There was something dark about him. I noticed it the first time we met. My brother Andrew had come home from college and he'd brought a friend—a dark and mysterious friend. I don't use the term lightly. Andrew's friend was named Endymion and that's all we were told about him. I remember the first time I saw him. Andrew had rushed in, the way he always did, and hugged both my mom and I, a little more fiercely than usually and introduced his companion as Endymion. No last name. No further explanation. Mom and I met eyes across the kitchen counter but we did our best to smile at the unexpected guest. He was a little over six feet, easily matching Andrew's height but that's where the similarities ended. Where my brother was all fair haired and angelic, Endymion was dark with an edge of danger. Again, I don't use the terms lightly. Endymion just exuded a dangerous vibe. He was the sort of man who, when he looked at you, made you shiver. His eyes were dark blue, more dark then blue most of the time. I felt uncomfortable whenever we were alone in a room for too long. It's as though he could see straight through me and he often took his time doing just that. He wasn't easy to talk to and he hardly ever made polite conversation and asked the most bizarre and sometimes inappropriate questions. It's like he'd been raised by wolves, genetically attractive, but still wolves. Safe to say, I didn't trust the man.
The day everything changed was a regular Tuesday morning. Andrew and Endymion were arguing. I had given up my bedroom to the mysterious guest, against my wishes and without so much as an apology from either of them, I might add. This particular morning, after an uncomfortable night on our family couch, I was making my way upstairs to get ready for the day and I caught the end of their argument.
"I can do as I please" Endymion said in the same cold tone he always used. His face was steely and only inches from Andrew's concerned one. The two men stood at the end of the stairway in what appeared to be a battle of wits or otherwise known as a staring contest in boy language. Neither seemed to be willing to move.
"I don't want you here without me" Andrew said in his don't-mess-with-me tone. I knew it well since that's when I knew I was pushing him too far and he'd probably snap and do something stupid.
"What you want is no concern of mine" apparently Endymion didn't get the clue. I knew any minute Andrew would bust him over the head or something. Did I mention how strange Endymion sounded sometimes? It's like he used vocabulary from another era altogether, but that's beside the point. The point being that Andrew was the one to back off—something I hadn't seen before in my whole life.
"I have some business in town" Andrew began as he looked at his shoes for a very long and uncomfortable moment. He had lost the staring contest and he was searching for a way to rectify the situation. "I may be a while and I would appreciate it if you would stay away from Serena" he said with a plea in his voice. I'd never heard him talk this way, especially not about me. He was always the type to shoot first and ask questions later, like our dad had been when he'd been alive.
"I make no promises" Endymion said, not at all affected by what had just happened. He obviously always won arguments with men like Andrew. I almost wanted to punch him at that moment. Who did he think he was? He'd only been here a few days and already he hurt my big brother. I might have been only sixteen and no match against a man his size, but that didn't mean he could talk that way to my only brother. "But I will not harm her" he finished and met my eyes. I'd been discovered. I didn't know what to do so I just barged my way past them and ran into my room.
When I left my room after getting ready, showering etc. Andrew had already left for town. My mom and I lived in the high parts of the Appalachian Mountains so going into town took a good part of the day. She was making breakfast in the kitchen when I made my way downstairs. Endymion was eating a good helping of her blueberry pancakes. Mom smiled when she saw me heading down the stairs, a sigh of relief escaped her lips. She was always glad whenever someone entered the room, I knew the feeling, being alone with our guest wasn't something I wanted to be subjected to either.
"Here you are darling," she said widening her smile and dropping a plate of pancakes on the table, the seat right next to Endymion. I sighed and took my seat. He didn't even say hi.
"Thanks mom" I said taking a whiff of the delicious food. If only I could cook like that. I took a bite and relished in the taste, but only for a minute.
"Take a walk with me" Endymion said as he finished eating his breakfast, he didn't even wait for me as he stood and made his way to the door.
