Hi Devouring Horde!
Because you have been a most lovely, patient and fine and fluffy horde lately, behold, I have stolen you a treat from the equally lovely House Andrews!
Don’t ask me if there will be more, when will there be more and how will there be more. This never happened. ::Mod R melts in the shadows of Unicorn Lane::
Ms. Vigue adjusted her bright red glasses and peered at me from her perch on the sofa in our second living room. We were in the middle of renovations, and the second living room was one of the only functional rooms in the place.
Ms. Vigue was in her early fifties, with a lightly tanned skin and ash-blonde hair cropped short and brushed back from her face. Her eyes behind the lenses were either gray or pale blue. She wore a silky green blouse with a light gray skirt.
I wore a pair of old shorts and a paint-stained tank top over a sports bra, because I had been painting one of the spare bedrooms when Ms. Vigue arrived unannounced. I’d pulled my brown hair into a bun and pinned it in place with an old bandana to minimize the paint exposure, and since that side of the house had neither fans nor any either way of cooling, I smelled like a lumberjack after a long day at work. Making a great first impression on a school administrator – check.
We smiled at each other. Ms. Vigue was doing her best to appear approachable and welcoming, while I did my best to appear normal. We were both lying as hard as we could.
Making small talk was not among my few virtues. “I was under the impression that we were already done with the admissions. You sent us the acceptance letter.”
Which was part of the reason we moved here and got stuck in the renovation hell.
“You are correct.” Ms. Vigue offered me a quick humorless smile. “Our school is unique.”
You could say that again. It was so unique, it cost an arm and a leg, but they came highly recommended.
“We like to think of our body as being truly representative of the diverse world we live in. It is a special place where students of different backgrounds come together. This interview will help us to better understand your child’s needs and enable us to ensure their safety and help them thrive in our vibrant community.”
Aha. This wasn’t a get-to-know-you visit, this was a threat assessment.
I smiled. Think normal suburban thoughts. How hard could this be, right?
“Of course, my husband and I will do everything in our power to assist you. Please feel free to ask us anything.”
She took out a leather folder, unzipped it, and checked the contents. “You’ve been recommended by one of our patrons. How do you know Dr. Cole?”
“He was our family doctor. He delivered my son and has treated him frequently over the years. We consider him a family friend.”
Ms. Vigue nodded and made a note in her folder. “Your son’s assessment scores are quite remarkable.”
Was this a compliment? If I took it as a compliment, she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. “Thank you.”
“Our school’s reputation ensures that we get the most outstanding applicants. Your son will be among his intellectual peers.”
That would be a tall order, but I didn’t need him to find his intellectual equals. I just needed him to learn to act like a person and interact with other children.
“It’s my understanding that your child is a shapeshifter.”
Here we go. “Yes.”
“What is the nature of his beast?”
I smiled even sweeter. “That’s a highly illegal question, Ms. Vigue. The nature of one’s beast is confidential and cannot be used as basis for discrimination by any educational institution in this country.”
I knew this because my husband had dumped a massive amount of money and effort into lobbying for those laws to be passed.
Ms. Vigue pushed her glasses up her nose with her middle finger.
Aha. Fuck you too. “Would you like me to cite the relevant federal and state statutes protecting shapeshifter rights, or can we skip the formalities?”
“Of course, we cannot compel you to release that information. However…”
“Your next words will determine what I’ll tell Dr. Cole tonight when he calls to check how we are settling in. And he will call. He is very thoughtful and thorough. I’m sure he and his seven thousand associates will take a dim view of your school attempting to discriminate against a shapeshifter child.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re going to be difficult, aren’t you?”
You have no idea. “I don’t know what you mean, Ms. Vigue. Did you have any other questions?”
“I will come straight to the point.”
“I wish you would.”
“Can you guarantee that your child will not snap and attack his classmates?”
“Absolutely. He is very much like his father. It’s important to him that his resorting to violence is viewed as a deliberate choice rather than a loss of control on his part.”
She blinked at me.
I leaned forward and fixed her with my stare. I’ve had a lot of practice and years of experience to back it up. Ms. Vigue flinched a bit.
“Since we’ve decided to be blunt, if my child decides to go on a rampage, the combined security of your school won’t be able to stop him. If something alarming happens, which it won’t, you will call us, and either I or his father will come and take care of it.”
“Are you suggesting that we make no effort to contain him?”
“He won’t attack you if you don’t present a threat. Your best strategy is to sit still and look down. Don’t run because he will chase you and he is very fast. Cringing and urinating on yourself will also remove you from his target list.” I smiled. “I’m so glad we had this chat, Ms. Vigue. Would you like some iced tea for the road?”
