June 18, 1994, Toronto, Canada
Genny Dupont thinks about death a lot. Presumably more than the average twenty-year-old, anyway. She worries about being hit by a car each time she crosses the street. She wonders how it would feel to be electrocuted in the shower. She wonders about objects falling off office buildings downtown and creaming her on the sidewalk below. She even sometimes imagines what her funeral will be like. Will her favorite songs be played? Will there be red and white roses on her coffin?
She doesn't know why dark stuff like this invades her thoughts so much. If she had to guess, she'd say it's probably because her parents had died when she'd been seven. But honestly? She's wondered about her own death for as long as she can remember.
On the morning of her twenty-first birthday, she wakes from a strange dream about her mom to find her seventeen-year-old sister Chloe standing by her bed with a big grin on her face and an even bigger cupcake in her hands. Behind her, Peter Murphy glares accusingly from a black and white Bauhaus poster on the wall. Genny concurs with him.
"Happy Birthday!" Chloe exclaims. Her sister wears baggy ripped jeans and an oversize black Nirvana tee. Because of course she does.
Genny groans. "Remember how you asked me what I wanted for my birthday?
"Sure." Still grinning.
"And do you recall what I said?"
Chloe brings her free hand to her chin and looks up and to the left as if thinking hard. "A cupcake?"
"No." Well, yes, but that's not the point.
"A hug from your awesome sister?"
"Not so much."
"The big pancake breakfast Gran is downstairs making?
That gives Genny pause. Her stomach rumbles at the thought. "Still not it."
"Well you're getting all three. So get your butt outta bed. Today is your lucky day."
"What I wanted for was for you to let me sleep in. I didn't think it was too much to ask. Was it?"
"Was it what?"
Genny sighs. Sometimes talking to Chloe feels like pulling out her own hair. One strand at a time. "Too much to ask?"
"Genevieve," Chloe starts and Genny cringes. Her mother always used to call her by her full name. "I hate to break it to ya, but it's almost ten. You have slept in. And now it's time to get up. Unless you want to spend your entire birthday in bed? But then you'd miss breakfast, and I know there's no chance of that."
Ignoring the dig, Genny reaches for the clock on her nightstand and angles it to face her. Damn. It is almost ten. She can't very well complain about an early wakeup. Then the smell of frying bacon hits her nose, making her stomach gurgle again. Chloe's right, she isn't about to miss breakfast.
Grabbing the cupcake from her sister's hand, Genny crams the entire thing into her mouth. Frosting coats her lips and chin, but she doesn't care in the slightest.
Chloe barks out a surprised laugh. "You are such a weirdo," she says, her bleached blonde hair not moving in the slightest as she spins around and leaves. So much gel, so early in the day. Genny shudders.
Her own head falls back against the pillow. She chews the cake thoughtfully as her sister's footsteps fade down the stairs. Genny and her best friend Dawn McArthur have big plans today. First, they're going shopping. Then they're going out for dinner and drinks. And, best of all, after that, they're going to Apothecary to dance their butts off and hopefully flirt with some hot guys. Well, Genny intends to flirt, anyway. Dawn will likely tell Genny she had as well, but in reality not make eye contact with anyone she doesn't know. Whether she's brave enough to flirt or not makes zero difference, though. Either way, they're going to have a great night.
She licks the frosting from her lips and tries to wipe off the rest with her fingers, but she still feels sticky. With a soft sigh of acceptance, she pushes herself out of bed and crosses the hall to the bathroom. She turns on the tap and then examines her reflection in the mirror. Her chestnut brown hair is a mess, but otherwise she looks the same as always. Once the water is warm, she scrubs the remains of the frosting from her somewhat pointed chin. On reflection, she's not really sure why she'd bothered. She's just going to get her lips syrupy-sticky again. Breakfast course number two is almost ready.
When Genny comes into the kitchen, Gran sets a plate piled high with blueberry pancakes at her spot at the table. On top, a single candle glows in the middle of a ring of strawberries.
