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Certain Dark Things
Author:Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Cualli, sit,” she ordered.

She slid the closet door shut, and then buried her face against the pillow. Atl gained control of her breathing, slowing it down. Sleep, when it came, was like plunging underwater. She sank into darkness, her breath slowing so much her chest was barely rising and falling.

The following evening, Atl decided to go shopping. It was a chance for a much-needed walk, but she was afraid of going outside. Each time she ventured into the city streets, it was an opportunity for a sly cop to ask for her ID. Staying inside the apartment, however, could be just as bad. Cabin fever would not be productive.

To hell with it. She needed to stretch her legs. She wasn’t made for stillness. She’d heard of vampires who could happily burrow into the earth and spend their time quiet in their damp mounds of dirt. But those were other breeds. Atl put on her jacket and grabbed her dog’s leash. It was raining, only a drizzle, so she pulled her hood up and did not bother with the umbrella. The all-night mini-supermarket was only three blocks from her place. Its sign glowed orange, then white. She told her dog to wait outside.

When she walked in an annoying bell rang to announce her arrival. She looked around, carefully scanning the place.

There was a tired man in an orange uniform behind the counter, protected by an acrylic partition. He was mesmerized by a small television set and did not even lift his eyes to look at her as she walked by. Three teenagers dressed in neon jackets were hanging in the store, busy chatting with each other. She could hear the music from one of the kids’ headphones. Heavy metal.

She hated that kind of music. It had no … symmetry.

Atl grabbed a plastic basket. She walked down one aisle, looking at the labels. She had never paid much attention to the food. She wondered what she should buy. Atl grabbed two cans of beans and tossed them into the basket. She located the pepper and bought more sugar cubes. She stopped to look at an area that had potato chips and candy on display. The lists of ingredients were alien to her. It wasn’t like she ate this shit. Godoy’s kind, the fuckers who called themselves Necros, could. She wasn’t sure if Bernardino’s type could stomach it.

Atl gritted her teeth and threw a bag of potato chips into her basket.

She should not be in this situation in the first place, second-born and still woefully young. She was twenty-three in a family that could span centuries. Twenty-three and spoiled, because she had not cared much for anything that wasn’t fun and blood. She remembered Izel chiding her a few months ago for her disinterest in the family business, for gallivanting around the city on her new motorcycle. But Mother hadn’t cared.

Atl smirked. Why would she? Mother had preferred Izel. Izel was the strong one. Izel was the heir. Izel was everything. Atl was just the spare.

Now Izel was dead. And Atl couldn’t solve a thing.

The bell rang again, startling her. Two cops walked into the joint.

Atl’s hand tightened around the plastic handle of the basket. God damn luck. She steeled herself, shifting toward the back of the store, closer to the refrigerators.

The teenagers were laughing raucously. They were popping chocolates into their mouths.

“Hey, whose idea was it to park a car and take two whole spaces out front, huh?” one of the cops yelled.

The teenagers turned their heads. One of them tripped and spilled dozens of bright, colorful chocolates onto the floor. They scattered wildly upon the white tiles.

Atl felt the immediate desire to throw herself to her knees and start counting them. It was a nervous tic, a thing about her kind. She closed her eyes and rested a hand against one of the refrigerators.

“It’s, like, for two minutes, man,” one of the teens said.

“Two minutes. Okay, you fucker, show me your license. All of you, IDs and licenses.”

One of the cops had lit a cigarette. She smelled it as if he were standing next to her. But he wasn’t. He was on the other side of the store. He wasn’t close. Everything was normal. She was just a normal person going out for a normal walk. Buying groceries. People did that.

“You going to give me a fine?” one of the teenagers said. “Are you?”

“What are you high on, kid?”

Shoes squeaked upon the floor. The stench of the cigarette drifted closer to her.

A cop was heading her way.

She would be fine. She looked perfectly normal. She’d fed recently. Her eyes weren’t red, her cheeks were not too hollow.

She would be fine.

Atl looked down, staring at the prices stuck inside the refrigerator. Her lips moved silently, mouthing the numbers.

The cop stopped next to her. She didn’t look at him.

“Show me your license and ID,” he said.

“I’m not with them,” Atl said. “You can ask them.”

He paused to look at her. His gaze lingered.

“Hey you, why are you handcuffing me, motherfucker? My dad is a lawyer, you dick!” one of the teenagers yelled.