Don’t ask for Marcus, don’t talk about him. If you hear his name, run the other way. Stay the fuck away from Marcus.

Swallowing thickly, I remember the harsh look of fear that Carter never allowed to cloud his expression and his tone that chilled my spine.

The second I lifted up my head about halfway down that alley, staring at where I’d heard a soft cough in the darkness, in that moment, I knew it was him.

I thought I knew fear before that night. But no monster I’d conjured under the bed ever made my body react like it did when I saw his dark eyes focused on me. His breath fogged in front of him and that was all I could see as my grip involuntarily tightened on the paper bag. It was late, dark and cold. From the icy chill on my skin, down to my blood and even deeper to the core of what makes a person who they are, suddenly it was freezing.

So I stood motionless, paralyzed in place and unable to run even though every instinct inside of me was screaming for me to do so.

I remember how gracefully he jumped down from his perch atop a stack of crates, still hidden in the darkness. The dull thump of his shoes hitting the asphalt made my heart lurch inside of my chest.

“What do you want?” I braved the words without conscious consent. As bitterly cold as I’d been seconds ago, sweat began to bead on my skin. Sweat that burned hotter than I’d ever felt, knowing I dared to speak to a man who would surely kill me before answering my question.

A flash of bright white emerged in the blackness as he bared a sick grin. I could feel my eyes squint as I searched desperately for his face. I wanted to at least see him, see the man who’d kill me. I’d heard the worst thing you could see before you die was the face of the person who ends your life. But growing up here, I knew it wasn’t true. The worst thing you could see were the people all around you who could help, but instead chose to do nothing and continue walking on by.

The streets were quiet behind me, and somewhere deep inside, I was grateful for that. At least if I begged for help, no one would be there to deny me a chance to be saved. It would end and there would be no hope. Having no hope somehow made it better.

“Your brother has an interesting choice of friends.”

Again my heart spasmed, pumping hard and violently.

My brother.

I was going to lose my mother; I knew I would soon. She was holding on as hard as she could, but she’d told me to be strong when the time came and that was a damn hard pill to swallow. I’d already lost what semblance of a father I had.

My brothers…. they were all I had left. I suppose life is meant to be suffered through loss after loss. That would explain why the Grim Reaper showed up, whispering about my brother.

I don’t know how I managed to answer him, the man who stayed in the shadows, but I questioned, “Which brother?”

He laughed. It echoed in the narrow alley, a dark and gruff chuckle.

For years that followed, every time I heard footsteps behind me or thought I saw a figure in the night, I heard that laugh in the depths of my mind. Taunting me.

I heard it again when my mother died, loud and clear as if he was there in that empty kitchen. It was present at her grave, when I saw my closest brother dead in the street, when my father was murdered and I went to identify his body—even when I first killed a man out of vengeance when I was nineteen years old.

That demeaning laugh would haunt me because I knew he was watching. He was watching me die slowly in this wretched world and yet, he did nothing.

“Carter,” he finally answered me. “He’s making friends he shouldn’t.”

“How would you know?” I asked without hesitating, even though inside I felt like a twisted rag, devoid of air and feeling.

“I know everything, Jase Cross,” he told me, moving closer to me even as I stepped back. The step was quick, too quick and the one free hand I had crashed behind me against the rough brick wall from the liquor shop. It left a small and inconsequential gash just below my middle knuckle. Eventually the gash became a scar, forming a physical memory of Marcus’s warning that night. His laugh stayed in my mind after that night, and like my scar, served as a permanent reminder of him over the years.

He neared the dim strip of light from the full moon overhead, the bit that leaked into the alley, but still he didn’t show himself.

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