Devin has only 7 days to live. Each day he’s sending out a postcard, to say goodbye to the people he loves. But he’s also writing to his father. Because dear old Dad is hiding the one secret that just might save his life.
5th June, 2043
So, I’ve come to San Francisco. It seems as good a place as any to weather what’s happening to me. The hotel’s lovely, the food is great, and there are so many bookstores.
Anyway, I’ll keep this brief. I hope you’re well. There are two things I have to tell you and I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than on the back of a photo of Alcatraz.
So here goes.
1. I’m going to be dead in a week. They finally caught up with me. I’ve been dodging for… well, for too long, but my time is finally up.
2. I know you killed mum.
Weather’s nice, bit of cloud yesterday, but clear blue today.
Love you lots
He leant back in the sun lounger, stretched out his feet, and rocked his head back. The sun played tricks across his closed eyelids and he smiled. His first postcard, and it felt better than he’d imagined. It felt better than he’d dreamt it possibly could, considering the circumstances.
One down, six to go.
Devin drifted. He’d always loved San Fran, so coming here to die was a no brainer. Not that he believed he was going to die, not for a second. But the odds weren’t great, and there was no way he was going to wind up in some garbage on the streets of New York. Not a chance.
The day stretched out before him, empty and lethargic, and he ambled through it, interspersing his lounger time with food and drinks.
The following morning, he was back on the lounger, second postcard balanced on his knees as he wrote.
6th June 2043
I’m in San Fran! I always promised I’d bring you here but I never did. I wish I had. I’m dying. I’ve got six days to live. Don’t ask how, you don’t want to know. But I wanted to write because there’s something I had to tell you. I know we spent so much time together and I never said it, but I should have.
I love you, Layla. I should have married you. I should have taken you away from that bastard you call a boyfriend and married you.
I’m sorry. I love you.
Food’s amazing here, lots of fish.
This one was less fun. He stared at it, but his eyes were drawn to his shaky hand instead. He’d written six days, but it was more like five now. Maybe they’d come early. They weren’t known for it, but who knew? Everyone who met them died, so it wasn’t like there were any reliable witnesses.
He slouched into the lift then out into the cool of reception. He’d go for a walk to post this. Anything to get out of the hotel.
The streets were baking and steep beneath his feet, but he loved it. A tram rattled past and he waved at the tourists clinging to it with fix grins, riding the streets and the terror brought on by the one in two gradient.
He posted the card and turned for home. The skies were still the colour of Alessia’s eyes, and his body felt like he’d sunk into a hot bath. Why hadn’t he come to live here? Why had it taken his past catching up with him to push him into a future he’d always wanted?
On the way home, he bought the other five cards. He wasn’t sure he’d leave the hotel again. There was too much life out here, too many reminders of everything he was about to lose.
7th June 2043
How are you? Did you enjoy my first postcard? I sent one to Joe as well, so he knows what I know. Maybe he’ll tell everyone else, maybe he won’t. Maybe I asked him not to, just until you’d done what I need you to. Or maybe we’ll never tell. Maybe you can spend the rest of your life squirming.
I like that thought.
How did it feel, Dad, when you put the knife in? Did she scream? Did she beg for you to stop?
I need money. And I need the scepter. You will bring both of them to San Francisco in the next three days or your secret is out.
Did you laugh as you did it?
My room’s amazing, great air con
Both hands were shaking this time and the pen was clutched tight in his fist. His breath had caught somewhere in his throat and he couldn’t get it down into his lungs. Devin tossed the postcard onto the side table and stood to pace back and forth across the balcony. The movement finally freed his chest and he gasped down breath like the fish he’d seen flapping and dying down on the docks.
He’d said it. And he’d said it well. Just the right amount of emotion to make Dad know he was serious. He tipped his head back and stared up into the blue. Did he want to know the answers to his questions? Did he care if she screamed?
He blinked as the brightness made his eyes water, and shook his head. He’d never known Mum. She’d died when he and Joe were young boys and all he could remember of her was a vague face, a shape above his cot. But he should have had a mum, and Dad shouldn’t have killed her.
He could have used anyone. Sacrifices weren’t nearly as fussy as most people thought. The books always said it needed to be someone you cared about, but nine times out of ten, the demon you were summoning didn’t give a toss where the soul came from, they were just hungry.
