I don’t have the tricks to lure a grim out of its victim. The only way I can kill it is to kill the human boy, too.
My skin is slick with sweat as the grim teases me, turning this way and that, trying to get behind me. I keep my back to the tree.
I dodge, but it grabs my jacket, and I twist, cutting up with the knife. The grim’s stolen body is lean and hard with excitement, and it pins down my hand. It is too strong. I focus on the pain where it shoves its forearm against my throat, all its weight on top of me. It has a leg between mine, and I can’t kick or stab it. I bring up my free hand to claw at its face but it presses harder onto my throat and I can’t breathe. I freeze and force myself to relax. One by one my muscles go limp, and I close my eyes. I can almost hear the voices of my Prince’s court, cheering the grim on, laughing – and I know they all like to see me fight. So I don’t.
Neither do I release the dagger.
The grim breathes against my cheek. “You aren’t a girl,” it says. “I think I’ll kill you anyway.”
It kisses my jaw and I begin to shake. My skin flushes and chills in blotches as the grim moves down my neck, using its hand to bend my head up painfully. With its teeth, it peels back my jacket, and rips the collar of my tee-shirt.
I’m wearing seven silver-and-iron chains. With a jolt that drives a burst of pain through my head, it wrenches back and growls. It forgets to hold down my hand, and I jerk the dagger up, stabbing into the grim’s ribs. It screams.
Rolling, I shove the grim over. I see its face ripple and its jaw cracks. The whole body convulses. The grim is escaping.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper as I climb onto it. I push down with the dagger, sliding the blade into its stomach and tearing up. As the body writhes, groaning, I reach down into the slippery, sticky wound and my skin burns against the hot blood. But the grim is there, somewhere, swallowed whole and burrowed deep.
My fingers find the frozen chunk, and I rip it out. The body shakes and screams.
Stumbling to my feet, I grip the grim tightly. It is easy to work up spit and bile in my mouth, and I spit into my hand. “I bind you,” I whisper. In my palm is an effigy, a black wolf carved of wood. It lies still.
My knees tremble and I fall. Blood covers my arms and chest, and I’m kneeling in a huge pool of it, making mud beneath the grass. The human’s mouth gurgles, and I can’t believe he’s still alive.
I suck in a long breath, and then scream. Again, and again, and then I struggle to my feet. I run. Maybe someone hears me, maybe they will save the boy.
I am cold, and I can still feel the stain of the grim’s kisses.