Eight years ago, I watched my father slaughter my mother. He tied her down on the kitchen table with rope from the family tent after binding her ankle and wrist, and slit her throat with the bread knife. It wasn’t sharp. There was so much blood I thought it would never stop.
Afterwards, after he’d given me this haunted look and told me he was sorry, after he’d run out into the night and left me screaming, ten years old and up to my elbows in the very blood that had once nourished me to life, I hated him, and as sobs tore at my throat and blood tingled under my nails and over my face where I’d shoved back my hair, I vowed that one day I would have my revenge.
I called the cops, of course. I was ten, not stupid. I told them what I’d seen; they bounced me along the foster-care chain and booked appointments with a lovely lady called Phyllis who gave me lollipops and sympathetic gazes over the rims of her gold-wired glasses. She talked to me for an hour every week until I promised that although I couldn’t forgive my father, I was beginning to heal.
They never did find my father.
When I was fourteen, we did archery for sport at school. I loved it: it was soothing, focused – and practical. I sliced my finger open on an arrow the first time I touched one, testing to see if it was sharp enough to kill a man, and the blood got all over my bowstring. I never missed a shot. I joined the local archery club, working clean up in their café to pay my fees. By the time I was sixteen, I was winning state tournaments. At seventeen, I won the nationals.
It was on my eighteenth birthday that I finally felt ready to hunt him down – the man who’d destroyed my life, and my mother’s. He wasn’t hard to find; on impulse I’d sat down with the phone book and flipped to a random page. I received the mother of all paper cuts for my troubles, but out of a perverse sense of irony I dialled the first number I’d accidentally smudged with blood. It was him; I’d know his voice beyond the grave.
He agreed to meet me at the base of the Okahawa Trail, and when we arrived and I told him I wanted to walk because I thought better when I was moving, he didn’t complain. He was too eager for anything that smacked of reconciliation; never even seemed to wonder if I’d just call the cops on him and have it done.
Lucky for us both I had something a little more personal planned.
Long and the short of it, I shot him. I would have been a good, clean kill, too, right in the throat – a nice sense of irony, I though – but the arrow had been knocked a little off course by a freak gust of wind.
I could have walked away, just left him there to die; the bolt was just a standard cut-on-contact broadhead, similar to what the deer hunters around here used. Could easily have been an accident. But since he was going to be alive –at least for another minute – I figured he might as well know why I’d done it, and maybe go to his grave in regret.
I didn’t expect the tears. My own, I mean; I assume it’s pretty normal for your eyes to fill with liquid when you’ve had your throat sliced and are in pain and about to die. But as I stood over him, desperately bricking up the wall around my feelings, my eyes welled up and overflowed.
“You bastard,” I whispered. “Why did you kill her?”
He stared up at me with eyes wide – fear, pain, who could tell – gasping, and gurgling as the blood leaked out of him. My stomach flipped; this was too close to how I’d seen my other parent die.
Disgusted, I turned to walk away.
“Wait,” he rasped. “Stop.”
I stopped without turning around.
“She… was trying… kill you.”
I whirled on him. “How dare you. How dare you! You, you murderer!” I spat.
“Blood,” he wheezed. “Her blood.”
“Yes,” I said, locking him in a steely glare. “There was a lot of blood. I should know; you abandoned me in it.”
“Not… abandoned. Saved.”
I snorted and walked away.
“Cassie. Your blood. You never miss.”
I froze. “How do you know that?” How could he possibly know the reason why the club members called me Zero? How did he know I’d never missed a shot?
“She… same. You get… from her.”
I inched back around to face him, pulse pounding in my chest like it might break through my ribs and explode. “What are you saying?”
“She… Your mother… Fae.”
The rough trunk of a tree hit my back, saving me from lurching to the ground.
“The blood… you have her blood.”
My mind whirled as I remembered every incident I’d passed off as coincidence, all those times I’d thought I’d just been lucky – and blood. Every time, the blood. “Why did you kill her?” I whispered.
“She would have killed you. The Blood” – I heard the capital letter this time – “calls to blood. Any… any daughter of hers… competition.”
I sank to the ground beside my father. The ooze of red at his neck was coming thicker now. Desperation surged. I snatched at my sweater, tearing ineffectually before stripping it off to press against his wound. “She wanted to kill me?” I said, still whispering. This time, it wasn’t the memories of luck that came, but of unluck: of all the times I’d nearly died before I was ten. The time I fell in the gap between the train and the platform; the time I fell from a second storey balcony and rolled down concrete steps. My grandparents used to joke that I was made of rubber, that I was the most accident-prone child they’d ever seen.
I didn’t have a single accident after I was ten.
“It wasn’t… her fault,” he said through the gasps. “The Blood. You have her power. It … drove her crazy. Blood… never share its power.”
My father’s blood seeped through my sweater and stickied my fingers. I stared at the red-streaked whorls of my left-hand fingerprints. Was it true? Abruptly, I had to know. I snatched another arrow from my quiver and sliced the tip across my palm. I let the blood well for a moment. A tingling sensation covered the palm of my hand, familiar and comforting – the same sensation I had whenever I was cut. But now that I knew to look for it, I knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the feeling of injury, but some more; my lifeblood pulsing with energy – and power.
The truth slammed into me, robbing my lungs of air, and I gasped. My mother had tried to kill me, more times than I could remember. My father had killed her to save me. And I’d come here for revenge.
I stared in horror as the blood of the one who’d made himself a murderer to save me ebbed away. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He didn’t answer, his face grey and clammy.
I hated him for killing my mother, even if she had been trying to kill me; I hated him for making me what I’d become, for not telling me, for not trusting me. But I couldn’t hate him if he was dead.
I pressed my wounded palm against his neck. My blood had been keeping me safe for eighteen years. Time to find out what it could really do.