"Happy Birthday, dear!" Gran tells her with a wide smile. Before Genny can thank her, Gran and Chloe launch into the birthday song.
Chloe, of course, has to add the final line: "you look like a monkey and smell like one, too." And, as they do every birthday, they all laugh.
"Thanks, guys." Genny reaches for the tongs and piles a small mountain of bacon beside her pancakes. "You're the actual best, Gran."
After their parent's accident, their paternal grand-mère Agnes had taken in Genny and Chloe without hesitation. They've lived with her in North York, a neighborhood of Toronto, ever since. Agnes has raised the girls as if they are her own children, and Genny will be forever grateful to her, but the truth is that, besides going into foster care, they'd had no other options. Their mother Angelique's entire family is dead, and their father Marcus had been an only child. Genny's entire remaining family now sits at this table.
Chloe drinks black coffee, but has taken no food. This is not unusual. Sometimes she doesn't eat at all until dinner. It makes zero sense to Genny; breakfast is literally her favorite part of waking up. But she knows that if Chloe has decided she doesn't feel like eating, no amount of persuading will change her mind.
"What are you up to today?" Gran asks as she lifts a heaping forkful of pancake.
"Dawn's coming by in a couple hours and we're going down to Queen Street West." That area has funky, unique little shops and Genny wants to look for something perfect to wear tonight.
"Sounds like a lovely way to spend the day," Gran replies. "What about you?" she asks Chloe.
"Also going shopping downtown. With Kate. But we're looking for CDs, not dresses." Kate has been Chloe's best friend since they'd been small, although Genny wonders how much the two even have in common anymore. Kate is preppy and dates a football player. Chloe went full-on grunge a year ago and spends most of her free time in her room listening to music.
"Have fun," Genny says. While she also loves music, she isn't anywhere near as obsessed as Chloe. Her sister had nearly gone catatonic when she'd found out two months ago that Kurt Cobain had committed suicide. Genny had thought it tragic, but she hadn't gone downtown to the candlelit vigil or anything. Chloe had. And cried about it for a week. Maybe longer. Genny had tried to be sympathetic to her sister's pain, but she hadn't really understood. Mom and Dad dying had been devastating. Some rock star they hadn't known taking his own life at the peak of his success? It'd been sad, but it hadn't affected her day to day life.
Chloe had only been three when their parents had passed away, so she doesn't remember them very well. Genny had been nearly eight. And she remembers. She still dreams of them, still hears their voices in her head sometimes. Though they are no longer with her, Genny feels attached to them. Chloe, on the other hand, never speaks of them unless prompted, and often not even then.
"Do you wanna TTC down to Queen with us?" Genny asks her sister. TTC is short for Toronto Transit Commission, which is what locals call the city's bus, streetcar, and subway system.
"Nah, Kate should be here any minute. We're not waiting around for you." She has another gulp of coffee, then gets up and dumps the remainder into the sink. Before Genny or Gran can comment, she vanishes back upstairs, presumably to put on her makeup. Chloe likes to line her eyes with heavy, black pencil. Genny doesn't judge her it, though. At Apothecary, all the girls wear heavy makeup and most of them look stunning.
This reminds Genny that she has less than two hours to finish eating, shower, throw in a load of laundry, and get ready to go out. Stabbing another bite of syrup-covered pancake along with a chunk of strawberry, she stuffs it into her mouth. Unlike her sister, she is not wasting a single morsel of this delicious breakfast.
As Genny pulls open the steel door from the Queen Street sidewalk, a familiar heavy beat hits both girls right in the chest. It's KMFDM's "Godlike," a song they both love dancing to.
"Dammit, we're missing it!" Dawn exclaims, hurrying past her up the steps. Apothecary is located on the top floor above a sewing shop. Genny often wonders what the owners and patrons of that shop think about the goth club upstairs.
