Saturday Fiction: Become It (Suspense)

Ready for something a little tense? Maybe even a little spooky? Well too bad, here it is.

Become It

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Don’t let it touch you. That’s what the old ladies always told us. Don’t let it catch you, don’t let it touch you.

It didn’t matter how fast I ran, I could always hear the footsteps behind me. It was a thud and a splat, like a bag of wet garbage being dropped in succession. One after another, they came down again and again. In the pitch black of night, it was hard to keep my feet going one in front of the other. Staying upright was hard, keeping my eyes forward was harder.

The street was empty. In this part of town it was all half-built shopping malls and empty lots. Only the occasional car lit up the roadside patch of dead-grass in front of me. When the street lit up, my heart would fill with hope, only to be flattened each time as 3am drivers sped right by. No one was going to see me die.

They said it chose bad boys that became bad men. As a mother’s tale it was sound. You didn’t brush your teeth, you didn’t wipe your ass, it would come for you. We were supposed to fear it for life. It didn’t end with your trash chores, the absent father and the abuser could suffer as well. Except they never did, and then bad boys forget.

It was close now, I could smell it. It was an odor like rotting eggs drowned in settled mud. I had to fight back the urge to gag. All I could do is push harder.

The sound of another car approached. I made the decision, and split off into the road, almost falling to my face as I did. I ran to the middle of the street, and waved my arms as the bright lights of the car’s high beams centered on me.

I saw it, before I closed my eyes. It was a silhouette then, the car lights turning it into a creature of shadows. Then I saw nothing, and my body clenched as I waited for the car to run me over.

There was a loud honk, and the screeching of tires. Then the honking continued on into the distance, and I opened my eyes and turned to see the red tail lights of the car escaping into the night.

Did they not see it? Were they blind, or was it invisible. Maybe I was just mad.

Another footstep gave me no time to ask further questions. I ran across the street, passing into the lot of a public storage company. It was dark at this hour, with only one light hanging over the gate to the property.

I leaped it, my pants catching on the barbed top, before I yanked myself free and fell to the other side. I ran deep in, hoping to lose it in the process.

There were billions of bad men. Why would anyone think they were the one at risk? There was an answer though, not one I wanted to recognize. It wasn’t just bad boys who were hunted, it was our bad boys. I thought I was one of billions, but I was one in a dozen, the few boys to survive and continue to be around.

Of them, I was the worst. Melrose had a business, CJ was a pastor, Eddie was working two jobs to feed his twins. Then there was me.

I slowed down. My breath came in desperate pants, my lungs were burning, my legs ached. It was a dead end. Some idiot thought having a U shape in the garages was a brilliant idea, and now there was nowhere else to go.

Coughing, I shuffled to the deepest storage unit, and fought with the lock on it. I tried to ignore the whumps growing louder behind me, and the acrid smell that was filling my lungs with every breath. My eyes were watering, and I was covered in sweat.

“It isn’t fair,” I mumbled. There was no way to break in with nothing but my bare hands, “It isn’t fair.”

It was right behind me, I could feel a heat coming off of it. Did it want me to turn around and look at it? It made a gurgling noise, the sound of a man’s last breath.

It struck me across the back of my shoulders, the blow throwing me into the corner between two units, twisting me until I was facing out toward it. My legs buckled and I fell with my back against the wall.

The skin looked like green boils sliding down it in waves. It was wider and taller than any man, but still shaped like one. But unlike any man, the flesh was fluid, like an endless fountain of the bile and blood that it called a body, spilling in undulating waves. It kept coming, and the longer I looked, the more my stomach tried to crawl up my throat.

Both of its arms extended until they hit me in the stomach, and the bile-flesh flowed there, spilling over me. It was warm, strange, terrifying.

It wasn’t fair. Melrose was running his dad’s business. CJ grew up in the church, his uncle cared for him, taught him until he had a congregation of his own. Eddie’s mom remarried after his dad died. I was just the child of another bad man, couldn’t it see that? Didn’t it know I had nothing? I had to take everything to even get as far as I did.

The creature was shrinking as it poured itself over me. The weight built up around my legs and waist. It was a crushing and smothering sensation, the heat and mass. It was becoming hard to breath. No matter how much I fought against it, the force of the flow would just knock me back, pin me to the wall.

There was no escaping it, that was what they said. Don’t let it touch you, don’t let it catch you. If it gets you, you become it.

“I’m sorry!” I shouted into the night. Tears were burning my eyes, “I didn’t mean to hurt her, I’m so sorry, don’t do this!”

I kept shouting it even as the terrible flesh built up around my neck, and I knew it would suffocate me. I was yelling, but I was thinking more. They were excuses, sure, but I thought of them as additions.

I didn’t mean to hurt her, but she swung at me first. I’m so sorry, but this ain’t my fault. Don’t do this, I don’t deserve it.

When it first spilled down my throat, I wanted to retch. Not even that had enough force to counter the flow and the force. It kept coming, it filled me, the sweltering heat over my whole body.

There was something inside its shrinking form. I blinked away my tears. It was a man, pale brown skin locked inside the fleeing bubbling mass. Tears were streaming down his face as he took in panicked breaths, the mass no longer choking him. His familiar eyes were locked on me as he cried, they were just like mine. They were my father’s eyes.

The old ladies always told us, don’t let it touch you. Don’t let it catch you, or you will become it. It will imprison you, and you will become it.

Saturday Fiction: Cyberghetto Part 1

I shared a previous snippet on here with what I would call ‘Urban Sci-fi’, and really I haven’t continued too much further with it. Experimenting with the concept is fun, but so far nothing has felt golden. What I wrote today is a scene set in the same universe as my NaNoWriMo stories, a ‘socialist paradise’ cyberpunk world where the corporations were were defeated after years of harsh classic cyberpunk like darkness.

Life doesn’t get too much better when the world rewrites itself after years of cyberpunk.

Either way, here is a scene from ‘Cyberghetto’.

Cyberghetto

The door swung open, letting in a flood of noise from the street. It was the sound of people cursing, jeering, laughing. That meant Tee was home, and he brought friends.

“Hey RJ,” Tee said as he walked in and collapsed into the only other seat in the small ‘Famdorm’ family apartment, “You looking to get pretty?”

Tee looked like his shirt was wound on too tight, and his pants belonged to a different species entirely. It was all a little colorful, but it was the trend. The colors were defiant, against the endless gray into blue built into so many government built complexes like where RJ lived. He had two others with him, Mark, and Dabble, both nicknames, both kids from the Loop.

“I’m good,” RJ said as he typed away at his console.

“Whatever soft,” Dabble said as he leaned against the frame of the door, “We can barely get you out on the loop anymore.”

RJ looked over. The three of them surrounded a low table stacked with boxes from fast food and deliveries, with a small space left for RJ’s mother’s flower vase filled with little white marbles. Tee was smiling at him, showing off the left half of his teeth that had been replaced with plastic-like replacements that gave off fluorescent color in the right light.

“He got that chem test soon,” Tee said, “Almost forgot.”

RJ knew he didn’t forget. It was just how Tee was. RJ could be in the middle of winning them the Sea-Van lottery, and Tee would forget to remind him to turn in the slip. He thrived on conflict, those little moments where it seemed like there was nothing in the world but your own troubles.

“He trying to get that dawn to dusk cred, huh?” Dabble added with a laugh.

RJ turned back to his console, “Something like that.”

“Man, you gonna move your mail?” Tee said as he cleared space by shoving a ration box to the floor.

There was no mail, RJ hadn’t received a package in days, so he ignored Tee’s pointless complaining.

“Close the door,” Tee said, “Sit down Mark, you make me nervous.”

“Man but it’s hot in here,” Dabble complained as he shut the door and joined the others at the table.

Mark was the quiet one. He was also a bit of a punk. That’s where the name came from. You told him what to do, and he turn down his eyes and comply. You could get him to walk into a room of blackcaps in full riot gear if barked hard enough. It was no wonder he got mixed up with the wrong crowd.

Tee pulled out a baggie of crudely proportioned uncut tablets of glistening red. He pulled the stick out on the table, and got a small knife to divide it up between them. Mark smiled and rubbed his hands together, Dabble just watched Tee’s hands work.

“You still fuck with Wendy?” Dabble asked.

He was talking to RJ, pretended not to notice. Not because he didn’t like Dabble, Dabble was fine. He just didn’t want to talk about Wendy. He had enough problems in life without cutting at festering sores and seeing what fresh stuff he could pull out of them.

“Hey,” Dabble got louder.

“Man shut up,” Tee snapped, “Is there anybody who don’t fuck with Wendy?”

That was Tee being a friend, for what it was worth.

RJ’s display popped up a picture from a shooting the night before. Well, it was pictures of the crime scene, with Sea-Van law surrounding the point of the murder.

Mark must have seen it from where he sat, “That that scene near the underground?”

RJ read down, “Some local anti-drug chip, was heading to a vid filming, got seared by a nobody.”

“That explains all the black and blue,” Dabble said.

“No suspect, no weapon,” RJ added, scrolling down. Dabble was right, this explained all the cops. An NAB official gets shot in their neighborhood, they had something to prove. They wanted to pin someone down. Boys on the street were going to suffer for it, he had seen it so many times before. They were going to be harassed, searched, a few would probably end up in the hospital.

He was going to have to stay off the streets, he needed his record to stay clean for the job interview. Corporate didn’t like recent arrests, especially if it was related to one of their own. Even finding a chance at a job was hard enough, especially one that would pay good enough to get him out of the dorms. Losing it all to a wave of random arrests would be one more burn in his crisp black history.

There was a clatter as Tee’s knife clattered on the table.

“Damnit, just take your stupid box man,” Tee grumbled.

RJ turned and saw a plain white box sitting on the table with the rest of the trash there. It didn’t have any real distinguishing marks, but looked used. It looked like Tee accidentally ran his arm into it while cutting. It wasn’t RJ’s.

