Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Atheneum Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Christopher Krovatin is the author of Heavy Metal And You and Venomous. He is also a contributing writer to Revolver magazine and a lifelong devotee of the zombie genre. He currently lives in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
This city is absolutely gray today. Gray all over. The sky is a perfect shade of miserable gray that manages to emanate a coat of gray over all else the buildings, the stores, everything. Somewhere in the distance, I see an American flag waving on top of an apartment building, a glaring peppermint-red-and-white in the overwhelming gray. I think of the Towers. I think how if they were burn- ing now, everything might not seem so gray, and then I hit myself for that thought, because it's incredibly uncool of me to think something like that. Venom talking.
My trench coat flaps a little bit in the breeze, and I smile. It's nice. It makes me feel like Dracula or Moriarty or something. The cigarette in my hand helps, too just that much more dramatic and badass. It's a Marlboro, though. I don't think either Dracula or Moriarty smoked Marlboros. So I dunno, maybe I'm looking like a vampire James Dean.
Heh. Vampire James Dean. That's good. That could be a band name.
I wipe ash and a little roof grit off my glasses with the back of my hand and take another drag from my smoke. The breeze blows a little harder; my coat flaps a little more. I feel the venom bubbling somewhere between all my organs, deep in the core of me that's mental and emotional all at once. It rises up just a tiny bit, swimming around behind my eyes before settling back down. It's a whale breaking the surface, coming up for air to remind me how huge things can get when they live somewhere so deep. Gray days always make the venom churn, but in a surprisingly good way. On gray days the venom makes me feel immortal.
Mom grunts as she comes up the fire escape ladder, and then pads over. "When are you going to quit? You told me you'd quit." She sounds tired.
"I thought we were both going to quit."
"Don't get smart. Nobody likes a smartass. Give me one." She takes the smoke and provides her own light. We both stare out over the city in all its depressing glory, her beginning a cigarette and me finishing one.
"What a miserable day," she mutters.
"I kind of like days like this. Dark, but no rain."
"Yeah, you would, kid."
We keep staring until I have an infinitesimal line of white between the ember and the filter. I flick my cigarette off the edge of the roof in a perfect, high arc with a slow, relaxed spin. As it disappears, I wonder what would happen if it landed in a baby carriage, and then I have to mentally slap myself for thinking it. It's the venom again, the worst kind of impulse. Uncool.
Mom glances at me out of the corner of her eye. "How you feeling?"
"I'm doing okay. Just...thinking about things. You know?"
Mom rubs my shoulder in that way that rocks my entire body back and forth. It signals the end of our checkup I'm keeping myself sane, she's keeping herself informed, all is right in the world, let's have a Fresca. I've been okay with the venom lately; my mom understands that that's not necessarily a good thing. The venom doesn't really go away but sits and broods, festers, considers its options. Of course she worries.
"You want a quesadilla?"
"Yeah. Can I have some soup, too?"
"Kidlet, you can have whatever you want. C'mon."
Following Mom downstairs, I try to ignore the sinking feeling in my gut, the nagging sensation of doom at every turn.
After quesadillas, my mom lights another cigarette and asks me what my plans are for the rest of the day. "Why?" I ask, mid-soup-slurp.
She shrugs. "It's a Saturday. I figured you'd be going out or something."
"Well, not until tonight, no," I say, taking my dishes to the sink.
"Oh. Who're you going out with tonight?"
"Randall. He wants his outside-of-school friends to meet me."
"That should be fun."
My mom smiles and says nothing. I can almost hear her thoughts from where I'm sitting. Oh my GOD, you have a SOCIAL LIFE! Other kids your age! GIRLS, maybe! "Well, as long as you're not busy today, will you take Lon out to get some books? He has a project for school he needs to research."
"Chapter and Verse down the street, actually. He's been scouting out books for a week. Just wants to go pick them up."
"He already knows what books he's getting?"
She nods, smiling even wider. "Just needs to pick them up."
I shake my head in disbelief. "Smart kid," I mutter, and skulk into my room to get my coat.
Lon's standing by the bookstore's door, bouncing around like he desperately needs to pee. "Come on, Locke," he whines. "What if someone already got them?"
"Calm down. Nobody took every book you picked out." I flick my cigarette end into the gutter. "Now, if you'd put them on hold like Mom told you to, they'd be sitting safely behind the counter."