"You know they'll play it again in a few hours," Genny protests, although having to rush upstairs isn't nearly as arduous as she pretends it is. Though she always worries about falling, she's climbed these stairs in high heels many times and has never once tripped. But there's always a first time.
After they pay their cover, Genny heads straight to the bar. The bartender approaches her with a grin. "Hey Genny. What can I getcha?" He has to speak loudly to be heard over the music.
"Hi Stefan. It's my birthday. Can you make me something celebratory?"
Stefan is decidedly hot. And flirting with hot guys is part of tonight's plan. His grin widens. "Yeah? Well, Happy Birthday! Hmm, how ‘bout a Zombie?"
Genny slides a hand across the bar top and squeezes his wrist. "Perfect. Make it two."
"Comin' up." Stefan turns to the guy standing to her right. "What about you?"
Just then the KMFDM song ends and she hears him say, "In honor of ‘er birthday, I'll ‘ave the same. And they're on me." The voice has a slight French accent.
Intrigued, Genny turns to see who has just offered to buy her drink, already prepared to decline. Beside her stands a tall, slim, brown-skinned man looking back at her with a shy smile. He looks to be about her age, with thick black hair spiked out at the front and short around the sides and back. Like most other guys at Apothecary, he wears black jeans and a black t-shirt. More importantly, he's cute. Especially his smile. That smile is frickin' adorable.
The next song isn't quite as raucous, so she doesn't have to yell. "Thanks," Genny tells him. Based only on his smile, she makes an impulse decision to not add, "but no thanks."
"You're quite welcome."
She leans closer. "I don't mean to be nosy, but are you French?"
He nods. "I was born in France, but I've lived ‘ere, in Toronto that is, for many years." He pauses, then sticks out a hand. "I'm JP. It's short for Jean-Paul, but everyone calls me JP."
Genny looks down at his outstretched fingers with amusement, but takes his hand and shakes. "Hi JP. I'm Genny. My family is from France, too, but I was born here."
JP's brows draw together for a second, but then his expression returns to shy and cute. Before he can say more, Stefan sets three tall glasses on the bar in front of them. "Three Zombies. Fourteen bucks." Pulling his wallet from his jeans, JP hands him a twenty.
Genny grabs two of the drinks and turns back to JP. "Thanks again. My friends have a table over there." She indicates the back of the club with her chin. "Come say hi later."
"Will do," he agrees. He's looking at her curiously again. Does she have food stuck in her teeth? She makes a mental note to pop into the washroom to check.
Genny makes her way to the booth in the back corner to find Dawn and a couple of their friends. As she sets down the glasses and slides in, they all shout, "Happy Birthday!"
"Tell me you didn't have to buy your own drinks tonight?" Jonny says. Genny and Dawn had become fast friends with him and his buddy Flav about a year ago, when they'd first started coming to Apothecary.
"I didn't. Some cute guy beside me at the bar paid. Gotta love free drinks."
"Oh yeah? How cute?" he asks with a mischievous grin.
"Yeah, how cute was he?" Dawn echoes, leaning in.
"Very cute. I told him to come by and say hi later."
"Excellent." Dawn takes a sip of her drink. "Whoa. This is strong!"
"Stefan made them for me for my birthday, so he might've put a little extra in." Genny sucks on her own straw. Yep, lots of booze in that. She'll have to go easy on Zombies tonight. Happily buzzed is her goal, not so wasted she has to be babysat by her friends and poured into a cab later. She turns to Dawn. "Do I have something in my teeth?" She bares them like a snarl.
Dawn, understanding the serious embarrassment of walking around with food stuck in one's teeth, scrutinizes Genny's mouth. "Nope. Why?"
Genny shrugs. "No reason."
The opening beats of a Nine Inch Nails song they all like starts and they all perk up. After another sip from her straw, Genny grabs Dawn's hand and leads her to the dancefloor. Genny has exactly two celebrity crushes and Trent Reznor is one of them. She and Dawn have tickets to see Nine Inch Nails next month and she's already stoked about it.
