ShadowCast 032 Souls and Snowboarding

Souls and Snowboarding

by Julian Adorney

read by J.A. Souders

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The man-shaped creature walked through the big room, casually drifting through the crowd of friends and fans. People congregated in groups, sprawled on couches and padded chairs. Hot teenage girls draped over young guys.

Warm light from the three chandeliers gave the wood walls a ruddy glow. Music boomed, blaring through the huge house. The bass – cranked up through a dozen subwoofers – made his chest reverberate like a plucked guitar string.

“Dude, you were awesome out there!” Antony drank in the adoration like wine. The speaker – a tall guy, spiked blond hair – gestured him over.

“Thanks man.” He moved to join the kid’s group. A dozen college-age fans, tanned and drunk, clustered in a circle in an open space between a couch and two chairs.

A couple of girls moved aside, and he squeezed between them. He slipped an arm over one’s shoulder, and she pressed close against him.

Joy bubbled in him, and he almost laughed in an upwelling of pleasure. This was his life. Throwing wild parties every night. Girls fighting for a chance to screw him – not that the sex did anything for him physically of course, but the adoration it represented made his blood sing.

He caught his reflection in one guy’s sunglasses, and basked in the beauty of his form. Strong, young, desirable. Damn, he thought. His previous bodies had been alright, but he’d nailed it this time.

“So what’re you guys talking about?” he asked.

“You, man!” one of the guys said. “You dominated that tournament!”

Antony grinned. “What can I say? I’m just a god among men.” Everyone laughed.

“I can’t believe you won by like a minute,” one of the girls next to him said. She stroked his muscled arm.

“Are you joking?” Antony asked. He flashed a smile to take the sting out. “My competition was pathetic. Half those guys couldn’t even mount a board.” The girl laughed.

It was true, though. He had just won Nationals, the most prestigious snowboarding race in the country. And his foes were a joke. He hadn’t even felt the need to kill anyone.

“Dude, thirsty?” A man across from him – blue-eyed, shirtless – gestured to the Coors in Antony’s hand. Antony cursed himself and took a drink. The bitter stuff slid down his throat.

“You gotta get drunk tonight. After that performance on the slopes, you deserve it.”

Antony smirked. He doubted there was enough alcohol in the entire house to get a creature like him tipsy, but he took another drink.

“Are you gonna do the Snowboard World Cup in Maine?” someone asked.

“Of course,” he said. He raked back his hair and glanced around. “I’ll win, too.”

“I dunno about that,” the redhead under his arm teased. “You’re good, but there’s this new guy, Marc. I hear he’s a genius in the snow.”

“I hear you’re an ignorant bitch,” Antony snapped. The girl jerked like she’d been slapped, and Antony cursed his loss of temper. But he stroked her hair apologetically, and she sank back against him.

“Marc’s just another kid who thinks he has talent. Don’t worry, I’ll crush him.”

He had heard of Marc himself. The kid was good, fast as hell on a snowboard. He was favored over Antony by about a minute. Antony didn’t worry about it. He hadn’t lost in three years. He wasn’t going to start now.

He couldn’t kill the kid, he thought; he had done it before, but if too many of his competition went missing than the cops might start to connect the dots. But there were other ways. Threats and naked coersion were easy. Or his favorite means: a substance he had concocted that would make a mortal’s life worse than hell. If he could give it to Marc, than his competition on the slopes would go back to being nonexistent.

He raked back his hair and stared across the party. Girls lounged on leather couches that cost more than most mortals’ rent. The redhead squirmed and sighed against his chest. He had built this glorious life for himself. But one loss on the slopes and it would vanish like an LSD hallucination; his friends off to fawn over the next champion.

One loss. Marc could do that to him. He snarled at the thought.

* * *

Marc shook his head at the cinematic vomit spewing across the forty-foot screen and let his daydreams resurface. In his mind he boarded down the mountain, dodging trees and sliding past the competition. He grinned as an announcer draped a gold medallion over his head, letting the vaunted image mask the film before his eyes. The Time Traveler’s Wife wasn’t something he wanted more exposure to than he could help.

One of the couples two seats away started making out, passion apparently too strong to be contained by decorum. He groaned. Damn it, be quiet! Next to him, Allie was enjoying the movie.