Back on his console, RJ had a message. It was anonymous, which meant it was probably junk. He still hit it, and a username that was just a series of numbers popped up.

‘You live in 534C at Everest Dorm?’

RJ replied, ‘Who dis?’

‘Then you’re home. Make this pretty for me. Hope you like the gift.’

Gift? The box.

Dabble grabbed a slice, and set it on his tongue before sucking on it. His face went passive, and he leaned back against the leg of Tee’s chair.

RJ got up and walked over, “What is this?”

“I dunno man, you’re always leaving shit around.”

RJ picked it up, and turned the box over in his hands. It was almost as long as his arm, but not nearly as deep. It opened with a clasp that was tied with a zip tie. Whatever it was, he was sure it wasn’t his.

He leaned down and grabbed Tee’s knife.

“What the hell, man,” Tee complained as he looked up.

RJ cut the tie, unwrapped the clasp, and then opened the box. His eyes locked on the contents.

“What is it?” Tee said.

Dabble was far gone, but at least Mark looked interested as well.

It was an SSW 9mm ‘Predator’ pistol. The gun had a long black barrel, the nu-safety technology that had become common. Still, the weapon looked worn. There was a magazine emptied, with slots where ammunition would sit beneath the magazine’s space. Only four bullets were in the case.

“Ray?” Tee asked, a note of real concern in his voice.

Then there was a scream outside, and all heads turned. There was a muffled popping noise, and a distant whine.

Tee shot to the door, opening the viewport and peeking out. His back went stiff, and RJ could see that he was ready to run already.

“They’re searching the building,” Tee said, “Look like they’re going door to door, they got busses!”

A bus? They were going to take anyone that looked young and dark enough to have shot someone, and process them all. At least the ones they didn’t leave facedown in a puddle of their own blood.

Worse, he was holding a gun that wasn’t his, while a killer was on the run somewhere.

“We gotta clean this up,” Tee said as he looked around. He snatched up the remaining tabs of Sparkle, slapping Mark’s tab out of his hand, “Help me stupid, they’re coming in here.”

“It don’t matter,” RJ said as he put the box on the table, lid open.

“What the fuck you have that for?” Tee said, “Since when do you pack that?”

RJ was shivering, it made it hard to argue, or to look strong enough to have any say, “Ain’t mine. Somebody dropped that on us.”

Even Dabble stared at it. A little box of trouble dropped into their lives. The NAB didn’t take kindly to weapons at all, but a gun like this would get them locked up for a long time. Just having his prints on that box would be enough to get RJ sent away.

Tee shook his head, “So what? We just sit here and wait for them to ram a codex down our ass?”

what else could be done? Fight off a whole complex full of cops? Take on Blustar and fight their way across the country? They had to hide, but there was no hiding.

But he had to try something.

“Watch the door,” RJ said as he took the lid to the box and put it back on, tying the clasp, “All of you get ready to run. We need to go dark real quick.”

He went back to his console, his eyes flashing to that stranger in a chat window. There was a new message, a winking emote.

It was always something. Life could never get easier.

The End of The Month of Rhyme – I’m Done

Hey, I guess it is my anniversary on WordPress, look at that. What an interesting day to post the results of my attempt to rap for a month.

Well, just the ‘bars’ of said rap. Really, this is just from the last few days. Well, it is more an open poem or something. Okay, enough, here it is.

“I’m Done”

I never had a dream about being the baddest,
Every time I stuck my neck out I’d be wishing I hadn’t,
But i’ve done it enough time to start losing my balance,
Can only get cut so many times before they call me a sadist.

So I’m done, balled up my dreams and tossed them aside,
I’ve dealt with more uncertainty than I could possibly abide.
And While the thought of writing used to bring stars to my eyes,
The only that’s certain now is my career’s suicide.
So here’s the best of me, the last cut, it’s all that you’ll get,
The last time I’ll try to come off as articulate,

I started off trying to emulate greatness, blowing minds like the likes of asimov and Scott Card,
But hard scifi with no sci is like binding isaac, balls hard,
And I’m not a scientist so I could only spit what was on my mind,
Girl struggles and race troubles, from around that time,

So I moved on to capes, cause at least people would read that,
Art is hard when you don’t have any feedback.
I’d port’em into my world, full of angst and fighting back,
Team, and trends, and tones too much to even keep track,

Then I made the dumb choice and I went to school,
Thought a piece of paper would make everyone know I rule,
Instead they read my degree and they call me ‘fool’,
Until they hear my vocabulary, then they call me ‘tool’.

But you can’t quit scratchin’ when you’ve got the itch,
And my degree might leave me scratchin’ by, but I can handle i,
But even a great like Poe was left dead in a ditch,
and I bet if Woolf was broke, they would have called her bitch.

But I’m a grown man, I can admit defeat,
I can barely pay my bills, forget my student fees,
Sure I can pen some purple prose that people don’t need,
But what good’s that do me when you ignorant fools can’t read!
At least something thicker than goosebumps,
Use your two stumps to flick through, and develop that gray lump.

Okay I’m getting mean, and really it’s my fault,
I thought my skills were so tight that winning was my default,
But it turns out wanting to write just ain’t enough, your words get lost among the crowd, you’re a hack before you’re even found.
You need time and money that I don’t got if you even want a shot, so forget it it, I’m done now.

Tried being a writer for a decade, became a better rapper in a month.

Saturday Fiction: Opening from the pulpit

What, a saturday scene with a priest in it? Surely Marshall is responding to the historic announcement yesterday? Nope, I’m just messing with a draft that happens to have a priest main character. Though I might talk about Friday later this week, my views on it aren’t really necessary.

This is part of a sequel to a previous Nanowrimo. I don’t often do first person, mostly because I sort of throw words out in a mix of past and present tense, which comes out garbled. Either way, here we go. If any of the details of the religion itself throw you off, just remember it doesn’t matter.

Pulpit-TR606-lg

Chapter X

All of their eyes are locked on me. Some of them are powerful people, business owners, veterans, doctors, family heads. In their day to day life they are in charge, but in this moment, they all look to the pulpit and listen.

I adjust my vestment with a hand, and scan the crowd.

“I tell them, love isn’t a rose, not metaphorically or physically, with thorns and all. Though they never believe me, I tell them that if they want to feel the true warmth of Jua, they don’t need anything but the spirit he earned you, and defends for you.”

The lecture was about being close to god. I spent the two nights before preparing it after the Wilt family kid came to me and asked if god and his mates loved him or not. There, out in the grass behind the temple, I fumbled. I could only tell him what I’m sure his mother had told him before, ‘rest assured, you are loved.’

“We must recognize the signs that are already there,” I said tilting my voice up, “We feel love every day of our lives. Love is that sickening feeling in your gut when someone is attacked, or in pain. It rips at your insides, keeps you up, boils your blood. That’s how I know I love this community, that’s how I know I love god.”

They cheered as the sermon peaked, and I looked down to the front row among the clapping patrons. Hans was there, in a pressed suit with his well-trimmed hair, smiling up at me. I couldn’t help but grin back.

“We can look to the stories,” I continued, bringing my voice back down, “I can tell you the line; moon chapter 4 line 22, clash chapter 1 line 10. I can throw quotes at you all day but that won’t mean a thing unless you leave yourself open to seeing him, and loving him. Then you will know what he feels in return for everyone, and you will understand that you are loved.”

The crowd turned to chanting, and I could hear old Eliza swooning in the back rows.

It wasn’t just rhetoric, I could feel the fluttering in my stomach there in front of everyone. It felt like my body, chest outward, was radiating vital essence of the divine. I concluded, and they left row by row, stopping to hold hands, say passing words to each other, give a pat on the back.

“Jojo,” Hans came up to me while my back was turned to the hall to put away notes.

I Turned, and he smiled down, but it wasn’t the same smile as before. It was crafted, strained. It didn’t take long to see why.

“The governor,” He added, and Governor Wilt came forward with his hand extended.

He was a tall man, with peppered hair that he let grow just long enough that no one would call him bald. He kept his brown eyes locked on people, which made it difficult to avoid his face, and I knew that is exactly where he focused his power.

“Governor,” I said with a smile of my own, and a nod, “I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow.”

“Priestess,” He said with a level of mirth the statement didn’t need, “That’s exactly why I stopped in today. I’m glad I did, that sermon was exquisite. You really are a touch of the divine, I felt infused by every word.”

Compliments were the weapons of kings, both good and evil. There was no way to avoid them, so I let them wash over me, and took what good I could knowing the man in front of me.

“Do you want to go to my office?” I offered.

Wilt looked to Hans, for just a moment, as if to double check he truly existed. Hans didn’t notice, he had taken a step back, and was being talked to by Afia.

“No, that’s okay,” Wilt said with a playful shake of his shoulders, “I just wanted you to know that Wini’s blood will be visiting, old family by the name of Leopold.”

The Leopold family was a political powerhouse, larger even than Wilt’s. He wanted me to impress them, or impress upon them.

“Is there a particular lesson you want, Governor?” I said with a straight face, dragging my suitcase full of notes to my side.

The governor looked away for the second time of our whole conversation, his eyes going to the Seal of the Celestial Marriage, a beautiful tapestry laid across the front of the hall that illustrated the mates of god, and at their center the grand god Jua himself.

“Maybe, a focus on the rights of a family head?” He suggested, “It could even be a historical lesson.”

I put a finger to side of my lips, and I saw the governor twitch as I did. The motion was instinctive, but I regretted it anyway. Even if he was so open to manipulating me, it didn’t do to manipulate him in return. That wasn’t my place, and never would be.

“An interesting suggestion, governor. I will see what I can do.”

He held a hand out, I took it, and we bowed to each other. Then he immediately began a conversation with the first person he saw behind him.