Lon makes a face. "I thought you and Mom were quitting."
Poor kid. We'd both promised him that we'd quit sometime around July. It had started pretty well, too: Mom and I happily going around the house, crushing our hidden packs, patches latched firmly onto our biceps. Our resolve was short-lived, though. Mom had to start working overtime here and there, the stress got to her, and she started up again, and being a recovering smoker in a house with an unrecovering recovering smoker is somewhere between agonizing and impossible. But this here was the first Lon had said about any of it, at least to me.
We make our way up to the biology section, and Lon starts pulling out books about sea turtles left and right. My little brother, the genius. The scholar. He gets things done while I daydream and fade into my own fucked-up world. He knows what needs to be done and how to do it, so he does it. Always in control. Unlike me. Unlike the venom.
He glances up at me. "Hey, Locke, do we have enough money? I don't want to be wasting any of your money on "
I pat him on the back. "Don't worry, Leonardo. Mom gave me her credit card for these." Physical contact: opiate of the younger sibling.
Lon turns pinkish. "Don't call me that. What if someone was listening?"
Who would be listening in on Lon? He's ten years old (although if you ask him, he's almost eleven), and while he knows quite a few more people than I do, I doubt one of his best friends is hanging out at the bookstore, trying to hear his full name. Not that I'm an expert or anything. Having friends is not my strongest suit.
We get to the counter and load up the books. The checkout lady, a wrinkled old woman who looks like the procreative result of an elephant and a corpse, looks at the books, then at the credit card, and then back at us. "Photo ID, please." I pull Mom's passport out of my bag as well as mine. It's a standard family rule: When you've borrowed the credit card, bring Mom's passport and your own, to show that you're family of the cardholder. Except that doesn't work this time, because the lady glances at the passports and scoffs. "I'm sorry, but I can't accept these pieces of identification."
The checkout lady looks up at me as if I'm a salty pain in her ass and sighs. "Look, sir, just because you have this woman's ID doesn't mean anything. You could've stolen it."
A flash of cold goes through me, red-hot and persistent. "But that's my passport there. Locke Vinetti and Charlotte Vinetti. Same last name. I'm her son." But then it hits me: Mom changed her name back to her own when she and Dad split. This could be a problem.
"Names look different to me," she says, pushing the books back at me with disgust.
I despise this kind of shit. This woman spends her whole day cooped up in a bookstore, laser-scanning barcode after barcode, and the minute she sees something that, through countless idiot technicalities, does not meet company standards, she uses it to screw someone over, just to add a little excitement to her life. And if you call her on it, she can just smile and apologize and say it's her job, and she can do it too, because we're kids and she's an adult, right? "You have to be kidding me." I start sweating, profusely. This is not a good sign. The entire room seems to push in on me. "I mean, our addresses are the same. Look at us. She and I even look alike."
"Young man," she drawls, "I cannot sell you these books. I'm inclined to believe this credit card and ID were stolen or are fake." She gives me one of those tight-lipped smiles and looks away.
Because we'd do that, right? Because this kid here, this quiet little kid clutching a handful of books on fucking sea turtles, he's the kind of kid to tug on his older brother's shirt one day and ask if they could steal or forge both a credit card and a U.S. passport so they could go on a Zoobooks-themed shopping spree at the local bookstore. That's exactly what he'd do. Makes perfect sense. Jesus tap-dancing Christ.
I point to Lon, gritting my teeth. "These books are for him. For a school project. Please."
She sighs again, as if to say, I got out of bed for this? and waves her hand to the side. "Next customer, please."
My eyes shoot to Lon, then back to the hag. How dare she? How can she do this to a fucking kid? She won't let a ten-year-old kid carrying two passports and a credit card that 99.9 percent prove that he is, in fact, the son of the cardholder. Because of some procedural bullshit. She's doing this to ME. TO ME.
No. She's doing this to my little brother.
I break. I feel something in the back of my head flex. It's slightly painful, like I've pulled a muscle, but the next thing I know, my veins are alive with fire. Every muscle's taut, and my eyes glaze over with bright crimson. My blood turns black. And it feels fucking fantastic.
Venom is go.
Both of my fists come slamming forcefully down on the counter. "LOOK, LADY," I bellow, "JUST BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE A PORTRAIT OF THIS WOMAN TATTOOED ON MY DICK DOES NOT MEAN SHE'S NOT MY FUCKING MOTHER!"