Antony wouldn’t have this problem, a voice in his head whispered. Antony would have bought out the whole damn theater, ensured the privacy for a perfect date. Envy flared and he pushed the thought away.

The movie ended. Marc and Allie streamed out with the other couples, conversation lost in the babble bouncing off the close walls. It didn’t go quiet until they stepped out of the theater into the parking lot. Cool winter air slapped his face. She shivered.

He looked at her, taking in her blue sleeveless dress that accentuated her breasts. She looked too beautiful to cover up. But goosebumps prickled on her smooth skin, and he sighed.

“Here”. He shrugged out of his jacket and gave it to her. She slipped it on.

“I can’t believe our anniversary’s in like a month,” she said as they walked to his ’95 Honda. He opened the door for her, and she smiled and got in. “One year, baby!”

He hopped in the driver’s seat and hit the gas. Tried not to think about Antony’s Ferrari cutting across the parking lot like a demon.

“So what should we do for our one-year?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. I was thinking something small, just the two of us.”

“Oh, no,” she whined. She bounced up and down in her seat. “I was hoping a party.”

He made equivocal noises, unwilling to take the smile out of her blue eyes with a flat rejection.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” she said. Her pretty face was beaming. “It’s just after the World Cup. We can make it coincide with your win.”

He turned onto a major boulevard and sighed. Cars swarmed about him, flashing headlights and vague outlines in the night. “I’m sorry, it’s just…you know how I am at parties. We’ve tried this.”

“They’re fun!” she pleaded. She would know. “You just have to relax. Get drunk and let yourself have a good time. Like last weekend, when me and Catie got so krunked and went sledding. It was awesome.”

He hadn’t heard this story. He listened, fascinated as always by her life and depressed he couldn’t share this aspect of it with her.

Maybe she would have been better off with Antony. He groaned helplessly at the thought. The three-time World Cup champion had been in the news for his night-life.

“I could try,” he allowed. “Once my off-season starts, I could at least have a beer. Give revelry another shot.”

“Awesome!” She stroked his muscled abdomen and he caught her arm, traced his fingers over her smooth skin. “I’ll turn you into a party animal yet, baby.”

“Never gonna happen.” He smiled, but his heart sank at the bleak truth. He could start partying, if he forced himself. But he wasn’t going to be fun, couldn’t be the social butterfly he was convinced she wanted. He slid to a stop at a red light.

“So are you excited for the World Cup?” Allie’s words cut through his thoughts.

“You have no idea.” He turned to meet her gaze. His eyes gleamed. “I’ve been waiting for this chance for two years. I’m gonna dominate that race.”

“You’re not scared of Antony?”

“Babe, the one thing I’ve got on Antony is boarding. He’s not even gonna leave the starting gate before I hit the bottom.”

Allie fell silent, and Marc let his previous train of thought re-rail. He was many things – a romantic, a snowboarding genius – but outgoing he had never been. He had tried, of course. When he started dating Allie he had thrown himself into the social scene with a zeal he even now admired. Tried to be the social butterfly, the hit of every party.

He was a rising star in the snowboarding world, after all. He was smart and funny and hot; and damn it, how hard could it be?

“I’ve heard some stories,” Allie said finally. Carefully. “I’ve done some research, and some of his opponents have gone…missing.”

Marc shrugged. “Snowboarding’s a dangerous sport. If you’re not good you die.”

Allie’s eyes widened. “Don’t say that!”

He shrugged. “Relax sweetie, I’m not gonna die. I’m too good.

“So what happened to these boarders?”

“Their bodies turned up on some abandoned trails. And I don’t think it’s coincidence. All three were people Antony was supposed to face off against.” She met his gaze. “Supposed to lose to.”

“You think he’s killing off his competition?” asked Marc, turning off the main street onto the winding mountain road towards his cabin. “And you think he’s gonna kill me? Because I’m projected to beat him in the World Cup?”

“It’s not impossible,” she insisted. He laughed.

“Of course it’s impossible! Allie, these are games. What does he do, lure them into his cabin and shoot them? Maybe promise them candy inside?”

She glared at him. “It’s not a joke. Be careful, I don’t want you to die.”

He nodded. “Alright. If it’ll make you happy, I won’t die.”