"Uh" I didn't know what to say. I really wanted to finish my food. Breakfast is the most important meal and the one I enjoyed the most but he was already up. He hadn't even thanked mom. I rolled my eyes uttered a thank you and ran out the door after the dark stranger. I was more curious than anything else, if I had to admit it than that would be my reason. I wanted to know what on earth he could possibly have to say to me, especially after having overheard his conversation with Andrew.
"So" I said after about fifteen minutes of silence. We walked over a small bridge that drew over a stream and I enjoyed the scene before us. The water reflected a little bit of the mountains around us and I could almost make out our reflections. His seemed to have an aura of darkness around it, but I may have been seeing things because of my lack of food. I blamed it on the hunger.
"I'm not what I seem to be" he began stopping suddenly. I almost bumped into his back and wasn't the slightest bit prepared when he even more suddenly turned his dark eyes on me. He wore his usual black shirt with black cargo pants and scuffed boots. At that moment he seemed to be exactly what I imagined him to be—Dangerous.
"Okay" I said. It wasn't the vaguest thing I'd ever heard from a boy but if this was some sort of come on line I wasn't going to fall for it. I might have been only sixteen but definitely not stupid enough to fall for taht.
"Andrew isn't what he appears to be either" he continued. Okay this was getting out of hand.
"Whatever you're going to say, stop" I said, angry at his words. "I know my brother better than anybody."
"Really?" he seemed surprised by the rebuttal. "Haven't you noticed the subtle changes? He's kinder, more considerate, always talking about the future and always sad when he does." Endymion said walking towards me on the bridge. He was too tall so I had to look up.
"So" I said in what probably sounded like the most teen angst response I ever made, but I didn't care. "What about it?"
"He should have told you but I fear that he's going to continue lying to you and your mother as long as he can. I feel as though I've no choice but to reveal the truth." See what I mean about talking like he's from another era? What kind of boy says things like that?
"What are you saying?" I said. There was no way I was going to believe anything he said against my brother but I didn't want to seem absolutely unreasonable.
"Andrew's no longer living, not for some time" he said. The words echoed throughout the open space. They slid right off the mountains and bounced right back into my ears but I didn't hear them. How does someone hear something like that? They don't.
"You're crazy" I said turning away from him as swiftly as I could. I had full intention on calling Andrew as soon as my feet made it to the phone in my house but my intentions were interrupted.
"I speak the truth" he said as he grabbed my arm and made me face him again. I don't know what it was but those dark eyes and the feeling they elicited in me made me believe him. It wasn't rational or sane in the least but it was true.
"What are you going to do to my brother?" the words sounded as meek as though I were five years old again facing my worst fear. I'd already lost my father, how much more cruel could fate be?
"I'm not going to harm him" he said and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. "He's already dead" the weight fell back twice as heavy.
"He drowned in the university pool two weeks ago." Endymion said the words flatly as though he were talking about something as ordinary as the weather.
"What?" I couldn't exactly figure out how to say anything but that one question.
"His body wasn't damaged but his spirit is no longer bound to it, so he'd be dead if it not for me."
"Okay, thanks?" I said trying to understand why he'd be saying these things, what did he want?
"I'm going to take him to his final resting place" he said as his cold hand gripped my arm tighter, leaving imprints and probably bruises.
"What does that mean?"
"I'm here for his soul. I have the power to take it where it belongs and he lives because I will it."
"Why are you telling me?" I asked suddenly unsure. This was not good and it was getting worse. I wished I had stayed and finished my pancakes.
"I could let him live. There are thousands of souls that die each day and some make it back sometimes, near death experiences and such. People get second chances. Andrew could get a second chance, for a price" he said as he stroked the arm he held.
"I don't understand" I didn't really, at all. What could he possibly want with me?
"You're different" he said moving closer. "Not like the rest of your kind, few have been like you."
"I'll take your word for it" I decided he was utterly delusional and I had to run. Crazy people have a way of snapping when you don't play by their rules. I wasn't going to get killed because of Andrew's poor choice in friends. The only problem was that this guy still had a very good grip on my arm.
