Karolina Dalca, Dark Eyes – M. R. Noble

I was born in Romania, but it never had the chance to be my home. Instead, I wound up in northern Ontario, completing an extra credit internship in my tiny town, staring down the face of an alleged flasher. I readied the paperwork before my mentor, Constable Danny, interviewed the perpetrator. It wasn’t an ideal way to spend the summer, but my psychological profiling exam blew into flames— literally—and extra credit was the only way I would pass. It was one-way glass, but as he looked ahead, it unnerved me to stand in his gaze. My cell phone lit up with its silent ringtone. Mama called for the twentieth time. I hung up on her in an argument. She should’ve known better than to play with a vampire’s mood—half vampire or not. Mama immigrated here with her parents to start a new life away from the crime of the ‘old country.’ After this morning, it was safe to assume violence was everywhere, even in the towns with dirt roads. Still, she insisted the arms of the vampire underground were out of range—if I obeyed the rules of my father’s kind. I grew up sheltered. The Charmed people of Romania stuck with their own. Grampa Dalca had an unnatural sense for people sneaking in and out of the house.

I never knew if it was my family’s earth magic at work or if it was just his lived experience. I would have been grounded double my age by now if I wasn’t such a great negotiator. Still, I was lucky to have a father figure to teach me to control my vampiric side and how to defend myself. As I looked down at the photos of evidence, the perp’s bruised penis, it was clear he’d picked a little girl who’d been taught to give a swift kick to the nuts. Not many girls are. Constable Danny primed the perpetrator to enter the interrogation room. Control, I reminded myself. It was the mantra Grampa Dalca gave me. I fought for my independence my whole life, and I only got this far by staying in control…mostly. If I lost myself when they finally let me sit in on an interrogation, I would fail.

“Are you ready?” Danny asked me. “I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend my summer than listening to you chat up perverts,” I said with a royal inflection. “Does that mean you’re ready?” he asked, fighting a grin. “Yes.” “All right, kid. Just observe the process for booking. We’ll overlook the final paperwork when I’m done.” He called me kid all summer even though I’ve got boobs and I’m of legal drinking age. Danny guided the perp into the interrogation room. I trailed behind them.

The perp looked up at me and smiled. It was the type of smile which peels back one’s skin with the sick feeling that he is liking what he sees. But nineteen is too old to be his type, way too old. I thought of his provocation of the girl and the hairs on my arms stood at attention. A boiling feeling in my belly rose to my chest. My heart thumped like a battering ram against my ribcage. My fire magic pushed into my throat. I held it back, making my knees sink to the floor. This was my father’s doing. I inherited the genes for fire magic from him, and if I knew him, I’d tell him what an ass it made him.

I focused on my mantra and my earth magic. While I did, my vampiric senses slipped through my concentration. The light blinded me. My hearing overwhelmed my ears. The beating hearts of those around me banged out like drums. My fangs slid down from the roof of my mouth. I was seconds away from the crippling thirst for blood. I concentrated on a bland memory of my childhood, sitting with my family by the fire. Forbidden to play with other kids, except Roman, Mama would make dolls out of clay which awoke with a breath of magic. When I got older, I did what any teenager did—I rebelled.

Going to Carleton University in Ottawa for Political Science, with the ambition of becoming an officer, was more than my family could take. Mama blamed the death of her parents on the fact their hearts couldn’t take my leaving. Twenty-fourhour pneumonia was the real killer. Thoughts of my family grounded me. I rose from my semi-crouched position. The other officers’ stares drilled into me. But I knew how to portray my internal struggles as low blood sugar. My goals were simple. Stick to the rules of the law, whether this man deserved them or not, and don’t reveal my powers. “You can stay down on your knees if you want to, love,” the perp said to me as he positioned his crotch closer to my face.

Before my eyes processed the flash, a rippling heat left my hands. Then the perpetrator was screaming. Danny seized the fire extinguisher and attempted to spray him as he ran flaming through the room. The evaluating constable yanked a fire blanket from a first aid kit on the wall and tackled the perp to the ground. He wrapped the cloth around him snuffing out the fire and spreading the ashy remains of his coat across the checkered floor. To my dismay, the pervert was okay. His clothing wasn’t. His wrinkly rump laid sunny-side up on the floor, the image forever etched into my eyeballs. **** Earth magic was a parboiled study of mine, but I was able to use my magic to spell the police sergeant into writing me up instead of firing me. They didn’t know what caused the fire, only that it originated from my hands.

I blundered through their memories with my magic. Hopefully, they weren’t going home to their wives forgetting an anniversary or birthday. For the moment, I was safe and so was my internship. Which meant my measly income for university residence was secure. I rolled my shoulders against the car seat, trying to release the tension from the day. I cranked the dial up on the radio and let the song “Ibiza” massage my sore spirit. Afternoon mist floated above the pine hills like steam and disappeared behind the curve of the road. Movement caught my gaze. The trees jolted back and forth on a hill. Something big was out there.