But Dad had made his choice. And he’d hidden it well, for decades in fact, right up until Devin had found the right notebook.
He snorted, set the postcard aside, and took a sip of his mojito. How stupid could one master magician be? Very, apparently. Dad was up in Vegas, plying the strip with his cheap bullshit. He’d been doing it for years, but every time the three of them got together, Dad alway seemed to have his self respect very much intact. Devin thought the blow jobs and huge paycheck probably went a long way towards it.
8th June 2043
How are you? I know we haven’t met up recently, and I’m sorry for that. If I’d known what was going to happen, I’d have made sure we met up every day.
You see, I’m dying. I know, pretty surprising, huh? I don’t want to be, but the Gathered have caught up with me. I know, I know, you always warned me it would happen. Well, you can smile and nod now, because it has. Maybe I should have listened to you, but then, I’ve enjoyed my life very much, so perhaps I made the right choices.
Anyway, I’ve come to San Fran, cos what better place to die, hey? I miss you plenty. I miss your voice and your eyes. I miss your skin in the morning and your heat when we go to bed. I miss your wonderful way with the entrails.
I love you, Jemima, but then, you know that. I hope the rest of your life is as full and rich as it has been so far and I hope you think of me, at least now and then.
Ps. I’m sleeping well here, much better than usual.
This was always going to be the hardest one. There was so much they said to one another without words. Words never seemed to get it right. Although, he’d done better than he expected. It was easier writing than speaking.
Devin called for room service and sent the postcard straight down to reception. The others he’d enjoyed sending, but given the choice, he’d have tossed that one in the bin. But he owed her it, her more than anyone.
Jemima had always stuck by him. When he’d first got involved with the Gathered, she’d warned him they were no good. She’d told him time and again that the extra power wasn’t worth the pain that would come with it. He’d ignored her. She’d been vindicated, more than once, and every time she could have walked away.
But she didn’t. Devin had wracked his brains more than once as to the why, but he was no wiser. There was the faintest suspicion of love, but that was ludicrous. Jemima was no more prone to love than he was, and certainly wouldn’t fall for someone as entirely self-obsessed. So he remained both ignorant and grateful.
9th June 2043
It’s been only a couple of months, but I miss you like the roses miss the rain during a dry spell. I miss you every day I wake up and you aren’t there.
Where are you? I’m sending this to your old address, in the hope you’re still there, but I know how much you like to travel. I know how you hate to be tied down. It was why I had to let you go. I didn’t want to, believe me, but I could see the look in your eyes.
You needed to fly. I understand, I need to too, sometimes. I’m sorry if I seem a little maudlin, but I’m dying in two days.
We never talked about us, much. We never talked about us at all. We never talked about our feelings and I wished we had. I wish I’d had the nerve to tell you I love you. I didn’t, not then, but I do now.
I love you. If I had the chance to see you again, I’d tell you it a thousand times over.
I wish you happiness and open roads.
He pressed the card to his lips, blinking. The picture on the front was a night time shot of San Francisco, with the lights of the Golden Gate sparkling in the background. It felt right, somehow. Rosie had always wanted an exit.
It made it easier, when he’d had to go back to Jemima or visit Layla. His blinking sped up as he thought about Layla. She’d still be with that jerk, still getting beat up. He could remember the smell of the hotel room they’d met in. Same city, same time, same day.
Rosie was the opposite. They’d seen one another in every city in America, every place they could, night and day.
He slapped the card on the table. They were getting harder. He could feel the Gathered coming closer, their breath on his neck. He glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. He’d chosen this room for a very good reason. There was no way anyone was sneaking up on him, no way at all.
He checked his watch. No word from Dad. He’d expected something by now, even if it was just an acknowledgement. But he’d got nothing. Dad would arrive on time. He knew he would. He couldn’t risk the truth getting out there.
He needed to organise that. He needed to make sure, if it all went south, that the old man went down with him. Devin leant back in the lounger, letting the sun warm his skin. He’d just have a quick nap first.
10th June 2043
So, I thought you might like to know, I’ve written your story. I’ve typed it out, nice and neat, and the envelopes are sitting on the table in my suite. Tomorrow night, the hotel will send them to every paper in the state. I’ve got the email ready to send to the nationals tomorrow morning. I’ll send that one before they get to me, just to make sure.