The wrinkled lady looks at me like I've just punched her in the uterus. A hush sweeps through the room, and all eyes, ears, and furrowed brows are on me. It doesn't faze me, though; I'm too far into it. There's no going back on this now.
A large clerk, Asian, concerned, walks over to me and calmly asks, "What seems to be the problem, sir?"
"Me? My problem," I spit, "is that I have produced valid, government-issued ID that proves that I am allowed to purchase items on this credit card, which I have done at this very store in the past." I begin to get slightly choked up, the first wave of venom wearing off. "Now, apparently, this senile old bag here believes that I've stolen this credit card and passport. However, if you'd like to call this phone number, which the credit card company will verify, you can speak to this woman who will assure you that I am her son. I don't think it's necessary to do that, but hell, this woman here, whose goal it is to make my life an obstacle course, seems to think it's completely warranted. That is my goddamn problem."
The clerk puts up his hands in defense and swipes the card. I sign the receipt under Mom's name and storm out, Lon's books in hand, the glare of the old woman burning a hole in the back of my coat.
As we walk away from the store, the venom crawls back into hiding, leaving me reeling. I begin to get the shakes. A lump catches in my throat. I start panting. I reach for a cigarette and can hardly fish one out of the pack; the first one twitches out of my fingers, and I have to pick it up and jam it into my mouth. Maybe...okay, maybe, for the sake of argument, I did just overreact in there a little bit. It's no big deal, right? I'll probably never see that woman again, and they were kind of asking for it, and
and then I see Lon. He's walking next to me with his head down, his face as red as a beet. His brown hair is matted with sweat, and he has his hands jammed firmly in his coat pockets.
"Lon? Are you okay?"
He won't even look at me. "Jeez, Locke. Why'd you have to go and do that?"
I try to say something and can't. Jesus, what the fuck did I do that for?
Why is the venom doing this? What more can it want?
The city called to me with a funeral dirge.
As I stared over the edge of the skyscraper, some seventy stories above the frenzied New Yorkers squirming like insects below me, I heard the city call me out to play, in the form of an orchestra of sorrow and anger, a symphony of enraged madness. Every twisted little deed, every back-alley deal and big-budget brutality of this fine city, added its voice to the choir of the damned and the desperate. The city's song was the closest thing it had to a soul, tortured and scarred though it was; it was the sound of energy and emotion pulsing through the very core of this place, the invisible heart of darkness that beat its killing rhythm through the sewer, skyline, sidewalk. I heard it in the back of my head, like a buzzing hornet whirling angrily in a jar, begging its captors to let it out so they can see what it's made of. It was miserable, yes the core of this city was rotten, to say the least but also inviting, impressive. I focused on it, let its words and melody billow in my brain until the tone became deafening. It fed me power unthinkable and thoughts unspeakable.
All the song needed was a vessel, and that was my use. It was the paint, and I, the canvas.
There was the prickle of apprehension as the doors to my mind and soul flew wide open, the transformation setting off my basic reptilian defense system; then the becoming began.
From my eyes, my mouth, the tips of my fingers the song of the city wrapped its inky cloak around my body. Pure negative energy, the physical form of hatred and pain, twisted around my body and clothes, coating me in a suit of shadows. I became a corporeal conduit of every twisted deed done around me, a well of free-floating malevolence and misery. I could control the energy with my mind and body the way an electrode would control electricity. Soon my entire body was cloaked in pure ink black, leaving me a walking silhouette, an animate shadow. This power was my curse and my tool. With it, I could use the pain of others to right the many wrongs that plagued this place and the people who dwelled in it. The venom, my parasitic dark side, had given me one incredible power: that of channeling negative emotions into physical energy, creating darkness that was as real and powerful as light. I was a fallen guardian angel, the gargoyle upon a church of sin and despair, a cathode ray for desolation.
The glittering lights of Manhattan twinkled red, like bloody stars in the night sky. Now, dressed in the city's darkness, I could respond to its funeral song, soar out into the night on wings of rage, and enact vengeance on those who deserved it.
"I am Blacklight," I bellowed into the rank night air, "and the night is mine!"
I leaped from the edge with a laugh and soared down into the degenerate streets below me.
Text copyright © 2008 by Christopher Krovatin