Three minutes later, I watched Ms. Vigue get into her Chevrolet Malibu and roll down the road west. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The air smelled like sea and sun. It should’ve been calming, but it wasn’t. The past few days brought one minor calamity after another, starting with the floor in the utility room caving in and getting worse from there. Ms. Vigue’s visit was just a rotten cherry on top of this cake of woe.
I needed to vent some steam in the worst way.
The sound of footsteps made me turn. Our general contractor, Paul Oak, was walking toward me with an older man in tow.
Around me the walls of Fort Kure loomed against the sunshine, blocking the view of the beach. Conceived by a hare-brained multimillionaire as a privately owned ‘companion attraction” to the historic Fort Fisher, the structure had been only 2/3 complete when the owner bailed. Once finished, it would look like a hybrid of a medieval castle and a modern fort. My husband took one look at the absurdly thick stone walls and fell in love. His grey eyes got this crazy light, he took my hands in his, and said, “Baby, we would be crazy to not do this.”
I said yes because I loved him. And now Paul was coming to tell me that something else was broken.
Paul stopped a few feet away from me, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here. Something was wrong. He was typically an optimistic guy who looked at a collapsed wall with an attitude of “I can fix it” and frequently did. The man behind him looked about fifteen years older than Paul, which put him in his late forties or early fifties. They had to be related – both had the same bronze skin, dark curly hair, and aquiline noses.
“I hate to ask,” Paul said, “But is there any way I could get an advance on the next month’s pay?”
Paul opened his mouth, thought about it, and sighed. “Look, it’s complicated.”
“Paul, you’re asking for ten thousand dollars.” We paid him, and he doled the money out to his employees and subcontractors. “For this amount of money, I need to know why.”
He opened his mouth again, closed it, thought about it, and finally said, “This is my uncle, Thomas. Someone took my cousin. We scraped together what we had to buy him back, but it’s not enough.”
We lived in unsafe times. Kidnappings weren’t uncommon, especially if the victim was, in Ms. Vigue’s words, “vibrant enough.”
“Do you know who took him?”
“Are they holding him for ransom?”
“No,” Paul said.
“Have you tried the cops?”
“These are dangerous people,” Thomas said. “The cops won’t bother them unless there is evidence. I don’t have evidence.”
“Then how do you know who took him?”
“Because Darin’s best friend saw them take him. If I go to the police, bad things will happen to that boy.”
Right. This would do.
I pulled the rag off my head. “Wait here. I’m going to change, and we’ll go and get your son back.”
“You don’t understand,” Thomas said. “They are…”
“Bad people. I got it. Don’t worry, I’m worse.”
The two men looked skeptical. It was probably my winning ensemble of stained tank top and torn shorts.
My husband walked out of the north tower and jogged over to us. He was almost six feet tall, with blond hair and grey eyes, and he was built like a champion grappler in his prime. The two men instinctively stepped aside to make room for him.
“Hey,” I told him.
“What’s going on?”
“Paul’s cousin has been kidnapped. I’m going to get him back.”
“Oh good. Will you be home in time for dinner?”
Paul and Thomas looked at him like he had lost his mind.
“Nah. Eat without me.” I stretched my shoulders a bit, gave him a quick hug, and headed to my bedroom.
“Don’t forget,” he called.
“Low profile,” I called out over my shoulder. “I remember.”
We had agreed before moving that keeping a low profile was best, and we’d both religiously stuck to it, so far.
Five minutes later I walked out wearing my work clothes: a pair of jeans lose enough to kick someone taller than me in the face, a grey T-shirt, and a pair of soft boots. I wore a utility belt on my waist and a sword sheath on my back. The handle of my sword protruded over my shoulder. I’d braided my hair, and there were two throwing knives and a bowie in the sheath on my thigh.
“Let’s go,” I told Thomas.
The older man looked at Paul. Paul spread his arms and shrugged. Thomas looked at him, looked at me, and fell in step.
“Did you bring a car?”
“I rode a horse.”
“Good. I like horses best.” They always worked.
The world skipped a bit. Technology coughed and died, and magic flooded us in an invisible wave. The colors grew a little brighter, the sounds turned a little louder, and the things came into focus with a new sharpness. For as long as the magic held, the guns would not fire, the electric bulbs would remain dark, and monsters would spawn in the darkness. I looked up at the horizon
“I still think this is a terrible idea, Mrs…”
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I need the exercise. And, please, call me Kate.”