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A very short story
Some days everything lined up perfectly. And some days, you were Sandra.
“How could you, Sandra? How could you?”
Colt, Sandra’s husband, certainly had a flair for drama. I couldn’t see him from my perch on the roof, but he put so much effort into his vocal performance, it was almost better that way. When you named a child after a horse and a gun, drama was sure to follow.
“A harpy? A fucking harpy?”
I took a swig of apple cider from my canteen and stretched a little, shifting the weight of the sword on my back. The magic wave was strong tonight. The sun was slowly setting, its red rays filtering through encroaching summer twilight. The charming two-story craftsman sat in the center of Candler Park. I could see the trees of Candler Wood to the north and the steeple of the Neighborhood Church to the north-east.
In post-Shift world, churches, especially ones with significant congregations, were the islands of safety. Faith had power, and an address close to a church came with a large mark-up. Colt and Sandra had paid a small fortune for a safer place to raise their children. Their house was painted the perfect shade of beige, their yard was manicured, and their cars were always clean. Appearances were important to Colt. He was the type of man who left passive aggressive notes on their neighbors’ doorstep while his wife was missing because they had forgotten to put away their trashcans. I’d watched him do it.
“What am I supposed to do with this, Sandra? Am I supposed to explain to our friends that every month my wife grows feathers and claws and turns into a fucking harpy?”
Next to me Teddy Jo sighed and murmured. “You’d think he would be more concerned about all the blood on her. Your wife disappears for three days, then comes home bloody. Wouldn’t you take her to the hospital or something?”
Being married when things were going well was easy. As long as both of you were safe, healthy, and making plenty of money, harmony wasn’t that difficult to achieve. But eventually tragedy, grief, or money issues struck, and that’s when you found out if your marriage was built to last.
“Have you even considered my feelings? Have you thought about what kind of position this will put me in?”
Teddy Jo’s eyebrows came together.
The sun had almost set, but the air was still hot and humid. I missed the coastal breeze. Atlanta used to be my hunting ground, but I’d moved awhile ago. Wilmington was home now. My husband built us a fortress on the edge of the beach. If we were there now, I would be sitting on the balcony, listening to the surf.
My husband and I returned to the city every summer so our son could spend time with his grandparents and friends he saw once a year. I almost never took jobs in Atlanta anymore, but when an old friend asks you for a favor to help find someone kidnapped by a cult of Empusa, you have to make exceptions. Especially if he pays you in homemade cider. All you can drink.
“What about the children? Have you thought about the children? What are we going to tell them? How do you think that conversation will go? Hi, Anna and Jordan, your mommy has discovered that she is a fucking monster.”
“I’m going to beat his ass,” Teddy Jo growled.
“That’s not your fight.”
“A disgusting feather covered abomination!”
Teddy Jo leaned forward. His eyes turned solid black.
I put my hand on his forearm. “Let her do it. That’s the point.”
“A gross, foul, fucking monster who…”
“It’s twenty-eight days,” Sandra said. Her voice was cold and clear.
“The transformation doesn’t happen every month. It happens every twenty-eight days. It’s tied to the lunar cycle.”
“Why the fuck would I care how long it takes? Is this even important right now?”
“You would care because I explained it to you. Because you are my husband, and this should be important to you since it’s important to me. But then you never cared about things important to me, did you, Colt?”
Teddy Jo rubbed his hands.
“How can you say that?”
“I’m neither ugly nor foul. I’m βασιλεία. My strain is a royal strain. Of all the harpies in Atlanta, I alone can produce Πρίγκιπας.”
“What the hell is that?”
“A prince, Colt. My magic is thousands of years old. My line had been blessed by Athena. My powers are hereditary. So, when we talk to the children, we will tell them that they too are royalty. Our daughter will be βασιλεία like me. Our son will be a prince, a male harpy, one in ten thousand.”
“Oh my fucking God.” Colt’s voice shook. “You infected the children with your filthy disease. You… You…”
He choked on his words and came into my view, backing away, down the front walk, a tall, broad shouldered man in a black T-shirt and jeans, his dark hair tied into a bun.
Sandra stepped forward.
Harpies came in all kinds of varieties, but the most common one was the black vulture, with dark brown feathers and pale claws. Sandra was not a vulture.
Her feathers were tawny brown, flecked with cream spots. They covered her huge raptor legs, her talons an inescapable reminder that before birds were birds, they had been terrible lizards. From the mid-thigh up, her body was unmistakably female, with flared hips, supple waist, and full breasts, all of it sheathed in cream colored soft down. Her neck was long, and her face was beautiful and regal. A plume of long brown feathers cascaded from her head. Enormous wings spread from her arms, like a feathered mantle of power, ending in raptor hands armed with three-inch talons.
“Athene noctua.” Teddy Jo smiled.
The owl harpy stared down her husband. “Stand by my side or leave.”
“Stand by me or leave. Choose.”
He shook his head, turned on his foot, and took off down the street.
“Mom?” a child voice called.
The queen of harpies turned. A warm, beautiful smile lit her face. “Yes, honey?”
“Can we stop hiding now?”
“Yes, sweetheart. We won’t be hiding ever again. Get your things. We’re leaving.”
I took another swallow of my cider. All was well that ended well.
“By the way,” Teddy Jo said. “You wouldn’t believe who I saw in the city the other night.”
His eyebrows crept up. “You know already.”
Of course, I knew. She was my kid.
“I’m guessing she didn’t come home, because if she had, you would’ve told me.”
She didn’t. I hadn’t seen her in person in eight years. “What was she doing?”
“Coming out of a small church on the edge the Warren. I didn’t get too close. The girl is a magic radar.”
That was true. If he had gotten anywhere close, she would’ve made him.
“She looked different. If it wasn’t for her magic, I would’ve never known it was her. What the hell happened?”
I sighed. “It’s a long story.”
“Do you want me to find her for you?”
I had talked to my aunt. The Rose of Tigris had many talents but lying wasn’t one of them. Usually, she talked about her granddaughter non-stop, but this time she told me that “the child” was off on “some errand or another.”
Something was happening. My kid was involved in it, my aunt knew about it, and neither of them had said a word about it to me. Watching Erra contort herself trying to avoid the topic was almost painful. They both hated lying, so they simply kept things to themselves.
“She is homesick,” I told him. “She wants to come home. The fact that she’s so close but she hasn’t dropped everything and showed up on my doorstep means she can’t. I trust her. She will ask for my help if she needs it.”
Teddy Jo shook his head. “It’s like I don’t know you anymore. Are you the same person that freaked out every time your son sneezed?”
Sandra walked out into the driveway, leading her two children, Jordan, five, and Anna, nine, both with backpacks. Jordan was holding a teddy bear. They weren’t taking much with them.
“Children grow up,” I told him. “It hurts, but you have to give them room.”
Sandra turned around and waved at us.
Teddy Jo looked at me.
“No,” I told him. “I’m not doing it. I’ve spent the last two days dangling in that sling you call a harness while you flew all over the damn city. You are not carrying me. Get me off the roof and I’m walking home.”
“Whatever you want.”
Thanatos spread his black wings and picked me up. The air whooshed around us, and he deposited me onto the driveway.
“Thank you for everything,” Sandra told me.
“It was a pleasure.”
Teddy Jo picked up Jordan. Anna turned in a flurry of wings and feathers, and the four of them took to the sky.
I watched them for a few moments, then turned and walked down the street. Living with two werelions meant taking into account that they were ravenous and often. I had dinner to cook and cultist blood to get out of my T-shirt.