As they dance, Genny notices Dawn eyeing the dancers in the two elevated cages along the side wall. She knows her friend is just waiting for a cage to vacate so she can climb in. Dawn doesn't care if others watch her dance; she just loves letting the music carry her away. Genny has no idea where her friend goes when she cage-dances, but she suspects it's almost trance-like, sort of like a form of meditation.
The song ends and one of the dancers climbs down from their cage. "See you later," Dawn tells Genny, hurrying over to climb in as a new song starts up. Genny stays where she is on the dancefloor. From the corner of her eye, she notices someone approach her. It's JP.
He flashes her a nervous grin. "Would it be presumptuous of me to dance with you? I mean, by you. Dance beside you. Do you mind?"
She doesn't mind at all. "Dance away."
JP starts dancing and Genny has to bite her lip to keep from laughing. He's…not good. His feet move erratically, not even close to keeping the beat. His long arms flail around his body like he has no control over them. He looks happy enough, but Genny has to avert her eyes. She doesn't want to hurt his feelings if he notices her laughing and thinks it's at him. So she dances beside him and focuses her gaze on the floor near her shoes.
When the song ends, Genny decides to put JP out of his oblivious misery. "Wanna come sit with us?" she asks. He follows her back to their booth, where she motions him into Dawn's vacated spot and slides in beside him. After introducing him to Jonny and Flav, Jonny drops her a wink before getting up and vanishing into the crowd. She's pretty sure it means he agrees with her assessment of JP's cuteness.
"So what do you do?" JP asks her. "Are you in school?"
Genny had intended to go to university, but after high school, she'd gotten a temporary job at an insurance office that turned into a permanent position, and she's worked there ever since. She isn't ashamed that she hasn't gone to university, but she isn't exactly proud of it either. "I work downtown," she replies, grabbing her glass and taking a long drink. It's almost time for a refill.
JP doesn't let it go so easily. "What do you do?"
"I'm a secretary. Or admin assistant, as they call us now. It's the opposite of exciting. How ‘bout you?"
"I guess you'd say I'm a scholar. Of sorts. Always studying, that's me. You should see all my books. My maman always says I need to be careful with candles or my apartment will go up in flames one day. That's not all I do. I'm also a…I guess you would say a record keeper." He looks like he's about to add more, but makes himself stop. Maybe he thinks he's talking too much. Genny thinks it's kind of adorable.
"What do you study?"
Again his face takes on that odd look and again it vanishes and makes her wonder if she imagined it. "History," he states firmly.
Genny smiles. "I love history! Especially archaeology. What kind of history do you study? French history?"
"Mostly, yes. And Canadian, too, a bit."
Before Genny can reply, Jonny returns and sets another Zombie in front of her. "Happy Birthday, Gen."
Genny gets to her feet and hugs him. "Thanks. You're the awesomest."
"Very true," he laughs. Before she can draw back, he leans close and whispers, "Too bad he's straight. He's a cutie-pie."
Snorting, Genny replies, "How can you be so sure?"
"Because he is super clearly into you, hon. He came here with a couple friends and he's been ignoring them pretty much since you walked in."
She's thankful the loud music masks their conversation. "If you say so." She hopes Jonny's right.
Dawn returns to the table and sits where Genny had been, beads of sweat making her pushed-up cleavage glow. She glances at JP with confusion, then turns back to Genny. "Sorry. Did I take your seat?"
"It's fine. This is JP. JP, meet my friend Dawn."
Once they say hello, Dawn stands back up and beckons to Genny to resume her spot. Instead, JP slides out. "I feel like dancing again. Anyone want to join?" he asks the group, but his eyes stay on Genny.
Yep, he's definitely interested. That's probably why he's been acting sort of awkward. "Why not?" Genny says, grabbing her new glass and taking a drink before following him back onto the now-crowded dancefloor.
One of her favorite Sisters of Mercy songs is playing as they find a spot near the DJ booth. As before, she tries to keep her gaze averted from JP as he dances. Although one bonus to his flailing is that other dancers move away and give them space.