They were at his house. Marc killed the engine and jumped out, walked over to escort her. His booted feet crunched on the hard snow.

The crisp night air smacked his skin and he looked about, enjoying the beauty of his home. Conifer trees stretched tough roots into the soil; green needles gleamed. Trails wended down the mountain into darkness. Snow gleamed with reflected starlight, white in the darkness.

He slipped his arm around Allie’s soft waist and followed the path to his front door. He let them in, flicked the lights on, and led Allie to the luxurious couch in the family room off to one side. An electric fire popped into existence as he flicked a switch.

Allie smiled and lay against him on the cushions. He looped an arm over her, enjoying the warmth of her body against his. Her chest rose and fell against him, rhythmic and peaceful.

He sighed. He had known he was in love with her for months, knew she felt the same; but there were moments when it still threatened to overwhelm him. Moments when he felt so at peace, so completed by her presence that it made his life before her feel like a facsimile of humanity.

Idly, he wondered whether there was more basis for her fears about Antony than coincidence and random accidents. He doubted it. Violence and clandestine killings were for Edgar Allen Poe; in the real world people didn’t simply kill anyone they felt threatened by.

The doorbell rang. He groaned, not wanting to move. But he climbed out from under her and walked to answer it. His socked feet slapped against the granite floors.

Wondering who in God’s name showed up at his house at 11pm, he pulled open the door. And stared. What the Hell?

It was Antony.

* * *

Marc’s eyes widened at the sight of the man-shaped creature on his porch. His brow wrinkled.

Antony grinned. “Not expecting visitors?” He stepped in, forcing Marc to dodge to the side. He looked around, taking in the dim light, the shadows in the corners big enough to conceal a body. The two padded chairs and coffee table that filled a chunk of the otherwise-bare room. “Don’t worry dude, I’m in and out. Bet you have better things to do than hang with another boarding legend.” He kept smiling, pleased at Marc’s momentary inability to speak.

“What do you want?” Marc tried and failed to appear less bewildered by his competitors’ unexpected arrival.

“Actually, I came with an invitation. I’m having a party tonight, I’m headed there now. You guys wanna come?”

“Jesus,” Marc whispered, awed. Antony, the snowboarding legend, the single most popular youth in the country, wanted to hang out with him.

Allie appeared in a doorway to Antony’s right. She was almost bouncing.

“I’d love to! C’mon Marc, let’s – “ suddenly she caught sight of the figure in the doorway, realized who it was. “No. We’re not going.”

You’re going, bitch. It’s just a matter of whether I smash your face in first. Antony almost snarled at the thought. His teeth glinted, suddenly sharp and deadly, before he regained control.

He cursed his loss of control, hoped neither of the mortals had seen it. They wouldn’t know what it meant – he was the only demon in the world, last he’d heard – but it would unnerve them.

“Come on, Allie,” he said, tones hypnotic. His eyes burned into hers as he exerted his will. “This is gonna be the party of the century. You don’t wanna miss it just because of some misplaced dislike of me.” His mind bore down on hers, forcing her to do as he wished.

“Of course,” she said. She sounded dazed. “Marc, let’s go. I was wrong about Antony, I think we should go.” Antony’s lips moved as he mouthed the words she was saying.

Marc glanced at her, torn. She looked back at him earnestly. “This is gonna be amazing, Marc. Let’s go.”

Finally, Marc nodded. “Alright.” He turned to Antony. “Give me directions and we’ll follow you.”

“Dude.” Antony stared at him like he was an idiot. He gestured outside. “I brought my 456 Sedan. Not as cool as the Spider, but you can’t tell me you don’t want a ride.”

Marc followed him out the door; his gaze caught on the Ferrari. Blazing-red, an embodiment of wealth and reckless power. “Holy shit.” Antony smirked. This was going to be easier than he thought.

Allie followed, and the three jumped in. Antony gunned the engine, spun a 180 – tires squealed in the snow – and streaked down the mountain road.

He slid along turns and glided down straightaways like oiled lightning. Trees and snowy cliffs blurred past. Cars hurtled by, flashes of headlights gone in an instant as the car hit 120. Allie smelled terrified. But Marc’s eyes glittered with the thrill.

