Jack bolts from my side, takes the stairs two at a time. I follow, just in time to see the door to the attic is open.
"Get Gideon and Malcolm," Jack shouts over his shoulder, throwing himself headlong into the darkness. But I am frozen. My mind can't process what's happening. I am cold with terror, the adrenaline rush forcing away my reason. I can't think. I can't move.
A masked man bursts from the darkness above and launches himself down the stairs. I am in his way, and he knocks me to the ground in his haste. I smash backward into the wall, banging my head hard against the chair rail. Jack is there a heartbeat later, calling for the Crows as he throws himself at the intruder, arms out, a perfect flying tackle. They go down hard on the landing, scuffling, locked in a deadly battle. Jack is the bigger man, he has the leverage he needs to get an arm on the man's windpipe, but the intruder is quick, kicking out at Jack's stomach until he connects and Jack is knocked off.
This gives the intruder the upper hand. He flips Jack onto his back, punching wildly while reaching behind to his waistband. My mind registers the gun, and the peril Jack is in, and without another thought, I kick the man's arm just as his fingers close around the gun's grip. It spins away, clattering against the baseboards. We lunge for it at the same time. I am closer. I get there first.
The shot is deafening.
The intruder falls to the floor at my feet, moaning, squirming. Blood pours from his side. So much blood. The man bleeds and bleeds and bleeds until he is still. I watch, fascinated, as a small trickle of crimson runs toward my bare foot.
Then Malcolm and Gideon are hoisting me to my feet, and the roaring in my head overwhelms me.
The Long Night
When I look back on that night, I still can't be entirely sure of the sequence.
Everything happened at once, with a blurred intensity so strong that, under the influence of alcohol and terror and a blinding concussion, all I know for sure is that my life was irrevocably changed. A split second, a reaction, a protective urge, and my entire axis shifted. If it weren't for Jack, I don't know what might have happened to me. What if I had come home alone to this monster in my house? The tables would be turned, I'm sure.
It would be me who was dead.
* * *
I remember shouting.
A yelp of pain.
The crash of the front door.
The pounding of feet on stairs.
The acrid scent of burning wire.
The adrenaline rush of stark fear.
The vision of a hand wrapped around the grip of a gun—is it mine? Is it Jack's? Gideon's? Malcolm's?
The hard finality of the crash when the body of the intruder landed at my feet, knocking me backward into the wall with such force I sustain a concussion.
A Crow ripping off the intruder's mask, but I can't look. I can't look.
Jack screaming at them.
The haziness begins there.
There are flashes, moments that feel like dreams, like movies. It doesn't feel like it's happening to me. It doesn't feel like something I've done.
Who is he? Who is this man who's broken into my home and tried to kill me?
* * *
When the police ask me later what I saw, what I knew, what happened, and why, I reply with the truth I've been given.
Malcolm shot the intruder.
Malcolm shot the intruder.
Jack had me repeat it, again, and again, and again, before the police and EMTs arrived. There needed to be a consensus among us. It was the only safe way to proceed.
Me: Malcolm shot the intruder.
Jack: Malcolm stepped to the landing and shot the intruder.
Malcolm: Yes, sir, I shot the intruder.
* * *
I don't remember.
Three words, so simple, yet so duplicitous.
What is memory, anyway?
Echoes of reality twisted and molded into what we want to believe. What we want to remember. Our brains allow us grace to cope with trauma. They give us space to heal, to come to terms with our actions, our fears.
Couple extreme trauma with alcohol and the events blur.
How can I remember with exact precision my lassitude at the party, the stale macarons, the hard crystal flute against my lips, the floral tang of the champagne, getting into the car and divesting myself of my shoes, Jack's kisses, light along my jawline, the gaping maw of the attic's blackness, and not remember the exact moment I killed a man?
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday, June 14th, we begin the book The Opium Prince by Jasmine Aimaq.