Nothing good ever happens after three a.m., and I would know–it was when I was born. 3:07, to be exact, because whatever force drives the universe wanted to make sure the nurses couldn’t fudge the times; couldn’t give my parents any hope of having a normal child. Not that it would have mattered if they’d been able to, though, because paperwork does not have as much power as people believe.
This is not a case of mind over matter, where a person can will something, a wish or desire, into existence simply through the power of their denial. The time of my birth is an invisible brand on my mind, body, and soul, forever setting me on a path outside the realm of ordinary.
Even as a slavering Hellhund–visible only to a couple people on the street, me included–bounded down the sidewalk after its prey, I couldn’t say I was complaining. Sure, it was hard to keep a job around the Ords, (ordinary folks), when they couldn’t see the zooming lights of tiny Pixies waging a full-scale, miniature war on the Snarks, or evil Pixies, in the copy room. Difficult for my parents to fully understand why my attention wandered so often in school, because teenage angst attracted Wraiths like Black Friday deals did for bargain shoppers. However, it made for an interesting, albeit bumpy, road that is my life.
It’s not that the Ords don’t know these things exist, because they’ve been made well aware of their presence, but there is a long way from knowing and seeing on a constant basis. I can’t even fathom how awful my life might have been if my parents merely thought me insane. On the other hand, they can sympathize but not empathize. The supernatural forces that had physical forms tended not to announce their presence, and unless you sought them out they left the Ords alone; with only a few exceptions that saw them as snacks. But where Ords were snacks, I was a four-course dinner.
I tucked my head and dropped my eyes to count the cracks in the concrete as I walked, before I caught the attention of the Baba Yaga that used the bus stop in front of my apartment. To Ords she looked like a harmless old woman with a penchant for odd jewelry, but to me her smile was full of sharp, flesh-rending teeth, and the bones that made up her adornments rattled ominously.
The chilly autumn wind made me pull my purple, knitted beanie, a gift from my mother, back down over my ears. It didn’t bode well for my bobbed, copper blonde hair, but it was too damned cold to do without. I was on my way to my next temp job, because as you can imagine it’s not easy for me to hold a permanent job. Something–inevitably–shows up, happens, or tries to kill me. Temp jobs weren’t ideal for most, and could be hard on the wallet, but if you budgeted and scheduled well, the holidays became your bread and butter.
It was the beginning of November, and while people bemoan Christmas coming earlier every year, I could only do a happy little dance with my cup of noodles and praise consumerism. On the other end, though, a new set of post-Halloween nasties come out this time of year. Creatures that crawled from whatever dimensions they called home and gorged on the despair, greed, and depression that went hand-in-hand with the holidays–like bugs feeding on a corpse. But I had to pay the bills, and this time of year tended to do that in spades.
If having a job was the ice cream, then the whipped cream and cherry would have to be having a job within walking distance of my apartment when I didn’t own a car. After swerving to avoid the ghost of a boy that died and haunted a particular stretch of road the DMV used for its tests, and nearly totaling my parents’ car, the instructor, my parents, and I decided to invest in a bicycle.
Mine was in the shop for repairs at the moment, but the new job was only a couple miles away. I’d thrown on my faded, purple canvas shoes with their ratty shoestrings, a fluffy, insulated down jack to match the beanie, jeans, my only nice, bright blue, button-up shirt, and headed out the door. If it sounded like I was a freshly minted twenty year old trying to find my place in the world, you’d be wrong–I was creeping up on thirty with no real direction in my life, and none seemed imminent.
My walk-up apartment wasn’t in the best part of town, but there was something about the landlord, who lived on the first level, that made most creep-a-deeps give the building a wide berth. I’d nodded to the landlord, a man with dark, bushy eyebrows and shaggy hair in need of cut, on my way out, and though he rarely spoke except in monosyllables, he raised a work-roughened hand in acknowledgment. There were times, if I looked out the corner of my eye just right, I’d get a flash of a furry face with a long snout. I never asked him what he was, because I couldn’t think of a polite way to ask, but it made me wonder what else out there could hide from even my Sight?