They spun down a narrow road and slid to a stop outside Antony’s house. Antony hopped out, watched the humans’ eyes as they stepped out and the structure struck them like a lightning bolt.

It was massive, three stories of big rooms and slanted roofs that sprawled across a full acre of cleared forest. Light poured from floor-to-ceiling windows, and music pounded across the car-filled driveway.

Antony gave them a moment to let the splendor sink in. Marc’s mouth was open, eyes wide. Then he snapped his fingers to break their reverie and led them inside.

A tall blonde girl opened the door, full breasts straining against her low-cut dress. Behind her, he could see dozens of people, hot girls and famous guys chatting or draped over the furniture, drinks in hand.

“This is Marc,” he gestured to the youth. “Coolest kid in the world, hell on a snowboard. He’s me V.2, treat him like it.”

She grabbed Marc’s fingers and pulled him over. Antony could see the holy shit! in his eyes as she led him to a group of friends. Allie pursed her lips, before she caught sight of a crowd chanting around a beer pong table. She started towards them, glanced back at Marc and stopped.

“Don’t worry about Marc.” Antony could read the conflict in her eyes. “Nothing’s gonna happen; my girls respect the sanctity of relationships. Go have fun.”

It was a lie, but what the hell?

She didn’t move. He locked eyes with hers, gaze burning once more, and she slipped towards the pong table in a trance. Gets easier every time.

Antony slid away to join a group of friends. He joked and chatted with half his mind, the rest fixated on his plan. Had Marc glimpsed the hot tub in the back, the lake that made Antony’s house the most expensive property in leagues?

He watched Allie, trash talking as she tossed ping pong balls. She high-fived her partner, chugged a cup of beer and joked with the guy across from her. Had Marc seen? Had he noticed how at home she was? Antony shook his head. He couldn’t afford any mistakes. If Marc didn’t lust for Antony’s glorious life, the whole plan might fail. If that happened, Antony would have to kill him.

One of the girls made a joke and he laughed, caught her eye. Then his gaze slid across the party, searching. There!

Marc sat on one of the leather couches, pressed between a girl and a guy and ill at ease. He shook his head and shivered, upright and too tense against the youths lounging around him. Someone tossed him a beer and he made a joke, then glanced rapidly around like he was counting laughs.

Antony snorted. A baby brother trying to make the big boys like him. Pathetic.

The beautiful brunette next to him traced a fingernail over Marc’s muscled arm. A Teen Vogue model, September 2008 cover girl. “C’mon, baby, relax,” she sighed. She slipped an arm around him, leaned close. “Trust me, it’s more fun when you do.” Her luscious hair fell across his chest.

One of the guys told him how awesome he was. Antony’s enhanced ears caught the words clearly over the roar of the party. Marc grinned and relaxed.

Of course, the group was pandering to him. Marc sensed it, Antony saw. Hopefully it would eat at him, the sense of inferiority, of having something dangled just outside his abilities. After tonight, both boarders knew this was never going to happen again.

A girl pressed against him and he draped an arm around her wine-smooth shoulders, eyes still on Marc. Waiting.

After a few minutes, he nodded. Marc had fallen into the rhythm of the party, talking and cracking jokes. Enjoying the beautiful girls that crowded around him.

He was torn between basking in Antony’s life and being overwhelmed by it. It was time.

Antony disengaged from his group and walked to join Marc.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Marc beamed up at him. “Ya, man. Thanks.”

“Thought you’d like it. But you haven’t seen anything yet. C’mon, check this out.”

His eyes gleamed with promise. Marc drained his apple-and-vodka mix and hopped up. “I’m down. What’ve you got?”

One of the girls reached for him. “When you’re finished, you’d better come find me.”

The demon led Mark along a hallway, down a flight of stairs into a deserted room. The light was dimmer, the walls felt close after the spacious upstairs. Pounding music barely reached them.

“Antony, this party is sick!” Marc was almost bouncing.

“I know, dude. I could give it to you if you want.”

Marc’s forehead crinkled, puzzled, and Antony explained. “Not the party.” He laughed. “The lifestyle. I’m the most famous twenty-year-old in the world, I have parties like this every night. People flock to me. I could give that to you.”

The mortal’s eyes shone. “How?”