“All ready to go, dear?” Hans said when the governor was far enough away. He looked tired, even though he wasn’t the one who just finished talking for a few hours.

“Let me hang this up,” I said yanking on my robe, “and grab my purse.”

I had a lot of planning to do. Important people would be in town, and I had a duty to fulfill. Not just to the community, and by that the governor as well, but to Jua himself.

Saturday Fiction: Sixth Ranger

Sorry folks, I was in Canada last Saturday, so I forgot to post this. Well here it is now, a sort of culmination to the previous werewolf stories. It includes everyone’s favorite extra NPC, Lt. Spatz.

Sixth Ranger

Woofskulls

There was a rustle in the bushes. It was more than just the wind, larger than some rabbit. People were moving, and people meant danger. They always do.

A little girl popped into the clearing, chasing a grasshopper, wearing a small backpack and colorful boots with a cartoon character on the side. She looked around, and her eyes filled with wonder at the animal she saw lying there in the little den.

“Mom,” She said, “Mommy look at the doggy.”

A woman came into the clearing, wearing hiking gear and a larger pack than the child. She was dismissive at first, reaching for her daughter’s hand to pull her aside. Then she saw the wolf, and her whole body went rigid. She pulled the girl close, and tried to be still.

“Ow,” The little girl complained.

The wolf stood, and looked at them. It didn’t move, just stood in the clearing.

“That is a bad dog,” The mother said, “See, he is dirty, and shaggy. Come on, let’s go.”

The mother pulled the daughter along, the little girl dragging her feet at every step.

“But mom,” She said, “I want to pet him.”

He laid back down. Who did that lady think she was, calling him shaggy? He looked at the sun, rising high in the air, and decided he needed to go. He rose once more, trotted through the underbrush, and continued down the hillsides until he could smell the indistinguishable scent of port-a-potties, hot dogs, and motor oil.

His perspective rose, and he could feel his body twisting beneath his skin. Spatz pushed through a bush, and sat down on a bench at the edge of the park. He let out a sigh. There was relief there, he had to tell himself that. Somehow, life was a little better than before, if only a little.

Then his phone started to vibrate out of control. It buzzed, and buzzed, and buzzed until he could pull the iPhone out of his pocket and check it. Five voicemails, at least fifteen texts, the phone stopped counting.

He was going to look through the list of missed calls, but then Meredith began calling. He picked it up, leaned his head back, “Yes?”

“Can you explain to me why you have been avoiding my calls?” Meredith said.

He could tell she was stressed. Considering everything that was going on, he wasn’t surprised. She was trying to construct a new pack, pay respects to the old, and lead a war. He didn’t envy her.

Still, sometimes she was a little snippy, “My phone didn’t exist until a few seconds ago?”

Telling the truth was a bad idea. Which is why it was a bad idea to answer the phone while he was still tired.

“So you’re being funny today,” Meredith said, “you sound like you belong with those kids.”

He deserved that.

“What have I missed?” He asked.

She was talking to someone else in the background. Spike? The two new entries were still adjusting to how Meredith did business. To tell the truth, he trusted Cam and Mike more, and that’s saying a lot since he was sure Cam wanted to fight him.

“More intelligence overnight,” She said, “I believe another shifter is involved.”

That tied Spatz’ stomach in a knot. If she was talking about Levi, she would say so, wouldn’t she? Maybe, he knew Meredith kept secrets, who didn’t have secrets? Still, he prided himself on having some idea what she was planning.

“Give me your report,” Meredith said.

Spatz scratched along his neck, caught a bug that lingered there from the hills, “Well…”

The previous morning, he woke up to a phone call. The sun was barely up, and his phone was already vibrating itself off his night stand.

He grabbed it, checked it, and saw it was a txt from Levi. He still didn’t know where Levi had moved to, which was starting to make him nervous.

It said, “Have werewolves ever thought of just, not wearing leather?”

Spatz tried to read it again, but it didn’t make any additional sense. Was he drinking? Hopefully not.

He replied, “It looks so intimidating, and you feel like a TV star.”

He rolled out of bed, and remembered he worked today. It already felt long.

First job in the morning, he got a tip from Joey at the precinct. There was a scene in Chicago that he needed to see, counting as ‘anything strange or creepy’ just like Spatz asked.

He walked in on the scene, and saw Chicago PD swarming everywhere. They were taking forensics, orders were being shouted back and forth. He sniffed, and the scents in the room made him want to pinch his nose.

“What are you doing here, Lieutenant Spatz right?” asked a Lieutenant from Chicago he saw now and again. The guy was tall, and a hard-ass, real territorial. Unfortunately, he had other loyalties that meant he wasn’t all that useful as a contact.

“Not trying to intrude on your crime scene,” Spatz said as he walked into the social lodge, “I was worried this might be one of the kids I’ve worked with before.”

The guy lifted an eyebrow, “Really? Come over here.”

He was waved into the hall, and Spatz could feel the air get thicker as they walked. They reached a staircase, and the Lieutenant pointed for him to walk down. They got to the bottom, and reached a room covered in tribal gear and chiminage. The walls and ground were painted in blood that stank of something strange. There were two more scents, ones Spatz couldn’t mistake for anything else.

“Oh English, what are you doing,” Spatz whispered.

“If this is one of your kids,” The Chicago lieutenant said, “Maybe you need to think about putting him down. He ain’t much of a kid anymore.”

Spatz flared his nostrils. This wasn’t good.

Later that morning he was at Naperville central. He was out back of the school, and Mike was attempting to do his best impersonation of a shadow on the wall.

“They aren’t saying anything because they don’t know anything,” Spatz said, an arm against the wall, “But they can’t smell you on the knife Mike, I can.”

Mike shrugged, “So I’m not in trouble.”

Spatz flared his nostrils, “No, you’re not in trouble. But I know the knife is yours, and they are freaking out in there. You can’t have knives at school, I’m pretty sure that is in the rulebook somewhere.”

Mike shrugged again.

That was the ‘I didn’t read the notebook’ shrug. Spatz let out a groan, and ran his hand down his face. His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out to check it.

Mike started to walk away, and Spatz called out to him.

The boy turned around. He hadn’t exactly done anything to anyone, and considering what all attacked them at the school in the past, it wasn’t the stupidest idea to have a knife. It was just dangerous, and illegal.

“Good job keeping your prints off of it,” Spatz said, giving Mike a thumbs up.

Mike shook his head, and then went back inside. Spatz was pretty sure he saw a smirk there.

A little later he was outside an ice cream parlor.

Sylvia held two cones out, “You want vanilla, or chocolate swirl?”

“Vanilla please,” He said while reaching out for it.

She gasped, “You don’t seem like a vanilla guy.”

Spatz took a lick, “Are you going to tell me now?”

She sat at the bench-table, and seemed oblivious to what he was asking. Then her face lit up, “Oh, yeah. So we weren’t able to catch him. Still, we looked up the crystals, and they were a bunch of hippy stuff, a lot of articles about clearing the mind and helping stress. The kind of stuff mom would probably use. Then Jennifer and Dick were talking about hunting down other shifters to see what they knew, and I tried to tell them that they wouldn’t know anything, but they just kept talking about finding them and hurting them. She is such a bitch.”

Spatz nodded, and ignored his phone going off in his pocket. He was losing track of what she was talking about, but it seemed like she was interacting with the local Pure girl. If they recruited her, what would they do with her? Most Pure would rather rip a Forsaken to shreds than use them for some scheme.

“Then I started thinking about Leonard, and they might hurt him, and I started crying. So I tried to call him, and he wasn’t answering. With all this weird stuff going on, what if he is already hurt? I would just die.”

He had no idea who Leonard was. Did he forget, or was Leonard just not important?

“Oh my god, what if he is just ignoring me?” Sylvia said, her eyes going wide, “Oh my god, that dick. I’ll punch him. Well, maybe not, he got beat up pretty bad the other month. Still, I told him I liked him, and he said he liked me too. I can’t believe him!”

She pounded her fist on the table, and her ice cream fell off its cone and plopped on the table.

“Oh no!” She cried, “No, no, damnit.”

Spatz rolled his eyes, and held his cone out for her.

Sylvia sniffled, “Really? Thank you. I won’t forget this, ever, you’re the best.”

Her phone rang, and she pulled it out and looked at it.

“Oh, hey, a text from Leonard,” She said with a smile, “He says he is okay. Yes!”

Sylvia jumped up from the table and walked away, dialing Leonard’s number.

Later that day he was in a counseling office with a young man named Jacob. Mundane as far as he could tell, the boy just decided to try to make a weapon at school during shop class and use it against another student.

“No one is going to press charges today,” Spatz said, “Still, you need to ask yourself where you were going with this. I know it seems like this world is everything today, but trust me there is a whole big world out there, and attacking someone like that can-”

His phone started to ring.

Spatz took a deep breath, held a finger up, and then plucked his phone out. It was Levi. He silenced it, and put it back.

“Where was I? You never know how long-”

It started to ring again. He flipped it, Levi. Silenced it.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” The kid said, his voice hoarse from an earlier screaming match with the faculty.

“No,” He said, “I’m here.”

“Maybe you can pick that up, and talk to someone that matters.”

His phone started to ring again. Spatz let out a sigh.

After the meeting was done, his phone rang again, and he picked it up.

“Oh there you are,” Levi said, “Do you think I should order out tonight? Or do Taco Bell again.”

Spatz let out a low grumble.

Later in the evening he pulled over on the side of the road, rolled down the window, and yelled out.

“Cam, need a ride?”

Cam had his bag in hand, full of what Spatz had to guess was boxing gear. There were other kids with him, none of which Spatz recognized. Cam looked at them, and the others laughed before Cam jogged over to the window.

“I’mma just catch the bus,” Cam said into the window, “Thanks officer.”

