Toxic #24: Spelunking for BeginnersJun 25, 2014
“Are we supposed to be down here?”
Fir’s cellar was dusty, dark, and filled with furniture that had seen the wrong end of a bar fight. And while I didn’t know him well, I did know the leprechaun wouldn’t like us wandering around his storage spaces.
“Are you going to let it stop you?”
I hesitated answering just long enough for Damian to shake his head. “I thought you wanted some fun.”
“Fun is hanging out with broken tables?” I huffed a breath out of my nose, smiling at Damian’s devil grin despite myself. “Fine. But if you get me kicked out of here, you’re going to explain it to Vincent.”
He grabbed my hand, his grin getting wider, and dragged me down a set of stairs hidden behind a stack of banquet skeletons. They led to a wine cellar, a huge space filled with endless rows of crates and barrels. Dust and shredded packing materials covered everything, including the floor. “Does anyone ever come down here to clean?” I asked. “And how many basement levels does he have?”
Damian led me to a stack of boxes tagged with hieroglyphics. “So far, two. Proper ones, anyway. And he thinks the dust adds to the security of the place. The cost of the booze down here could pay off the national debt. But hide it two floors down and under dirt and who would guess?” He dropped my hand and dug through an open crate. “The stuff in here, for instance, is ridiculously expensive, and it will knock your head off if you drink too much. A little is a lot of fun though.” He pulled out a glass bottle that made me think of genies. “Pull up some floor.”
I found a spot that had a thinner layer of garbage than the rest. Damian settled across from me, leaning against a crate as he worked the cork out. “You ever drink anything that wasn’t from your mom’s liquor cabinet?”
“Maybe.” I wasn’t going to tell him I’d never had alcohol. I figured one lame thing at a time. He already knew my dad.
He took a swig from the bottle and then passed it to me. I sniffed it, not sure if I was more repulsed or curious. It had a weird odor, a mix of hot cinnamon rolls and mud. “What is this?”
“I’ll tell you after you try it.”
Did I really want to drink this, whatever it was? The impish light in Damian’s eyes dared me to. And my old way of life hadn’t exactly been working out in this new, bizarro town. Maybe it was time to change things up. Be stupid and not think consequences. Wasn’t that how most people went through life?
I lifted the bottle to my lips. What the hell. One night of acting my age wasn’t going to wreck my life.
The first sip went down easy. Once you got past the whole dirt smell, it was actually good. Like liquid Cinnabon with a shot of Mrs. Fields.
The second drink, bigger than the first, burned a spicy trail down my throat. My whole head went warm and fuzzy, my stomach turning to cotton. “So what is it?”
Damian took the bottle back. “Griffin tears. Some of the most potent stuff on the planet. Also some of the most expensive—do you know how hard it is to get a griffin to cry?”
I blinked. The sharp angles of the room were starting to round. “Griffins cry booze? They must be fun at parties.”
“You have no idea.”
I grabbed the bottle back and went for a third shot. This one tasted like molten butterscotch with undertones of chocolate.
When I went for shot number four, Damian took the bottle away. “Not a good idea, trust me.” He took another sip and then stuck the cork back in.
The warmth from the liquor spread out from my stomach and into my legs. I was loose and rubbery, the dust-covered floor as soft as a pillow under my butt. Damian stuck the bottle back in the crate and scooted over next to me. “Feeling better?”
“Oh yeah,” I sighed. “What else does he have stashed down here?”
“Pretty much everything.” Damian leaned against me. “So, how have you been?”
The urge to rest my head on his shoulder was almost irresistible, but one make out session with a dhampir did not a relationship make. Especially when he’d been a naughty boy and hit me with his mojo. I wasn’t going to go there. He was dangerous.
He tasted like cherry pie.
I licked my lips, the ghost taste of that kiss flooding my mouth. He wasn’t using his mojo now, but I was pretty sure I was drunk. Was that any better than the first time I’d wanted to kiss him?
Probably. This time I’d had a choice.
I tried to focus on something else, anything else, and dropped my eyes to his t-shirt. A bat-eared rat face stared at me from his chest. “Hey—Max Schrek.”
“Nosferatu. He’s your favorite vampire, right?”
My tongue was looser than my legs from the griffin tears, apparently. “I might be rethinking that.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Really.”
“Don’t get cocky. You still sucker punched me with the supernatural charm.”
“Still. I’m above Nosferatu. I’ll call that progress.” He shifted so that there was a little more room between us. “So. Do you want to sit here talking about my moral failings, or see what else Fir is hiding in his basement?”
“He’s got more than booze?”
He nodded and helped me up to a standing position. “You can’t tell anyone, though. This is my secret. No matter what Fir says.”
I cocked an eyebrow, but let him drag me to the far corner of the room without much resistance. Damian had a secret? And he kept it in the cellar of a bar. Weirdness again. But intriguing somehow. Too bad the corner we’d stopped in was empty except for a dusty statue.
“I have to say, this isn’t exactly what I expected. Your secret is a statue?”
He pushed me forward so I could see the statue better, a gargoyle perched on a stone pillar. An ugly one, too. “Cedric. Time to wake up, you useless hunk of stone.”
I jumped about five feet up when the statue opened its eyes.
“You again.” The gargoyle’s voice was like tires crunching over a pile of pebbles. “It’s impossible for a guy to get a little peace and quiet with you hanging around.”
“You love me and you know it.”
The gargoyle stretched his wings, dust sifting off his back like a killer case of dandruff. “Let me guess—you want below? That’s probably wise, unless you want to get caught.”
“Caught?” The clunk of boots on the ceiling answered my question. Someone was stomping around the broken furniture, headed for the stairs to the wine cellar.
Damian glared at the ceiling, and then dropped his attention back to the gargoyle. “You going to let us in?”
“Depends. Is she cleared by the boss?”
“What do you think?”
Cedric squinted at me with midnight eyes. “I can’t tell. Hold on.” He pulled glasses out from somewhere near his butt and settled them on his face. It didn’t improve the ugly.
Cedric sighed. “If he’s not happy, don’t blame me.” He pointed one foot down at the floor, and a set of circular stairs appeared in them.
“Thanks. You’re a rock,” Damian said. The gargoyle gagged. It was a pretty lame joke.
“They better be. I’m already dreading the hike back up.”
Faint yellow light glowed from ankle-height spots carved into the stone, but they didn’t help much beyond letting me see where my feet were going. Ahead of me was a blank. Even Damian was a grey blur in a deeper black.
“Are you planning on killing me down here or something? Because I can’t see shit.”
“I’m not, but you might want to keep your voice down. In this town you never know what’s hiding in the dark.”
“It’s not supposed to be. Now watch the last step.”
I stumbled to a stop, letting my senses adjust. More black. The sound of water dripping on something hard. And no sense of walls or ceiling or anything else.
Space. Way too much space. There was nothing within arm-reach to touch other than him.
© A.M. Schilling 2014. All Rights Reserved.