Antony ignored him. “You think I was born like this? A social God? I made myself a socialite. And I can do it for you.

“Think about it.” His eyes shone. “A full house every night. The coolest people in the world admiring you, hanging off your every word.

“You could have any girl you want, any day.” Marc shook his head imperceptibly, and Antony cursed himself. Of course. “Even if you’re loyal to Allie – which would be chill, I can respect a guy like that – you could be beating off girls with sticks. Instead of wondering why you don’t have to.”

He could see the yearning in Marc’s eyes. Smell the unanswered question – why didn’t he – and the sense of inferiority it heralded. He grinned.

“Hell, it’d probably help your relationship with Allie. You know her; she’s a partier; she only likes social guys.” Another lie, but it fit the myth Marc had constructed. Antony watched the verbalization of the mortal’s fear stab at him. “You wanna be the best boyfriend, make her really love you; learn to party.”

Marc stared at him, mouth dry. Pained but hopeful. “How?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just do me a favor. Drop out of the World Cup.”

Marc sucked in his breath. Antony watched him consider, hoping. If he decided wrong Antony would have to kill him. His fingers hardened into claws at the thought, and he hid them behind him so Marc wouldn’t see.

Marc shook his head. “Sorry man. I want what you’ve got, but the World Cup – it’s my life. I win it, suddenly my career turns golden.”

“Your career’s already golden. Dude, everyone here knows your name. They think you’re me but faster. You don’t need the Cup.”

“Ya, I do. This thing’s my life, the Cup and Allie. I can’t drop out.”

Antony snarled. “How about I break your legs, you pathetic bastard? You’ll never even walk again.”

Marc’s eyes widened. His gaze jerked upstairs then back, fear-stricken, to Antony. The demon grinned.

“Nobody’s gonna care; those are my boys. I could break you right now.”

It wasn’t technically true, Antony knew. All Marc had to do was scream, and the partiers upstairs would come running. One cry and Antony would have to back off, act normal for his companions.

He slid towards Marc across the almost-bare room and let his teeth show, hoping the shock would keep Marc’s voice paralyzed. His eyes gleamed. Marc caught his breath.

The mortal staggered backwards, clutching at the walls. He almost fell, found himself in a corner with Antony barely a foot away.

“Fine, fine! I drop out, I’m done.”

“Good.” Antony’s fangs retracted, and he took a step back. Suddenly he was the charming partier again. “Cause I like you, I didn’t wanna hurt you. But I’ve gotta win.”

Marc nodded, still shaken. “I’ll pull out tomorrow. Don’t worry.” He paused. “Although, I still want your secret.”

Antony almost laughed. Damn, at least the kid had balls.

He grabbed a glass from the table to one side – the substance he had perfected decades ago – and passed it to Marc. “Drink this.” The fluid bubbled, dark and noxious. It smelled like rotting bodies, a soul ripped from earthly bindings.

Antony hadn’t been able to disguise its essence completely.

It wouldn’t kill Marc, of course. If the demon wanted Marc dead there were easier ways. It would grant him everything he yearned for. But at a price he couldn’t imagine.

Marc stared at it, incredulous. He winced at the dead smell. Antony knew he had no idea what the concoction did, but most mortals could sense that it was something bad.

“What is it?”

“My secret.” Antony shrugged. “It doesn’t look good, but trust me this stuff works. This isn’t some shit you see on an infomercial at 1am. If this stuff isn’t legit, you know where to find me.

“Hell, if it really doesn’t work, bring the cops.” That would be fun. He hadn’t killed cops in years.

Marc eyed it, still dubious. Antony bared his fangs.

“C’mon dude, do this for me. You don’t want me as an enemy.” Suddenly his tone shifted.

“Nevermind Marc. Do it for yourself. You drink this, think of the possibilities. Suddenly you’re the coolest kid around. Everyone adores you. Girls love you, guys flock to you.”

He grinned. “And trust me, Allie will thank you.” He met Marc’s eyes. “You know her, you know what she likes. Drink this, you become the perfect boyfriend.”

Marc’s eyes flicked upstairs – towards where he knew Allie waited. He mouthed ‘for you’; Antony smirked at the cliché but didn’t say anything. Then Marc nodded and tipped it back.

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