Spatz had almost forgot he was still in a cruiser.

“Look,” Spatz said, “Streets aren’t exactly safe these days, I was on my way into the city.”

As far as Spatz could tell, getting Cam to trust you was the hard part. How Levi had ever managed it was a mystery that Spatz had never figured out. Spatz didn’t want to call it trust issues, with the bit of the guy’s history that he knew, he was right to keep himself distant. Still, he had some friends right there, that’s better than before.

“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news,” Cam said, “But a Black guy jumping into a police car, not the safest scenario.”

Spatz started to laugh, but let it fall off. He wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to that one.

Cam looked over his shoulder, and waved goodbye to the rest of his group.

“Look, I wanted to talk to you anyway,” Cam said, “So lets just do this.”

He circled around the car and jumped in. Spatz pulled away, and they were off toward Chicago.

“So you got some new friends huh?” Spatz asked.

“Oh, you noticed detective?”

Spatz shook his head, “Fine, what did you want to talk about?”

“That hunt thing,” Cam said, his voice getting, “That was… that something you guys do all the time?”

Spatz smirked, “Wild right? Not all the time, no. It helps control the chaos. We can’t just jump at every fight that pops up, sometimes you need rules. The hunt is the game. It makes it like a soccer game, sets up the boundaries, and defines the players.”

“Except instead of a bunch of guys kicking a ball around,” Cam said, “You’re killing people.”

There was a little regret there. Spatz could hear it. That wasn’t Cam’s fight, maybe it wasn’t the best time to bring him in. He didn’t know what the shifters were doing, he didn’t feel the pressure to get revenge against the Pure.

“Usually spirits,” Spatz said, “Like that spider-creature we fought. Or someone like Bohle.”

Cam nodded, “I’m not against it, just trying to figure out what I’m signing up for. I can’t be up every night chasing whatever pissed you guys off that morning, you know?”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“What the f-”

Cam didn’t get to finish his sentence, a mess of fur and screams hit the sidewalk next to them. It looked like it fell out of an abandoned apartment building. It rolled over, scrambled to its feet, stood up like a man.

“Beshilu!” Spatz said as the car yanked forward and screeched to a stop.

“What?” Cam said.

The creature ran off into the night, and then a woman with animalistic features on her face landed where it once did, and buckled from prominent injuries along her arm and chest.

“A rat,” Spatz said, “Come on, we need to catch it.”

Spatz jumped out of the car, and Cam leaned out the police car window, “Why not just chase it in here?”

“Not in the police car,” Spatz said, and then ran to the woman’s side.

That didn’t resolve itself until well into the night.

“It was unrelated,” Spatz said as he collapsed on the bed in Levi’s motel room.

“Unrelated like, what?” Levi said, “Because a scary rat spirit sounds like it could be related.”

Spatz shrugged, “Beshilu are always around. Another werewolf thing. Father wolf couldn’t destroy them, so they spread around the world, getting their revenge on us for always hunting them.”

Levi frowned, “Do you ever, you know, listen to yourself when you’re telling those stories?”

Spatz sat up, “I brought ice, I don’t know why you didn’t just get some from down the hallway.”

“I don’t trust those,” Levi said, “Thanks though. Now we can have drinks.”

He tried not to roll his eyes. He was drinking at a younger age, though beers instead of colorful cocktails.

“You’re kind of extra grumpy today,” Levi said as he went into the motel room freezer and pulled out a small assortment of alcohol.

“Long day,” Spatz replied.

Levi took it all to a table, “You’re not going to talk about it are you?”

Spatz just let out a noncommittal groan, and closed his eyes. He was fine just listening to Levi work, and not worrying for a one minute.

“Another user got attacked,” Levi said over the clink of ice, “This one was a bird, they said something about werewolves. I’m starting to think Meredith is trying to start something.”

She wasn’t, it already started. Spatz didn’t bother explaining that, he knew what Levi’s response would be. Still, shifters and werewolves didn’t always get along, and that is just how it was. He was risking a lot even being there. What if Levi was also working with the Pure? What if that was why Sylvia was so close to Jennifer? What if he was just being played, or lead into a trap. What would be his excuse to Meredith when she found out he put central Illinois at risk, over what?

He realized he was growling, and he sat up with a start.

Levi was staring at him.

Spatz pulled himself off the bed, and reached out for his coat.

“You’re going?” Levi said, a note of actual concern in his voice, for once.

“Yeah,” Spatz replied, “I have to be somewhere tonight.”

Levi was standing in front of two half-made drinks, “Fine, I guess I’ll get drunk alone.”

He didn’t have time to be guilt-tripped. He put on his coat, and went to the door.

“Call me tomorrow,” Spatz said as he opened the door.

“Sure that won’t interrupt you and your boyfriend?” Levi snapped.

Spatz shook his head and closed the door behind him. He went down the stairs, checked his phone one last time, and then stopped and looked up to the sky.

There, peeking from behind the clouds, the full moon. He could feel it, like the heat of the sun at high noon, burning against his skin. Another werewolf might give in to it, another werewolf might have looked for bloodshed, or at least some act of violence or passion.

Spatz walked around to the back of the motel, and his body began to shift. He fell to all fours, and let out a howl that made the night tremble. This was his night, and he had a long run ahead of him.

“So that’s all?” Meredith asked, “A few incidents at the school?”

Spatz cracked his neck, “That and the situation at that lodge in Chicago, but you heard about that one.”

Meredith was silent on the other side of the line.

“Fine,” She said, “Can you pick up the boy? I want him to join us tonight, and he seems reluctant.”

“Yes ma’am,” Spatz said. Then she hung up, and Spatz let out all the air in his lungs. Another day, and more work ahead.

Saturday Fiction: A Good Boy

Time for a little more Werewolf storytime. This one follows one of the last two members of my group’s pack. His history is interesting, because his character development was shifted when he took the life of an enemy and the pack started to view him as less than stable. After that, his mother vanished from his house. He didn’t have it easy.

Woofskulls

A Good Boy

Chicago was weird. Compared to the suburbs of Naperville, it was like living in a maze of neighborhoods. The world was always screaming, people shouting, cars roaring, and machines rumbling. At first it can make it hard to survive. Perseverance makes anything possible.

It was bright enough out that Tim had his shades on. He pulled his backpack close, and looked back and forth across the street. There were buildings everywhere, half of them poorly marked offices and the others small shops and businesses that Tim had no interest in.

The dog stayed close to his heels, stopping whenever he stopped, sniffing at people who passed Tim on the sidewalk.

Tim stopped at a corner security camera, reached into his pocket, and touched the pole that connected to the security cam.

“Tell me something,” Tim whispered, butchering spirit tongue.

The camera stirred awake. Tim could feel the spirit within it, for the first time truly noticing what is around it.

“What do you offer?” The spirit replied.

Tim thought for a moment, “A new view.”

The spirit thought for a moment, “What do you wish?”

Tim lifted up a picture of his mother into the camera’s view. He took in a deep breath, thought about it, and then asked his question.

“Have you seen her?”

There was no hesitation. That was an aspect of spirits that Tim liked, when it was in his favor. The weaker ones rarely played games. Games were alien to them.

“Yes.”

Tim’s heart leaped, “When?”

“Many times.” The spirit said.

The dog was at his feet, panting and looking around. A few people walking around were looking at him like he was insane. Maybe he was, at least a little bit. This whole adventure was starting to feel strange, like a dream. Though, what did that say about him.

Becoming a giant beast, fighting other furred monsters, channeling spirits, that felt real. Chicago was dreamlike. Trying to maintain his GPA in undergrad studies, that was foreign.

“When, like, recently,” Tim stuttered out, “When last.”

“Seven days.”

Tim could feel himself breathing too hard. Something was rumbling to the fore, a sensation like panic and anger all mixed in one.

“Thank you,” Tim said. He went into his backpack, and pulled out a picture of him and the rest of the pack, taken in front of a pool back in Naperville. He found some gum on the pavement, and stuck the picture to the ground, at the edge of the camera’s view.

“Come on boy,” Tim motioned and started to walk again. What was his mother doing here just a week ago? Multiple watcher spirits had seen her, and he was closing in. Still, she always seemed ahead.

To make it worse, his original suspicions weren’t true. None of the packs knew who she was. He consulted with a few Bone Shadow tribesman, and they couldn’t do much more than tell him to seek the aid of spirits. He was starting to fear the worst. Maybe his mother was a Pure.

Maybe he should have taken Sylvia’s advice, let her come and sniff his mother out. This was his problem though. He didn’t want to join a war, and he wasn’t joining Meredith. With Levi off doing whatever, he was all by himself.

The dog nipped at his heels.

Not completely alone.

He stopped and gave the dog a rub on the head. It barked softly, and Tim pulled out a treat. Later they would go and hunt, find a fresh kill, and Tim could relax.

He stood and looked at the building in front of him. It wasn’t marked with a name, but there was something about the logo. There were two birds there, based on their heads they looked like eagles. His mind went back to the letter from his mother, and the two feathers he found inside.

Tim looked down, “I guess we better check it out. Keep quiet though.”

He walked inside, and a secretary behind a desk smiled at him. The whole business looked like a meeting house. There weren’t any brochures, or signs. Nothing was welcoming to strangers, if you weren’t looking for this place you could walk in walk out and never know where you were.

“New member?” She said, “Or lost?”

Tim didn’t know whether to smile, or look stern, so he sort of did both, “Uhm, new member.”

“Oh, who recommended you?”

Shit. Tim could feel a million thoughts bubbling to the surface, but none of them were going to get him past a simple secretary. Maybe he should just run out, pretend he was in the wrong building. It was easier than looking at that smiling face and waiting for the word-puke to come out.

“Kir…kirsten?” Tim said, “Like, Kirsten English.”

The girl looked down at a book in front of her, turned a page, and then nodded.