Halfway through the song, Genny suddenly feels all the hair on her forearms rise. Then the back of her neck begins to tingle. Though not painful, it feels sort of like a low-grade current is running over her skin. She stops dancing and looks around, trying to spot the cause, but she can't see anything that might explain it.
JP bends his head to her and asks, "What's wrong?"
Genny scans the room again. "Nothing, I guess. I just felt weird for a moment. It's fine." The strange sensation is still there, but since JP doesn't seem to be feeling it, too, she doesn't want to alarm him. It lasts through the end of the song and all through the next. With still no obvious source, Genny decides it must be a side effect from the Zombies. Odd, but tolerable.
JP excuses himself to go to the washroom. Genny wonders if he also wants to find his friends and explain where he's been. She goes back to the booth and slips in beside Dawn.
Dawn's cheeks are flushed from dancing and drinking. It makes her look extra pretty, and with her nearly black hair and pale complexion, she's always pretty. All the guys in their friend group think so, but Dawn has never dated any of them. Once time last year when they'd been on the bus late at night coming home from the club, she'd drunkenly admitted to Genny that she'd wondered if she might be into girls. Genny had been a bit surprised at first, but had assured her it made no difference to her. Dawn is her best friend. All Genny wants is for her to be happy.
"So? Sparks?" she asks Genny.
Genny smiles. She feels like she's thrumming with electricity. "Oh yeah. Definite sparking."
"You gonna give him your number?"
Turning to face her friend directly, Genny says, "You think he's gonna ask?"
Dawn laughs. "Definitely. And he's heading this way right now."
Genny looks up to see JP pushing through the crowd toward them. His expression is no longer cheerful. In fact, he looks kind of anxious. "Genny?" He crouches so his face is level with hers. "Look, I know you just met me, and you ‘ave no reason to trust me yet, but I really, really think we should leave. Right now. There's…uh, some trouble about to start. I already told my friends to take off, and we need to do the same."
Her brows draw in tight. Leave? The night is still young. She's only had two drinks. And, more importantly, it's her birthday. But JP looks dead serious. He wants her to leave with him. It's tempting, but she isn't going anywhere without Dawn. She turns back to her friend.
"JP says we should go."
Dawn nods. "I heard." Now she looks worried, too.
"You want to? I mean…"
Leaning across the table to Jonny, Dawn says, "JP says some trouble's about to go down. You guys wanna stay or go?
Jonny shrugs. "I've seen bar fights before. And the back door is ten feet from here. We'll stay."
Dawn turns back to Genny and JP. She assesses JP for a moment. "Fine. Let's go, then."
JP looks relieved. "This way."
The girls follow him out the back door that leads to a hallway and stairs down to the alley. Considering how well he seems to know his way around Apothecary, Genny's surprised she's never seen him here before. From the back alley, they come out onto a tree-lined side street. They walk it parallel to Queen Street for a few blocks before returning to Queen and jumping on an east-bound bus. As they sit down, Genny realizes the strange tingle she'd felt is gone. When had it vanished? She'd clearly failed to notice during their rush to leave the bar. Does that mean it had been connected to something at Apothecary? Will she feel it again next time she goes?
Dawn and Genny are on double seat together and JP sits on the next seat down, his long legs stretched out across the aisle. Other than the three of them, the bus only has two other passengers, an older Hispanic couple who are probably also on their way home.
"Which way are you going?" Genny asks JP.
"As in North York?"
"So are we." Genny doesn't ask specifically where he lives. She doesn't want to seem too nosy.
They transfer to the subway at Yonge, taking the same route Genny takes every weekday after work. She actually finds the lurching and rumbling of the train soothing, especially at this time of night when it isn't crowded shoulder to shoulder with commuters.
When the girls get off at Sheppard station to grab another bus the rest of the way, JP comes with them. Dawn looks up at him curiously. "You go this way, too?"