Other than the relative safety of my building, I’d have to say the best part of my neighborhood were the trees in the middle of the sidewalks, for blocks and blocks. The leaves were turned and falling, in those gorgeous reds, browns, and golds you get in autumn, but there was rarely a leaf to be found on the ground. Even as I blinked, one solitary leaf on the sidewalk ahead of me disappeared faster than I could snap my chilled fingers. The Faeries that called the branches of the trees on our street, home, were exiled from some Fae court or another. In exchange for the Omnies, (a joking nickname short for omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, supernatural police), not kicking them back to their part of the Never realms they called their former home, they kept the sidewalks clean.
As for me, well, I didn’t suppose I was useful to anyone except those interested in eating me. Apparently Mids, people sitting on the fence between the supernatural and Ords, tasted delicious; human vintage with an extra ker-pow to get the engines going.
Hunkered down as I was in my coat, combined with the beanie, it took a minute for me to hear the pounding footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. My heart rate picked up speed and I clenched my hands in my pockets. This wasn’t typically an Ord neighborhood, and while the nastier supernaturals that would eat you outright tended to come out at night, the minute you start relying on that fact was the minute you were watching one of them eat your still-beating heart. I didn’t want to turn and look, because at times surviving came down to ninety-percent bravado, but I did so anyway.
There was a man running full-tilt, I’ve-got-a-demon-on-my-heels type of quick, but apart from him moving too fast to be an Ord I couldn’t tell what he was. I cursed under my breath and moved out of his way, putting the trunk of one of the sturdy trees between him and my short, petite form. I peeked just a fraction around the rough bark, and we locked eyes; his yellow, and speaking of some kind of Were or Shifter, with my blue-hazel ones. Just then, a flock of Strixes descended from the sky and fell on him like the ravening beasts they were, tearing into his flesh like a pack of piranhas.
I ducked back behind the tree, thankful for its width, and closed my eyes until it was over. I wasn’t fast enough to not have the image of their red wings buffeting his body and the air, each of them with their four clawed, black legs dragging him down to the ground, while their long, golden beaks started in on the softer parts of his body. The frenzied light behind their sickly, pupil-less, amber eyes gleamed with bloodlust. The screams didn’t lost long, but their brief, sharp sound seemed to echo over the eerily quiet urban landscape. In gang neighborhoods you don’t act witness to the gang activity, and in supernatural territories you keep your nose out of their business–lest you have it ripped off and fed to you.
It didn’t take them long, as there were five of them and only one regular sized guy, before the sound of their retreating wings rushed overhead. Once again I was grateful for the tree, as well as the warm weather we’d had late into this year, since it meant there were still enough leaves left to conceal my presence should they look down.
It was another five, excruciatingly counted minutes after that before I was brave enough to look back around the tree. Strixes closely resembled owls, which meant nary a crumb of bone was left on the sidewalk. All that remained of the man was a good-sized splotch of blood on the concrete. Even as I watched, and blinked, the Faeries got to work again and within another minute there was nothing physical of this man left in this world outside the stomachs of the Strixes and Faeries. Faeries were carnivores, and wouldn’t pass up a blood meal left so generously on their proverbial doorsteps.
I blew out a breath, squared my shoulders, and continued on toward my new job; thankful I’d decided to leave a little earlier than planned, or else I might have joined him in the bellies of the beasts. As I walked, though, I worried at my lower lip and frowned. Strixes were bad omens. Not only because they might very well eat you, but their presence in general signaled bad things to come.
One minute at a time, Sophie, the voice of my closest friend, long dead, rang through my mind; don’t hurry trouble to your doorstep. I sighed, but acquiesced and put it to the back of my mind. I needed to make a good impression on my new boss, who I’d yet to meet except through e-mails, and showing up like someone who seemed in need of a large dose of anti-anxiety medication wasn’t a good way to do that. I continued on, feeling just a hair better, but still keeping one eye on the sky.
Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Ten
- Chapter Eleven
- Chapter Twelve
- Chapter Thirteen
- Chapter Fourteen
- Chapter Fifteen
- Chapter Sixteen
- Chapter Seventeen
- Final Chapter
- Final Chapter