“Okay,” She said as she got down and headed down a hall, “I’ll get someone for you.”

This was a breakthrough. There was no other way to see it. His mother wanted him to find this place, wanted him to know she was going to come here. What was here? He walked over to a plaque, covered with a few first names, the two-bird logo, and saw ‘TEL elders’.”

Two-eagle league? Twin-eagle lodge? A million other possibilities. He could ask, except that might look strange if he was supposed to be here. He would ask a spirit, except this building seemed mostly barren.

Tim checked his phone. A text from Levi.

“A pack of canine shifters are dead. You weren’t involved right?”

There were footsteps approaching. Tim put his phone away. Levi’s random return to reality could be saved for later.

A man with long blond hair and a beard that needed shaving came into the room.

“Here he is,” The girl said, “I forgot to get your name, sorry.”

Tim felt a chill go up his spine. His dog started to growl.

The man smiled, and looked down at the dog. “Someone’s a little protective. Hi, I’m Ray. You said Kirsten recommended you?”

Tim nodded, “Yes, yeah, she did.”

“Well then,” Ray said, “Come on in, do we have something to show you.”

He needed to run. He needed to turn tail and bolt as soon as he could. Still, they knew his mother. His mother lead him here, and they knew anything about her. He had to stay for now.

He nodded, and followed as Ray walked down a hall.

The building wasn’t barren. The resonance was dark. This building had a locus, he could feel that now. It had a locus, and something was feeding on it.

They walked past rooms that looked like small meeting rooms, like classrooms for children. Chalkboards, pictures of the outdoors, books piled on tables.

“Do you know what we do here?” Ray asked.

Tim swallowed, “She, well, she was vague.”

“That’s okay,” Ray said, “If Kirsten wanted you here, that means she had her reasons. We have a history as environmentalists. Our lodge is at the forefront of the fights against Keystone, the pollution of Lake Michigan, even issues far away from Illinois. Recently we’re looking to expand, move our operations from something grassroots to something everyone in Chicago can be part of.”

They went through a door, and Tim followed Ray down a thin staircase. He could feel something in the air, a sort of energy. This wasn’t just essence, it wasn’t just spirits, there was something else at play. What was his mother mixed up in?

They reached the landing, a small room. Two others were there, cleaning up damage. Was there a fight here? He could smell it, blood was shed, recently, just days ago? Was she there? He could smell her in the mess, an old scent. It wasn’t quite mom, something was different.

“Who is this?” Said one of the men with a large broom in hand.

This was all wrong.

“He said Skyblossom recommended him,” Ray said as he walked to the center of the room.

This place, it wasn’t some environmentalist room. The center of the room, it had a large circle curved into the concrete foundation. A strange character was drawn there. It was repeated on the walls, crystals hung from the walls. It looked like a sort of tribal spiritualism, mixed with new age nonsense. Still, the power here was real.

“You’ve barked up the wrong tree,” Ray said, shrugging, “Uratha.”

Who was Skyblossom? Why would mother call herself Skyblossom?

“Tell me what you know about Kirsten English,” Tim said, putting his backpack down, “And I’ll let you keep going.”

The one with the broom started laughing. “Fucking Uratha, they never know when they’re beat.”

“You’re lucky you figured this much out,” Ray said. His eyes seemed to glaze over.

They aren’t human. That’s what Tim told himself, they aren’t human.

“Just tell me something, anything,” Tim said, “Please.”

Claimed. Their bodies latched onto by terrible spirits. He couldn’t tell what they were, possibly magath. It infested them, a sick essence that leaked at the seams. The whole room was tainted with it. Why would his mom ever be here? What was she hiding?

Ray’s arm started to twist and meld, until it became sharp like a knife. The others dropped their tools, and their bodies also began to warp.

“Fine,” Tim whispered. He had a name now, that was enough, a new start.

He could feel his body warping, the panic and anger gripping his heart as it exploded in size. He shook his head, and his shades fell away to reveal an eye misted with a field of stars. His whole body pulsed with muscle, his mind retreating in the face of the monster he was letting loose.

This was their choice.

A better Uratha might have had control. In the chaos that ensued, they might have been reserved and taken their time. The twisted spirits might have gained an upper-hand in those moments of hesitation. Tim didn’t let that happen. They weren’t powerful spirits, or particularly smart. They wanted to outnumber him, but he overpowered them.

His claws ripped into sinew, and his jaws bit deep into their twisted flesh. They became more monstrous as the fighting continued, and Tim responded in kind. The chaos they were cleaning up was renewed, blood spread on the walls, claw marks across the occult symbols.

When he finished, only one was still breathing, lying in a mess on the floor.

Tim went and grabbed his shades from the ground, then looked down on the Claimed.

“Skyblossom,” Tim said, “Tell me what you know.”

It bubbled blood, but it didn’t respond. Tim put it out of its misery.

“Come,” Tim said. The dog bounded to his side. They started back up the steps. As they made their way back to the front desk, Tim noticed the girl hiding behind the counter.

“You,” He started, trying to think of how to put it, “Just go.”

She nodded, and then ran out of the building.

Maybe he would txt Levi. Still, there was something he didn’t understand.

The Claimed on the floor, he wasn’t taunting Tim with his silence. That look on his face when Skyblossom was brought up again, it was fear. A spirit so afraid of his mom they would stay silent and be destroyed?

This was getting worse.

Saturday Fiction: The Other Alpha

Woofskulls

I almost forgot to post fiction, on Saturday. What a travesty that would have been. Another Werewolf fiction, coming at you. This one featuring our group’s favorite little alpha in training, Sylvia.

The Other Alpha

Sylvia walked out of the community center with her phone in hand. She waved goodbye to some of the kids, and then headed toward her car. It was the middle of the day now, she had the whole evening ahead of her. She could spend some of that heading back to her apartment on the Northside, or see what Kimiko was up to, or go on a run, or maybe Tessa wanted to chat.

She opened a new text message, “Have you found her yet? Maybe my sniffer can help? Plz call.” Then sent it to Tim.

She looked up, and found Jennifer leaning against her car.

“Hey, get off of there!” Sylvia shouted. She ran over, waving her arms like Jennifer was a seagull to shoo away.

Jennifer, a good head taller than Sylvia, gave her a stern expression as she stood up. “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, cool, whatever,” Sylvia said as she pulled out her keys, “Except I have to go now. So, later?”

Jennifer’s hands came down on Sylvia’s wrist. She squeezed tight until the keys slipped free and fell to the concrete. When Sylvia looked up, Jennifer still had that same expression.

“You’re in my territory,” Jennifer said, “I told you before. Your pack is gone, you gave up your claim. This is my pack’s land now.”

Ever since they all broke up, Sylvia was the only one really left in town. Sure Mike and Cam came by to visit family, but then they were gone just as fast. Then Jennifer stuck her fat nose into everything.

“You mean your dad’s pack?” Sylvia said. She regretted it as soon as she said it. Unfortunately, the thought just popped up, and came out of her mouth. Jennifer was always so sensitive about everything. She was supposed to be evil, Sylvia had to be careful.

Jennifer grabbed Sylvia by the shoulder, stretching the straps of her shirt. She growled for a second, real dog-like, and then let her go.

“I just want to be normal, okay?” Sylvia said, “No wolf stuff. Is that okay? Life is hard enough.”

Jennifer crossed her arms, and snorted, “No wolf stuff. I’m okay with that. But I’ll be watching.”

Sylvia swept up her keys, “Sweet. Bye!”

She jumped into her car, and as Jennifer stood there brooding, she drove off into central Naperville. It was a nice day, the wind kept her cool, and she could relax. At least, it was close to relaxing. Every time she thought about it all, she got twisted up inside. It felt like she was going to puke, or cry, or both. She missed the past, which is weird because it included a lot of scary stuff, and nearly dying. Going to college was the last idea on her mind then, and here she was.

Sylvia sniffed at the wind, and hit her brakes. A car behind her honked.

“Damnit,” She huffed, “Sorry.” She said as the car passed. She pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out her phone.

“Call me OK? & tell Cam I know that is his real number, so he should txt me.” Then she sent it to Mike.

That smell. It was like, dust, fungus, strange wood. She got out of her car, and walked around to the roadside. There was a small bit of woods there, and she knew if she followed it west, it would keep going until it hit a reserve.

“I swear if this is just Jennifer’s fat ass,” Sylvia swore to no one.

She looked both ways, and then covered her face with both hands before she started walking forward. There was the small snap and shift as her nose changed into a snout. She sniffed again, and got even more. This wasn’t normal, whatever it was. At the same time, it was a little familiar.

When she was far enough from the road, she pulled out her phone and looked at it. She took a deep breath, stuffed it back in her pocket, and hunched forward. The ripple of the change went through her. It was a lot like shrinking, with the world rushing away from her, and finding yourself with a new perspective.

Her paws were damp from the grass. She could feel her sharp teeth locked in place. She was free, loose, a full wolf. She shook her fur, walked in a circle, and then sniffed at the ground. Whatever it was, whoever, they had walked this way.

She let out a small bark as she started to run. The wind rushed past her, the trees brushed against her. Occasionally, she stopped and sniffed again. Male, a little older than her, hurt? It had the smells of the city, but not, a little too country.

Sylvia stopped and marked a tree, and then wished she could laugh as a wolf.

She charged forward again, sniffing at the air, feeling a change in the winds. Whoever it was, they were up ahead. It wasn’t the first time a strange scent popped up in Naperville. Hopefully this one wasn’t a rat-monster, or some weird spirit. Those kinds of things were hard to deal with, and sometimes she just had to leave them alone. It wasn’t like she was a pack all by herself. Well, she kind of was.

When she got close, she felt something new. Her fur was standing on end, there was power here. Magic stuff, Tim’s stuff. She looked between the trees, There was a big boulder there, large enough to have a few other rocks in the same outcropping. It looked like someone had cleared it of trees once, maybe they used it as a little ritual circle, or just a campsight.