"Trade" he said "that's what I propose. Your soul for that of your brother." He moved even closer and lowered his head like he was going to kiss me. I was surprised. We'd spent almost a week together and except for a few uncomfortable, on my part, glances he hadn't really noticed me. Or so I thought. I guess I was wrong, very wrong.
"I don't believe you" I said even though I kind of did, especially at that moment. "I have to talk to Andy." I said and ran back into the house when he released the grip on my arm. The air rushed through my lungs and I thought I would pass out at any moment. Mom looked at me as I ran to the phone. The seconds it took for me to dial and for Andy to answer were the longest of my life.
"Hello" his voice said simply. I could hear a lot of background noise through the receiver and I wondered where he'd gone.
"Are you really dead?" the question was scary but I said it because it was the only one that rolled over and over in my head. "Are you?"
"He told you" Andrew said, his voice seemed flat and suddenly I couldn't hold the phone in my hand any longer.
"Andy?" I cried into the device, hoping I had heard wrong.
"Two weeks ago. I'm making arrangements right now. I took life insurance and everything. You and mom will be fine, I promise" he said suddenly talking a mile a minute about things that didn't matter. What did money and insurance matter when I was going to lose my brother? I couldn't go through that again. Losing my dad had been enough. I ran. I ran from, from the truth, from the helplessness that took over me.
"Did I lie?" he asked as I rammed right into him. He didn't even attempt to catch me as I stumbled to the ground. I didn't realize that I'd made it all the way back to the bridge until my butt hit the wooden boards with a painful thump. I looked up at him, he seemed taller and more frightening from that angle.
"You can't do this to us." I whispered tearfully. Most men caved when they saw a girl cry. Not this one. He didn't even flinch. He didn't do anything but look at me. "We can't take another loss like that. He's all my mom and I have left. Who will take care of my mom?" I went on like that for a while my voice rising and the sobs taking over until I wasn't making any sense at all.
"There is another choice" he said, apparently he'd had enough of my shaken state. I almost smiled at him, thinking he'd somehow decided to take pity on my situation but then I remembered the trade.
"No" I said. I didn't want to die. I hadn't even lived yet. "I don't want to die." I said hoping to ear some kind of sympathy from this man, if he was really a man. What sort of being has the power to take a soul right out of his body?
"I don't expect you to die" he said kneeling before me. Any other boy, any other time and I would have thought of it as a romantic gesture. Not with this boy and defiantly not this moment. "Just come with me and he will live, you have my word." I guess it makes sense why he talked the way he did.
"What about me?" I asked and my voice had the decency not to tremble.
"I will not harm you, I promise. I will require some things but none that will harm you." He said reaching out a hand towards me. It almost looked like a hand to help me up, not a hand to pull me to my death, or wherever he was taking me.
"Now?" the word stumbled out of my mouth before I could catch it. So much for being brave. "My mom will worry" I said just as daftly.
"Either way, she will worry but this way Andrew will have the chance to live a full life and so will you, just not the one you expected." His words were hopeful, sort of. At least I didn't have to die. That was good, sort of.
"Promise me that Andrew will be okay" I said as I reached my hand for his.
"I do" he said nodding and taking my hand fiercely. If ever I wanted to escape this was it but I didn't. I decided to go with it. With any luck I'd find a loophole and get out of this situation as soon as I could and save Andy and myself, hopefully. My hope died when we stood up and he put his hand on my abdomen. We stood over the bridge and I could make out reflection, I didn't want to look him in the eye as I was contemplating my escape. His fingers were only there for a moment but they seared through my shirt and I could a dark hand print in the reflection. I looked down and there was nothing on my flesh, just a hole in my blue shirt but the reflection clearly showed me what my eyes didn't see. He'd marked me, whatever that meant. I was pretty sure it wasn't a good thing. I looked at him to question his eyes and he said one word: "Mine." Getting out wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.