"Sort of. I live only a few streets from ‘ere. I'm not trying to be creepy, I swear," he tells them with a grin. "I just want to make sure you both get ‘ome safely."
"That's just what a creepy stalker dude would probably say," Genny replies, deadpan. JP looks chagrined and she laughs. "Just kidding. C'mon. Here's the bus now."
Before they disembark at their stop, true to Dawn's prediction, JP asks Genny if he can call her sometime. None of them have pens, but he swears he'll memorize her number. Shaking her head in amusement, she tells it to him and they all say goodnight.
Dawn is staying at Genny's tonight, so they start off toward her street. "Too bad the night ended early," she says. "But it was fun while it lasted."
"Totally. I had a great birthday. And, to be honest, I didn't mind leaving."
Chuckling, Dawn replies, "I bet not."
Genny feels her cheeks heat up. "Think he'll call?"
"If he remembers your number, then definitely. If not, I predict he'll show up at the club next weekend."
At the mention of Apothecary, Genny recalls the strange sensation she'd felt earlier. And, maybe coincidently, just for a second she swears she feels it again. It's like fingertips brushing the nape of her neck. But then it's gone.
I must be losing it, she thinks.
Thirty minutes later, Dawn already snoring softly beside her, Genny once again gets that strange tingle. This time it lasts about twenty seconds. Just long enough for her to think, I am definitely losing it.
But she is far too tired to dwell on it any further tonight.
Without a sound, she moves through the dark forest. Who would've guessed she could ever walk so quietly in a place like this? The only light is the soft glimmer of moonlight between branches above.
The woods are remarkably silent, too. Why doesn't she hear other signs of life? Mice? Raccoons? Owls? Where are all the nocturnal creatures?
As if answering her question, a twig snaps somewhere up ahead. She quickens her pace, realizing she's not just walking, she's stalking. Her fingers tighten on something in her hand. A weapon. She's holding a weapon and she wants to kill…something.
Her heart rate is calm, her breath controlled. She's not scared. She's confident and sure. She has a job to do, and it's to kill whatever snapped that twig.
She approaches a clearing in the trees. It's brighter here; the light can reach the ground. A man stands half in the shadows on the other side. He doesn't see her. She hides behind a thick trunk for a moment, calculating each risk.
The time is now.
Leaping into the open, she grabs the man's arm and spins him around. Moonlight illuminates his face and she sees he's not a man at all. He is a monster.
The light hits his glistening white teeth, now bared and threatening. They are long and sharp. He reminds her of an angry dog about to attack. Those teeth are not human, and neither is this creature. He will kill her if he gets the chance.
She smiles at the thought. Because he will not get the chance. He thinks himself an apex predator, but he is wrong. She is the predator tonight.
He lunges at her but she dodges easily. With a frustrated snarl, he tries again. She seems to dance with him, letting him get close, then darting away. She is teasing him, making him angry. Making him hungry.
He reaches for her shoulders. This time she lets him grab her, and as he does he laughs. His laugh is not human either. It's vicious and otherworldly and should send shivers up her spine.
But it doesn't.
In one quick movement, she stabs forward with the object in her hand into the center of his chest and upward, up under his ribcage.
Is it a dagger?
Whatever it is, the strike works. He groans and falls to the ground. She kneels over him, driving it deeper, making sure to mangle his heart. If he has a heart. He must. Because hot blood rushes over her hand and coats her wrist.
She examines his face in the pale moonlight. His eyes are empty, his skin ashen. He is dead.
And she smiles again as she wipes her blood-soaked hand on his shirt and cleans off the weapon on his pants.
Her sense of satisfaction is fleeting as she gets up to continue the hunt.
One more down. Too many more to go.
Genny wakes with a gasp, clutching the sheets with sweaty hands. Dawn is still asleep beside her. Looking at the clock, she sees it's 4:18. A strip of moonlight pierces through the gap between her curtains and she shudders.
What the hell was that all about? she thinks with a sigh as she settles back into her pillow. No more Zombies for me.