There in front of it was a guy, cross-legged. He was sitting in a pattern dug in the grass, almost like a large symbol. She could hear it, he was whispering.

Sylvia shifted back, and stepped into the clearing.

“It’s you?” Sylvia snapped, “What was your name… Jamal?”

The guy turned around. When their eyes met, for a moment, the guy wasn’t all there. It was like he was looking through her, his eyes just ornaments in his head. Then he shook his head, and started to fidget. he stood up and backed against the rock.

He was a rabbit shifter. They met him before, trying to steal from one of those crazy spider-creatures. He almost died last time, and then he said he was never coming back. Except, now here he was.

“You? Shit,” He looked around, “Is the rest of your pack here?”

“I thought we ran you out of town.” Sylvia said, “What are you even doing?”

He looked down at the weird circle, and some small rocks and crystals sitting at the base of the rock, “Look, It’s Jeremy, I have to do this, okay? Just, don’t look into it.”

“Yeah? And I have to kick your butt.”

Jeremy scrunched up his nose, and lifted an eyebrow.

“Wait,” Sylvia shifted tone, “Do you mean like, someone is controlling you? Or you just really want to do it?”

The rabbit-shifter cringed as if someone smacked him over the back of the head.

She remembered, he smelled hurt. Now that she looked at him, in his dirty jeans and some beat up shirt, he just looked like a hitchhiker. He didn’t seem hurt. Well, maybe a little twitchy, maybe he was emotionally hurt. Could she smell people’s depression? She didn’t know if that was awesome or not.

“Hold still, shifter.”

Sylvia turned, and saw that Jennifer was coming up behind her, with Dick Worth in tow. There was another boy there, younger even than Dick. Sylvia realized she didn’t know how big Jennifer’s pack was.

Jennifer walked up until she was close enough to reach out and touch Sylvia. “You couldn’t keep your promise for a whole hour.”

“Yeah, well.” Sylvia didn’t have anything to add there, but she was sure a comeback would come in time.

“I’m guessing she is in charge now?” Jeremy said while pointing at Jennifer.

Sylvia put her thumb to her chest, “No, I’m the alpha!”

“We’re not even the same pack,” Dick shouted.

“Still, I found him first,” Sylvia said, “So back off.”

Jennifer motioned, Dick and the new guy started to walk toward Jeremy.

Jeremy’s took a step away from the rock. He was sweating now. Last time Sylvia saw him, he was a jerk, but he at least kept his cool. Something changed, and she didn’t know what it was. Why was he so worried? She could figure that out after she kicked Jennifer’s ass.

“I’ll just go,” Jeremy said, and then his body twisted down until he was just a brown rabbit. He bounded around the boulder, and started off into the woods.

“Oh no you don’t!” Dick growled before shifting into a large black wolf and bounding after him.

Sylvia turned and was prepared to shift as well, except Jennifer grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Wait.”

They turned and looked at each other. There wasn’t anger there like last time, Jennifer looked concerned. She pointed to the weird stuff by the rock, and started to walk over.

“Dick will run him down, or at least out of Naperville,” Jennifer said, “Look at this.”

So far, Jennifer had only ambushed her twice in her life, not counting today. That was still a good track record. It was two to one now, but maybe she could get away if she really needed to. She walked over and kneeled by the little shrine Jeremy was building.

“This is a locus,” Jennifer said, “So I guess he can use essence. Still, this is weird, why all these symbols and offerings just to get essence?”

“Maybe it is a ritual or something,” Sylvia said. Then she thought better of giving Jennifer any good ideas, “Wait, nevermind. It can’t be that right?”

Jennifer grabbed the crystals and rocks. They were different colors, shapes, sizes. Some of them had symbols cut into them, but each was different.

“I think the crazy shit in Chicago is starting to spill out,” Jennifer said, “Bad stuff is coming.”

“You mean like your dad?”

Jennifer groaned.

“Well, I mean, he isn’t the baddest guy,” Sylvia clarified, “But he is still an asshole. He tried to kill us.”

Jennifer stood up, “So you don’t know anything then? What about the others? The little guy, Tim, maybe he could figure this out.”

She could see Jennifer was mad. Good, her dad was bad, she needed to deal with that.

“I’ll see,” Sylvia said with her nose turned up, “Next time, don’t follow me.”

“Richard saw you pull off the road.”

“That’s such a bad guy thing to do,” Sylvia said, “Just following someone into the woods. You don’t know what I was doing out here. Maybe I was jogging, or streaking.”

Jennifer shook her head and snorted, “Why do I even try to talk to you? Come on Lee, we’re leaving.”

Sylvia’s heart jumped, “Wait! I’m sorry. Look, I want to help, okay?”

“You aren’t part of my pack,” Jennifer said, “We should be killing you right now.”

Sylvia smiled, “But you aren’t.”

The Pure girl looked at Lee, the new kid, and made a hand motion that caused him to run off in the direction Dick went.

“I know you’re just trying to help the city,” Jennifer said, “So I’m being nice. I’m not like my dad, I know when to put my teeth away. Still, if you stop being useful, I’m putting you on a bus to Chicago.”

Jennifer grabbed all the stones, and started to walk back to the road.

“Whatever, I drive now,” Sylvia mumbled as she pulled out her phone and took a picture of the markings in the grass and on the stone.

She opened up a text message, “OMG, I sniffed something in NPville. You would be so proud. I nearly got killed, but it was weird, so I followed it. It was something strange, and I found Jeremy, or Jamal, whatever. He was there, and acting weird. Then guess who 1 of 2”

“Showed up? Jennifer. She is such a bitch, but she wouldn’t fight me. I think she likes me. What if she was mad in love with me? Wouldn’t that be weird, like a secret undying love? I think she is good now, maybe. Whatever, her pack is helping. So I will figure it out, until you come back. Then you can help. 2 of 2”

Then she sent it to Levi, with the picture of the stone attached, and signed ‘Pack Alpha’.

She laughed, and then jogged to catch up with Jennifer.

Saturday Fiction: A Little [Surreal] Mystery

I asked myself, ‘why don’t I ever write anything surreal?’ Besides being an odd question to ask yourself, it was also a bad time to ask myself. I have a lot of stuff I should be writing, so trying another project right now was a terrible idea. Still, I started a story, and here it is. Hold on to your butts.

A Little Mystery

There was a knock at the door. Arty didn’t answer. He was looking at the painting on the wall of the hospital room. It took up a sizeable piece of the far wall. Men being mauled by lions, the browns in their faces distorted and lengthened as the beasts bit down on them. It was obviously a fake, who put a real painting in a hospital room?

The door cracked, and someone popped their head in. He couldn’t tell who, not until he heard the heavy footsteps on linoleum. They had a snap to them, each bootfall had emotional weight with them. It was Clark. Arty could see him now, pulling up a chair by the hospital bed. Carl was all shoulders, hunched forward, his eyes twisted up in sadness.

Arty did this to him. He was different before. Taller, wider, brighter. Before Arty had to sit in hospital rooms, staring at paintings.

“Hey, partner,” Clark said, leaning against the bed.

“Hey, buddy,” Arty replied. He didn’t bother looking at Clark.

Clark let his words hang in the air. He sniffled, and Arty could hear him squeezing his hat in his grip. It was painful, watching Clark sink into himself, become more tears and sobs than man. Back on the force, he was larger than life. He was always the man-of-action, could push Arty into doing anything.

Now he had a leak he couldn’t plug. He was pouring over Arty’s sheets, occasional blinks stymying the flow. The old man had been stuck in the face, and he was letting it all out.

“We have a real one right now,” Clark said, “We could really use your help out there.”

Arty turned, his eyes focusing in on Clark.

“It is your kind of case. Me, I don’t know what to do with it. You know how it is, if I can’t shake someone down, I’m lost.”

Clark laughed, but it didn’t stop the tears. This was interesting, it was something to do, anything besides sitting, waiting, listening.

“Tell me everything,” Arty said.

Clark shook his head, “I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be bothering you with this. I don’t want you stuck with this.”

Arty leaned against the other side of the bed, leaned over, “Tell me everything Clark, do it.”

He knew he couldn’t shake Clark.

“Hell,” Clark said, “Whatever. You aren’t here for sappy stories. Plus I thought of you as soon as I walked in on the case.”

Arty closed his eyes.

‘You should have seen this place. It was beautiful, Victorian style, everything redone. Inside it was Oak everywhere, the floors, the cabinets, the walls.’

When he opened them again, he was in the doorway. A stairwell lead off into a black wall of shadow, one turn left into the sitting room, old oak bookshelves and tables. It was the sort of house you inherit, but keep in great condition. It was a house that had history. The kitchen was even better, all new installations, with nods to the past. Pictures hung from the walls, faceless people watching looking back at Arty as he walked through.

He made the loop back to the living room.

‘There were signs of a struggle, but only inside. Blood smeared across the floor, pictures knocked from the wall. Then I saw her. She was your type Art. Her skin was as smooth as silk, curves in all the right places, that short black hair. Her make up made her look like a doll, those bright red lips, eyes bold against pale skin, shit.’

She walked into the room. She was wearing red, and had that slight smile when you meet eyes with someone for the first time. Her eyeliner pulled back to the side, like an imitation of some actresses Cleopatra.

What was she doing here, in this room? Why was she dressed so nice, was she going somewhere? In a house like this, was this her lifestyle, wake up and dress to impress? He needed to know more, he wanted to know her.

‘That bastard. Arty, he put one right between Mrs. Moon’s eyes.’

He heard the pop. Her eyes went wide, and the dark hole drilled through her forehead. She didn’t gasp, didn’t cry out. She just collapsed backwards, struck the hardwood floor like a sack of meat.