My tires kicked up rocks. I swerved, just missing a speed sign. Pay attention, Karolina. Grandpa Dalca’s words chimed into my head. I remembered his thick accent: Does the dog wag the tail, or does the tail wag the dog? Taming my vampiric nature took years. My family picked up animal remains from the butcher and, if I rationed well, I kept my blood lust at bay. When I toted a padlocked deepfreeze to my dorm, I told my roommate I only ate game meat because it was ethically harvested. The backlash was she committed to the cause—not only did she want to use my freezer—posters started showing up in hallways. It was better than ripping her hipster neck out at night. Nothing was a substitute for blood from the source, and the night is catnip to Vampires.

My shameful preference for bunnies was the only way I weathered through most nights. It was the cost of abstaining from human blood. I arrived at the main road. Just a little longer and I’d be at home with my mother. The question was what would coax her into finishing our previous conversation? I turned into the parking lot of Mama’s favorite sweet shop and checked my makeup. My eyes looked like two melted blackbirds in a nest of hair. I hit the showers after my shift, but I only had time for a quick body rinse. There was no denying the day I had. I got out anyway. I walked into the store and a tingling draped my shoulders.

The familiar feel of magic. The doorframe had orphic markings carved into the top—an ancient custom of the Charmed people. Our house was full of them too; it was how we identified our own. The store clerk was behind the counter. I waved, and then took a moment to review the trinkets for sale. Some carved plaques hung from twine between packaged incense and a taxidermy albino falcon. The falcon’s eye shone like liquid still flowed within its body. The first plaque read Charmed with earth, know your worth, for no one can go forth. The Earth Charm was the most common inherited magic, but one could invoke it too. Those Wicca parties advertised at your local occult shop were no joke.

The Water Charm was used by spiritual humans, like priests and shaman. The Air Charm was hard-won if one wasn’t born with it, and Fire even more so. I flipped to the next plaque. This one read Beware of shadow that consumes, your soul it dooms, unless the light you love exhumes. I shivered at the memory of Mama’s terrifying fables. Just like the elements, there are also the Light and Dark Charm. Sparking the Dark Charm takes an intense act of malice, and I would have to want its power. The more extreme version is Shadow Forging. I didn’t want to think of the acts I’d have to commit to Forge. The change would shred my soul and rip apart my body… The Light Charm is much more pleasant.

Whenever I read a story in the newspaper about a miracle, Mama said it was the magic of a person with the Light Charm. I paid for a box of candies and wished the shopkeeper a good day. I turned the corner just outside the door and faced Roman Lupei. Our families emigrated from Romania to Canada at the same time—naturally they converted into extended family—and our parents dreamed one day our relationship would be more. Now, he tried to make their dreams a reality. When we were a couple of lanky teens, I would’ve laughed. But after high school graduation, he’d learned his father’s trade and became a carpenter. The family business was his now—and so was the body of an Olympian. “Hey, super chick,” he said. “You wanna be the bad guy?” I asked, my voice flat.

He fiddled with his keychain, a creepy piece of bone set into a bronze disk. I hated it. He pocketed his keys, putting the old trinket out of sight. “Some guy was asking around for you today,” he said. “Saw him at the coffee shop when I was there.” His dark hair reflected the now setting sun, giving it an auburn hue. A golden glow faded from his eyes, and I knew the tip of the sun had just set behind me. “Tom,” I said. He grunted and shook his head. “He doesn’t have your number, so he resorts to tracking you down in your hometown?” he asked.

“What a loser.” Tom wasn’t a stalker. We were in the same program at university, and he was interning in the next town over. I stopped responding to his texts a while ago. Fighting the urge to plunge my fangs into his artery while we made out really put a damper on things. I’ll probably die a virgin. “We weren’t serious,” I said. “Looked like he wanted to be,” he said. “I stopped talking to him a while ago.” “So, you ghosted him? Next time I see him around I’ll tell him to send a carrier pigeon.

” I rolled my eyes. “Listen, now’s not the time, Ro.” “Why? Did something happen today? Is it the cravings? Do you need blood?” His hand brushed my hips, trying to draw me into his whispers. It would’ve have been a fatal idea, if the cravings were a problem at this moment. He waited for my response and put his hand into my hair, grabbing a hand full. He let the strands run through his fingers. The gesture sent an invisible caress down my back. Why was he doing this? He knew my secret. He knew seducing a hungry vampire was volunteering for a bloodbath. “You’re lucky I gorged this morning.

” “I’m not scared,” he said. “Are you admitting it’s not the blood that has you red faced?” I should have retreated, but I looked up and saw his chest rise and fall. The image of it without a shirt traipsed into my head, and then I was leaning against him. My eyes continued upward and… stopped. In the heat of the moment, I couldn’t get farther than his neck. Carotid artery be dammed. “I’m just stressed,” I said. “I’ve got to run, Ro. Mama’s waiting for me.” I shifted out of his arms and stepped around him.