You need to tell me you’re coming, Dad, or I might just get impatient and send it tonight. It’s tempting, I’d get to see the headlines tomorrow.
Why did you do it, Dad? What power did you get you couldn’t have got some other way? Do you know what you did to us? Do you have any idea what you did to us?
You have to save me, Dad, like you couldn’t when we were younger.
He read the card about four times, wincing every time. It was the first honest words he’d had with his father in over twenty years. Except last Christmas when he called him a heartless bastard. That were as honest as the day is long.
Devin stood and paced across the room. He’d written six postcards, not believing for a second he’d never actually see those people again. It was amazing how impending death could spur you to honesty. But he wasn’t really going to die.
Except Dad was nowhere to be seen and tomorrow was the last day.
He settled himself, cross-legged, in the centre of the room and closed his eyes. A few brief words muttered under his breath and his spirit rose free. This was what the Gathered had given him, so could he be blamed for going to them?
He drifted up and examined his body. His dry-grass hair was tied back in the band, pulling his face tight. Maybe it had always been tight. He got a lot of headaches. His eyes were closed, but still the lines perpetuated around them and across his forehead. His mouth was drawn flat, lips paper-thin and pale.
He looked bad. He looked like he’d been living in air con for a week and that mystical loan sharks were on his tail.
He drifted out of the hotel until he hung above the city. San Fran was beautiful at any time of year, but he was pleased his last view of it would be with the sun bouncing off the bay and the people in shorts and t-shirts. It was a happy city.
He needed a drink. He drifted back into his body and reached for the whisky.
11th June, 2043
I’ll see you tomorrow
P.S. Weather’s nice in Vegas, too.
He clung to the card, staring out at the sunrise. He was coming. With the scepter and the money, they’d have to let him go. They would have no choice. A grand master’s scepter overpowered any paltry debt. Especially when the debt was being paid.
He sauntered down to breakfast, ignoring the hammering his chest, and tucking into croissant and coffee. It was going to be another scorcher. He went back to his room and sat in front of his computer, staring at the email. Dad was coming. His mouse hovered over the send button for far too long, before he left it alone. Dad was coming.
Midday came and went and there was no sign of Dad. He’d started the morning on the sun deck, but now he was in his room, with the door locked and his shoes wearing a track in the carpet. Where was he? Where the hell was he?
He paused in his pacing, and heard them. The distant howling that no one else in the city would hear. The hounds were coming. Where the hell was Dad?
He scooped up his last postcard from the table. It was too late. Even with the accelerated mail, it was too late. He’d lied. The last words between father and son had been lies.
He laughed at the empty room. There was no change there, then. Nothing new, just the same old Dad. The howling came closer.
Closer still and Devin sat at the table, gripping the wooden edges. He stared at the computer. Why couldn’t he send the email? What stupid, desperate, childish part of him still believed his father was going to come and save him?
He needed to be ready. But sweat was pricking his back and his mind refused to work. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t do anything except listen to the hounds growing ever closer.
Then the knock came at the door. He whimpered and pressed his forehead against the table.
He could do this.
He would do it properly, with dignity. He rose and paced to the door, then wrapped shaking fingers around the handle.
He took a deep breath, then another, and pulled open the door.
His father smiled and opened his arms. With a sob of relief, Devin threw himself into the embrace.
‘Quick, come in, the hounds are nearly here.’
His father stepped in, smile widening. ‘Actually, son, they’re already here.’ He stood to one side as two vast creatures, black as the Devil’s eyes and just as sleek, padded into the room.
‘It’s an honorary role, really. They just wanted a few names on the board, you know, people the small time crooks had heard of.’
‘But, you can’t, not your own son.’
‘Believe me, Devin, after killing my wife, you’ll be a breeze.’
‘You can’t,’ Devin raised a triumphant finger. ‘You can’t. Joe has all the information as well. The moment he knows I’m dead, he’ll send it out.’
‘Ahh, poor Devin, always the last to know. I took Joe last week. You know that demon I sacrificed your mother to? You wouldn’t believe what he offered me for the whole set.’
Dad smiled again and the hounds closed in.