“Damnit, Clark,” Arty said, “Damn you.”

‘I can’t figure it out. He didn’t drag her out there. The blood is her husband, dead upstairs. He dragged the fool to his bed. As far as forensics understands, Mr. Moon was dead first, then the monster came back, found her, and killed her with one shot. He didn’t take a thing, the house was intact, no locks broken. He came in, and sent a message, and the only man who knows what it is got the same damn treatment!’

Arty looked away from Mrs. Moon. Clark was in the kitchen now, leaning over the bed. Arty walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. Clark put a hand out and grabbed Arty’s hand on the bed, his real hand, laid out with tubes sticking out of every hole they could find.

To Arty it was a white mess, a hole he didn’t bother filling. It was the splotch he didn’t need to fill to see the puzzle complete.

“I’m going to go,” Clark said, “I need to get back out there, catch this guy. I’ll do you proud.”

Arty looked around, “Wait, tell me the rest. I need more.”

Clark’s chair screeched against the floor, “You be strong. I know you’ll come out of it buddy. You owe me a beer, remember?”

“Clark, what else is in the file? Time of death? What did they do for a living? Neighbors?”

Clark reached out to the door to the patio, opened it, and looked back inside to Arty. He didn’t say a word, just walked into the darkness, and closed the door after him.

“Damnit.”

There were footsteps, and Arty turned around in time to see Mrs. Moon walk into the kitchen.

“So I guess that just makes me and you,” She said. The hole in her forehead was still smoking.

She leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed across her chest. Mrs. Moon smiled at him, and then walked to the cabinets in the kitchen. She opened one, and pulled out two glasses.

“Are you thirsty?” She asked.

“Always.”

She looked over her shoulder, “That’s a shame. Sit down, I’ll get you some water.”

He pulled up a chair to his bed, and sat down. Something else was lingering on his mind, and he couldn’t lock it down. It was hard to figure out, especially when she was in the room. His eyes couldn’t help but follow her, the curve of her back, the twist of her fingers as she held both cups under the tap.

A rumble shook the house.

Arty looked around. The door Clark left through, it was dark outside the window. All the windows, they were black, he was alone here, with her.

She put a glass down in front of him, and pulled up a seat on the opposite side of the table.

“Get comfortable,” She said, then took a sip.

He put the cup to his lips, “You’re wrong.”

Her eyes popped wide, “Huh?”

There was a growl from outside the kitchen, like a tiger locked in a cage. He could feel it on the side of his face, as if it was right there. The sound of it made the house tremble, but still, he knew it wasn’t here yet.

“We’re not alone,” Arty said, “He’s here.”

Saturday Fiction: Who Was Mike Jones?

I GM a lot of tabletop roleplaying. Well, I used to do more, but now I get into it now and again. Two years ago I ran a game of White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Forsaken. A game that is typically about scary werewolves dealing with scarier werewolves and terrifying spirits. Instead, we morphed the game to be about high school kids who had to deal with spirits while worrying about who to take to prom.

That game randomly stalled and ended in 2013. I still talk with all of the players. So when it was brought up again, I decided to do something weird. I wrote some ‘fanfiction’ of our game. It was argued that it isn’t fanfiction, because I wrote the story. Still, the primary characters are not mine, so to me, outright controlling them in a short story, is odd. Here is one of those stories now, about two years after the original plot.

Woofskulls

Who Was Mike Jones?

It was impossible to focus. There were chattering voices everywhere, new scents and sounds, but that wasn’t the worst part. It was the eyes. No matter where Mike looked, everyone was looking at them.

That’s why he avoided these little get togethers as much as he could. He was running out of choices though.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Cam whispered to him.

Cam was at least a head and a half taller than Mike, and twice as wide. As far as Mike was concerned, he earned his nickname.

“I just want them to leave me alone,” Mike said back, pulling up his hood.

A voice boomed at the end of the Chicago dive bar. It was some biker-looking guy with a beard that needed trimming and eyes that looked bloodshot. Mike had gathered just from the time in the room that he was important, probably lead a pack of his own. A few other men in biker jackets cheered as he started to talk.

“Who is he supposed to be?” Cam whispered.

Mike put a finger up to shush him. For a brief moment he could actually feel Cam get angry. He didn’t know if that was some more strange magic stuff, or if he was just that used to Cam.

“This is it!” The man shouted, “This is the night we have waited for. This is when we take back blood for blood lost, and we show our ‘cousins’ what it means to be a hunter. No cheap tricks, no games, no distractions. This will be war, and they will cry to the heavens for a general worth the battle they have called down on them.”

The crowd erupted around them. Mike knew a little of what they were talking about, their battles with other werewolves, the ‘war in Chicago’. It kept encroaching on Naperville, it kept pushing their little ‘pack’, if it had ever been that, until everything fell apart.

Now, he was trying to finish his last year of highschool, and he couldn’t even name any of his teachers. What would Levi have called it, “Stupid werewolf drama?”

There were still a pair of eyes on him, and Mike found them at the front of the room. It was a woman he knew all too well. She was sitting in one chair of three set in a line, her legs crossed and her eyes focused down on Mike.

“She’s here,” Mike said.

“Who?” Cam responded, looking around before he saw her, “Oh… Meredith.”

There was another cheer, Mike was losing track of the speech.

“But this fight isn’t just ours, brothers,” The beard man said, “This is for all of us here in Chicago, that is what a war is. Our packs must stand together. That’s why tonight’s hunt belongs to the first to lose a Wolf-brother, Shifting-Winds.”

Some of the men and women in the crowd cheered, others grumbled just below what Mike could hear. Meredith stood, flattening the tank top of her outfit, hiking gear that looked out of place this close to the corridor.

She hugged the man as she walked past him, like a football player embracing a fellow player, and then they shared some quiet words.

“Oh good, I didn’t miss it,” Said Lt. Spatz from behind them.

Cam and Mike turned, the older man standing just behind them. He was slightly dressed down, but he still had on a ridiculous pair of shades, and looked like he hadn’t shaved that day.

“I’m glad you came,” Spatz said with a nod to Cam, “both of you. She’ll be glad you’re here, and safe.”

Somehow Mike didn’t feel like his safety was her main concern. This felt like a recruitment drive. There was food, he was being paid pointless attention. If Spatz was in an army uniform, it would be like any other army recruiter he saw at school.

“Yeah well, lets see if I stay,” Cam said, “I’m feeling a little out of place.”

Spatz laughed nervously, “If Charred-bone’s boys were here from Englewood, it wouldn’t look like a bike gang’s pit stop.”

Meredith cleared her throat, and a silence passed over the crowd. She narrowed her eyes and looked over the room. Mike had to admit, she commanded respect from her own. As far as he knew though, she also got a lot of her own killed. Long-claw, and wasn’t there another? At least Levi never lost anyone.

“I left Chicago for a reason,” Meredith started, “It was just over 10 years ago we were at each other’s throats. We didn’t care if it was Pure, or Uratha, we went for the throat. Chicago has a history, of cutting itself apart, and then crying in the pool of blood. We are both the criminal and the victim. Except that isn’t the story of the Forsaken, or the tribes of the moon.”

“Oh man,” Spatz whispered, “She is really into it tonight.”

“When Father Wolf fell, there was chaos, and there was blood. No one, not even his first born, could set this world straight. Then the Uratha answered that call, we became the soldiers in a world with no one to defend it!”

Though her voice raised, she stood stoic. Mike could feel the energy in the room rising. Whatever they felt about Meredith, the other werewolves cared about her words.

“Today we revel, and we drink, and we sing the songs of Mother Luna and Father Wolf. Because there is a poison in this city, vermin who stand with our enemies, mercenaries at the fore of a war it is about damn time we started winning.”

There was a cheer, and beer bottles clashed against each other. Mike even heard a howl, and it sounded feral enough that he expected a wolf to brush against his hand.

“And when there is nothing left of them, when they are nothing but a pool of blood at our feet, we will see that it was tears of pain, but the cries of joy. Because we are not victims, and we are not criminals. Brothers and sisters, we are the Uratha!”

She put a hand up, and everyone in the bar howled in unison.

Pointless werewolf drama.

Spatz put a heavy hand on Mike’s shoulder, and let out a loud howl of his own.

The crowd became a party. Beers flew off the wall, cheers started spontaneously, conversations started in every corner of the room. It seemed the speeches were over, this had to be the revels.

“Lieutenant,” Cam said as he turned on Spatz, “Now that all that is over, you heard from Levi?”

Spatz blinked, and then scratched at the side of his nose, “Why would I have heard from Levi?”

Mike rolled his eyes.

“I guess whatever he is up to,” Spatz said with a shrug, “He is still up to it. I’m sure he didn’t just want to up and leave you guys.”

Cam let out a guffah, “Yeah, because he always wrestled with guilt over every little thing.”

Mike smiled, but Spatz sneered for a moment before grabbing a beer from a passing girl walking around with 4 in each hand.

“Is this them,” Said a younger guy who looked like he was one missed paycheck from being a hobo, smelled like it too.

“Spike,” Spatz said with a nod of his head.

“Eech-Dubya,” the guy responded. Another guy came behind him. They both looked like they lived a tougher life than Spatz or Meredith ever had, with clothing that belonged to South Chicago rather than the suburbs of Naperville.

“That has to be them,” The second guy said, “They were the ones who told Taft to piss off, right?”

Spatz lifted his beer as an answer.

Mike felt naked. It seemed like a bad idea to bring any weapons here, and now these two came forward like two predators sniffing around for weak prey.

“Heard they took down a group of hunters too, killed the whole pack of them. You two’ve earned your fur.”

Spike grabbed a pair of beers and passed one to Mike and the other to Cam, then looked down at Mike, “You’ll make a good Meninna.”

Meninna, he knew that was one of the ‘Tribes’. The hunters in darkness, the ghost tribe.