“Okay, I’ll drop off the wood for the reno at your house on my way home,” he said. I walked to the car trying to combat thoughts of Roman without clothes. My blood pumped hard behind my ears. I slammed the door shut and cracked a window. The cool breeze felt good on my face. Shit. I tossed the box of candies on the passenger’s seat. Besides wanting to be a blood bag, what did he want? To ruin our friendship over a lay? Even if we could have sex, I didn’t want to end up like one of the washed-up cheerleaders who screamed at him for not calling the next day. On the drive home, I followed the edge of the forest ridge. We lived a half-hour from town.

It was the price of an amazing view. I drove up to our century-old home. Next to the historical plaque was a sign which read Dalca tilted sideways toward the ground. The September wind struck again. Dalca is my mother’s family name; it’s Romanian for lightning. Grandpa Dalca liked to brag it was the magic of our family blood which made us so lethal. He told me I had to fight like lightning itself. I stooped to fix the sign, and then paused to eye the walkway. The weeds overtook the flagstone pattern which had been my summer project. Mama and I had spent the last two years renovating the house.

It was my way of spending time with her after my grandparents died. A way of telling her I was still here. It was almost done, but she kept coming up with trivial tasks. My heart told me she was afraid I wouldn’t be around much after. I caught chill as the wind rose, carrying an early winter breeze. It rustled through the woods across from our house. “Hey Mama!” I called as I stepped inside. She stood over the stove, stirring some sort of red saucy stew. The house smelled of meat, nutmeg, and cloves. A new can of cooking oil spray was on the counter.

My bane and my savior. From the ripe age of two, my clothes had a habit of smoldering into flames on my skin when I threw a tantrum. Talk about the terrible twos. Raising a Fire Charmed child wasn’t easy. It’d cost Mama a lot of patience and extra cash spent on kids’ clothes. She’d come up with the idea of bewitching a can of kitchen spray as a magical fire-retardant. While most women put on their make-up in the morning, I had to spray down all my clothes. I warmed myself over the fireplace’s fading embers, which dimmed to darkness. The hum of the power in my chest swelled forward, sensing its fallen comrades in the hearth, and restless from the half release at the police station. I held out my hands and dropped my control.

Fire unfurled from my arms and into the fireplace. The flames exploded outward, licking up the surrounding walls and into my face. I jumped back with a scream. Mama gasped. “Karolina! When will you learn? You can’t use your magic if you can’t control it!” The flames died down as quickly as they arrived, leaving only charred streaks on either side of the hearth. I can control it. I just need more practice. I sighed, already accepting the responsibility of painting over the black marks—again. “You’re better off using the earth magic I taught you,” she said. “I’m not giving into the gypsy stereotype,” I said.

“Earth magic is all healing and love potions. Maybe I’ll grow a mole on my face too while I’m at it.” A hunk of meat thumped against the cutting board. “What’s that on the table?” she asked and eyed the box of candies. “A peace offering,” I said. “You don’t need a peace offering for a fight that’s already over,” she said. “What date do you start back at school?” “I’m due back on campus in two weeks.” I flopped down on the couch, brainstorming how to approach the subject of my father again. “Mama? Do you have any other family left I haven’t met?” “Just Auntie Miruna in Romania,” she said. I looked over the couch and saw she had pursed her lips.

She knew what I was about to get at. My fingers fidgeted with my necklace. It was the only item I had of my father’s. A pendant of braided gold, all three shades intertwined into the shape of an oval. Set inside was a ruby. It didn’t melt under heat like regular jewelry, which added more to the mystery of my father. I hadn’t taken it off since Mama gave it to me. “If you had more family out there in the world, wouldn’t you want to know?” I asked her. “It depends, my darling girl, if they are people worth knowing,” she said. “If they help me understand who my father was, what he was like…then it’s worth it.

” “There are some things you’re better off not knowing, Karolina.” “Every daughter needs to know about her father! I can’t believe you don’t know anything else about him. You can try to keep it from me all you want, but I will find out.” She’d tried convincing me my father was an injured Russian vampire who dropped unconscious on her doorstep in Romania. She nursed him with her healing magic and her nineteen-year-old self was apparently seduced in the process. No qualms over giving it up before marriage for her. “How many times do I have to tell you, Karolina? He died. He died the day after I met him, I have nothing else to tell you,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have my parents to care for me and come with me to Canada.” “How could you fall in love with a man in one day?” I yelled.

“What is it you’re protecting me from?” I gripped the spine of the couch, crunching it inward. “Mama, I have fire magic. The women in your family always had earth magic to be healers, the men were fighters, my fire originated with my father! If I could contact his family, maybe they could teach me more control.” “It’s out of the question,” she said. “What if something ever happened to you, Mama? Who would I turn to?” “The Lupei family will always care for you like you’re their own.” She looked so satisfied with her answer, that my frustration—and my fire—threatened to explode. The Lupeis were like family, but I wasn’t one of their own. They would never know what it meant to be a vampire. We could share the sunlight, religious temples, and even a poutine, but if they cut their finger—they’d never share the lust to suck the blood from it like honey from a pixie stick. They wouldn’t know what it’s like to have inhuman strength or a fear of silver.

And they wouldn’t understand how it feels to never know your own kind.

.

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