“Has to be better than following Big Bird,” The other said with a laugh, then he turned a side-eye to Cam, “We can teach you a little discipline, tactics.”

“You have something to say to me?” Cam said with a step forward.

Spike turned on Cam with his teeth bared, “Sit down pup, or you’ll lose that little patch of fur.”

“Or maybe I’ll show you what I learned from Big Bird.” Cam jabbed with his finger.

“Whoa,” Spatz said, “Come on, Spike, Sack, they’re kids.”

Mike put a hand on Cam’s chest, “Chill, man.”

Cam took a deep breath, then popped the bottle off the beer while staring the two men in the eyes.

“Yeah,” Came the voice of Meredith. She reached between Spike and Sack and grabbed the bottles out of Mike and Cam’s hands, “And we don’t give the kids alcohol.”

The two hobo-wolves looked at Meredith like children being chastised.

“They’re going on the hunt right?” Spike said, “Come on, don’t you think they’ve earned it?”

Spike held his own beer in front of Mike, and Mike’s hand went out for it. Meredith knocked it to the ground with a tap of her finger.

“No,” She said.

“Come on,” Cam said, “Isn’t that a party foul or something?”

Meredith didn’t smirk, smile, or even groan. She looked at Spatz, and Spatz let out a sigh before kneeling down and picking up the dropped bottle.

“Tonight is our hunt,” Meredith said, “It would be our first hunt together as a pack, if you can accept that.”

“We’re still mulling that over,” Cam said, “You and Levi didn’t exactly get along.”

“Or Tim,” Mike added.

“And where are they?” Meredith replied, letting the question hang in the air.

Tim was in the city, Mike knew that. He knew what the little spirit binder was hunting for. The question was, was he making progress? He had no way to know, he was vague on text messages, and he never answered calls.

“Whatever,” Cam said, “I’m here. If you can take care of us, we can help you.”

Mike didn’t bother adding. Cam always did work as a good backup alpha. Mike wasn’t here because he needed someone’s protection, he was here because he needed to figure this whole situation out. Ever since he became a werewolf, everything was chaos. He couldn’t become some lycan-drifter. What did they call it, a ghost wolf? With Cam here, at least he had someone to talk to.

“Hunts-With-Heart,” Meredith said.

Spatz stood, and took a sip from his beer, “Yes, ma’am.”

“What about your eyes?” She asked.

He pulled out his cell phone, woke it up, and then put it away again.

“Dispatch has spotted them near Lawndale. We should have them coralled in Garfield park by sundown.”

“Good,” Meredith said, looking at the two hobo-wolves, “Relay that to Dusk, and you go see if Charred-bone has changed his mind. I want all the major packs in on this.”

They both nodded and walked away.

Mike had to ask.

“What is it we’re even supposed to be hunting? Why so many wolves?”

Was that a smirk on her lips? What did he say that she found so amusing? There was no easy way to tell.

“Go on,” Cam said, “Spit it out.”

The smirk faded, “We’re hunting a pack of abominations. Dog-shifters that have been working in concert with the Pure.”

Mike felt his heart thump in his chest, and Cam twitched and looked down at him.

“Dogs?” Cam said, “You sure?”

“Maybe your bird friend made mistakes like that,” Meredith turned and started to walk away, “but this is a war, so we try to keep our intel straight.”

Cam growled at her, but Meredith walked back into the crowd of werewolves.

Mike was trying not to imagine Shannon, running around Garfield park, being hounded by wolves. The image was so vivid in his head, the sound of clamping teeth, the look on her face as a wolf brought her to the ground. He could practically taste it as the blow came down on her neck.

“Relax,” Spatz said, “She’s intense, but she means well.”

Mike realized his fist was squeezed so tight, a sharp pain was in the palm of his hand.

“Right,” Mike said, “I guess we’ll see.”

Saturday Fiction: Get Right With Me

A long while ago I asked myself, what would it be like if the usual formula of ‘Christian Romance’ was flipped. The story of ‘this person who isn’t right with god, suddenly meets someone who they love, but that person is too Christian to love them back until they are a proper Christian.’ I’ve shared this story somewhere before I think, but while a short scene, I still find it interesting to look back at. I could see it the other way so easily, but this way would still be foreign/strange, and on TV, Beth would be the hero if it was the normal Christian story, but in this version she would be a villain.

A chill ran up his spine before she replied.

“You don’t really believe in that whole religion thing,” Beth said, “do you?”

Beth looked at Shawn with one eyebrow up, and her whole body tilted away from. If there was ever a more blatant sign that you were supposed to lie to someone’s face, Shawn hadn’t seen it.

His hands were out, cupped upwards in that ‘I just got done spilling my guts to you’ pose, and now he was stuck there. His mouth hung open, his eyes seeking someplace to look besides her patronizing stare.

“Well no,” Shawn began, “I don’t think so.”

He did, or had. Just saying otherwise made his stomach burn, and a nervous grin spread across his face.

“I was raised that way though,” He continued, “Is what I was getting at.”

Beth chuckled, and Shawn felt something he imagined was supposed to be relief. Instead, his stomach was still in a knot, and he was afraid she was going to hit him any moment. They came outside to get away from the little party inside, and now Shawn found himself looking back to see how the party was going.

“Who isn’t raised that way?” Beth said, kicking one of her long legs at the dirt in front of them, “We were Catholic for awhile, then my dad switched for some reason. Same bullshit though.”

She smiled at him, gave him a wink, and Shawn’s only coherent thought was how beautiful blasphemy sounded coming out of her lips.

“Which were you?” She asked.

Shawn sat up, hands going to grip the brick outcropping they were sitting on, “Presbyterian, you know, normal.”

She rolled her eyes, “Nothing normal about it.”

He looked at the ground. In all the time he had known Beth, he had never seen this side of her. She always seemed like such a nice girl, wore a cross to school every day, helped on campus and even volunteered. He was excited to talk to her, and to be honest, get a chance to kiss her. Beth was his dream girl, spunky, but in control of herself, right without being self-righteous.

“You okay?” She asked, her eyes looking him over.

It sent a chill through his spine, and he swallowed hard. He could feel himself leaning closer to her, his face reaching for hers, his lips pursing.

“Mmmhmm,” He mumbled.

She leaned away from him again, a look of confusion on her face as he floundered after his failed kiss. “You didn’t think I was a little church girl, did you?”

Shawn sat up, shook his head, “No, hell no. I mean, why would I?”

Beth dug into the front of her button up blouse, and pulled out a silver cross. She bat her eyes at him.

“Who doesn’t wear a cross,” He said, feeling his face getting hot, “Like, a majority of the country claims to be Christian.”

Her face went plain, and she stared him in the eyes. His heart thumped, and he didn’t know where to look. Was that her kiss face? Was that her angry face? He didn’t know,

“You do believe, don’t you?” She said, “Admit it.”

Shawn rolled his eyes, “I don’t know what you mean, you were just saying…”

Beth put a finger to his lips, and Shawn sucked in air through his nose.

“Should a good Christian boy be lying?”

He squeezed his lips shut, closed his eyes, “Shit.”

“I can’t believe you!” She yelled, “To think I was going to kiss you.”

“You were?” Shawn gasped, “Well what does this have to do with it?”

She bobbed her head, “Besides lying to my face?”

His mouth opened, but he had no defense for that part. That didn’t stop him from saying, “You were leading me.”

He tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but she looked genuinely hurt. Her lips flattened, and her brow furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, “What is the big deal?”

“Are you on the prowl for a wife?” Beth asked.

There were a lot of questions you usually didn’t have to answer in highschool, that was one of them. A wife was the last thing on his mind. Sure, he thought Beth was nice enough that maybe he could take her home to his family, a girlfriend he would be proud to show to everyone. That didn’t mean he wanted a wife.

“No,” Shawn said while shaking his head, “Of course not.”

“Then what do you want from me?” She shrugged, “Some first fuck and a story to tell your inevitable grandkids?”

“Why would you even say that?” He said, “Now Christians can’t date?”

“No,” She snapped, “Christian boys don’t date, they search for servants.”

While Shawn was willing to put up with a lot, there was a limit. He turned and faced off toward the yard, trying to cap the boiling sensation he felt in his gut.

“Who even says that?” He replied, “Your parents were Christians, their parents before them.”

Beth laughed, “My mother never read more of the bible than she needed to prop up her high horse.”

“You’re calling your mother a servant?” Shawn asked.

“Have you seen my mom? She can’t take two steps without looking to my dad for approval on the second,” She began, “My mom wants me to find some nice boy, so he can help me settle down, so he can bring me closer to the lord. As if I want to be close to someone who requires a man for him to love me.”

Shawn shook his head, “That is,” He stopped himself, tried to figure out how to phrase what he was saying, “That isn’t the way most people see it. My parents are devout, and they love each other.”

She shrugged, looking out over the little back yard with its playground and fence, “I know Christians can love each other. I’ve seen it. I just don’t want that kind of love.”

“They just want to be right with the lord,” Shawn said, “You get right with god, love god first, and your relationship will be stronger than any other.”

Beth looked at Shawn, “My parents divorced 2 years ago.”

He took a deep breath, held it.

“Are you going to tell me now that they weren’t right with god? That all their praying and sundays spent at church was done to the wrong beat? Maybe you’ll say it was god’s plan? Fuck your fairytale, I would rather have someone who loves me first.”

Shawn dug his feet into the dirt. He wasn’t a pro at proselytizing, he knew enough scripture for his own relationship with god. He knew that it wasn’t his job to fix her parent’s relationship, but between him and Beth, that was something different.

“I like you,” Beth said, “I like you a lot. But if you want to get right with me, you have to get rid of your invisible boyfriend first.”

She stood up, and walked back into the party. Shawn sat in the cold, trying to figure out when high school got so complicated.