Other, p.1
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       Other, p.1

           Karen Kincy
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  by Karen Kincy



  Other – copyright © 2017 – Karen Kincy

  Third edition

  All Rights Reserved

  No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (or any other form), business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  ISBN: 9781370441723

  To my mom,

  for collecting a library of books.


  Ican’t last much longer. It’s been one week, three days, and I forget how many hours.

  My belly cramps, and I curl on my bed, staring out at the stars. A delicious breeze glides through my window and cools my sweaty forehead. The air smells of summer—mowed grass, recent rain, lingering barbecue—and tempts me more than I want to admit. Shards of moonlight and shadow shift on the wall. I clench my teeth and toes and try to ride out the pain. My bedroom drifts counterclockwise, and I shut my eyes.

  It can’t be good for me, not shapeshifting.

  All the don’ts I’ve heard circle through my mind like vultures preying on my doubts. Don’t worry about what people think of Others, Gwen, they don’t understand. Don’t worry, Gwen, we love you just the way you are, but don’t tell anyone outside the family. If they don’t know you’re Other, it won’t hurt anyone. And don’t ever let anyone see you shapeshift, especially not the neighbors. Don’t.

  I shouldn’t. It’s stupid, dangerous, unnecessary—no, it’s very necessary. Just taboo.

  I kick off my blankets, slide out of bed, and lock my door. My heartbeat quickens. My breathing sounds too loud. I glimpse a pair of golden lights reflected in the mirror above my bookcase: my eyes, betraying their true nature. Most of the time I pass them off as pale hazel. Maybe my body’s telling me I should be human only 50 percent of the time, because that’s what I am. Half-human. The rest: a guilty pleasure, a shameful secret.

  Screw it. I’m going to. I have to—it’s as urgent as breathing.

  I don’t look at my reflection as I peel off my T-shirt, pants, underwear. Embarrassing sometimes, but I have to be naked. A shudder both painful and pleasurable ripples down my spine. Tingles build in the pit of my stomach. I tighten my abs, trying to hold it back. Can I get outside before it happens? I don’t think so.

  My skin prickles as if I ran naked through a field of nettles. It becomes almost unbearable. I hug myself tight, then gasp as magic floods my veins. My mind blanks, and it happens between heartbeats.

  When I open my eyes, I’m on all fours, carpet beneath my hooves. The floor groans, and I wince. Hopefully it won’t come crashing down under my half-ton weight. I see myself in the mirror. A pure black horse. I arch my neck and toss my mane, then sidestep from my reflection. My hoof clunks on a bedpost. I didn’t choose this big awkward animal, trust me—it’s what comes most naturally to me. My nostrils flare at the sweet scent of grass, and I stick my head out the window to ogle the lawn.

  Whoa there, Gwen, I tell myself.

  My legs itch with unspent energy. I want to go outside, even as guilt wriggles in my gut. I hate having to sneak around like a pervert. Well, if the neighbors saw me, what would they do? Probably they’d freak and break out the pitchforks. In a backwoods town like Klikamuks, Washington, laws can be conveniently forgotten, and nice politically correct terms like “person with paranormal identity” disappear.

  Whatever. I’ve earned this. I’ll be careful. I’ve been a good little girl for long enough. It’s easy to transform again, I’m so giddy with the lingering magic. Back to girl I go. I climb through the window and onto the roof. Naked, I curl my bare toes around shingles and grin nervously in the moonlight. I hope nobody’s awake.

  Wind tosses my curls. I clench my hands and stir the magic inside me. Power boils through my veins, dizzying me. Concentrate. The night snaps into sharper focus. I jump. My arms, my wings, strain upward. Feathers unfurl from my skin. My plummet curves into a swoop, and I tuck my talons beneath my body.

  From girl to great horned owl in about a second. Pretty good, huh?

  Flapping hard, I climb skyward in a tight spiral, then fan my wings and coast on the wind. My moldy old white farmhouse of a home looks almost quaint so far below. With my fantastic eyesight, I can count the morning glories clambering over the rusty swing set in our yard. Rodents scritch and nibble in the tall grass, and my stomach aches. No. Bad owl. Shapeshifting always makes me hungry.

  Unfortunately, I know what mice taste like. To avoid temptation, I gain altitude. A somber amethyst glow colors the clouds to the west—the lights of Klikamuks. To the east, toward the Cascades, lies truly dark sky. I fly into the darkness. A sea of trees sighs beneath me. Nearly 50,000 acres of old-growth forest lies beyond our backyard—the Boulder River Wilderness Area, part of the much larger Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. A perfect hideout for Others like me.

  I stretch my wings, a sweet ache in my muscles, and ride a breeze. I always forget how boring my normal life is, until I fly. A weight in my stomach tells me this is wrong, that I shouldn’t be sneaking out and unleashing my Otherness. I focus too hard on enjoying the sensation of soaring, and the pleasure fades.

  Howls chorus in the distance. Adrenaline spikes my blood. Please don’t it let it be what I’m thinking. Coyotes sound a lot more yippy, dogs don’t run in packs around here, and there are no real wolves left in Washington.

  Werewolves. Great. Just what I need.

  The moon glows like a Cheshire cat’s grin. It’s a myth that werewolves can change only on the night of a full moon. They’re forced to, those nights, but if they’re strong enough, they can transform whenever they want. Apparently, I’m not the only Other sneaking out for a midnight shapeshifting snack. Did these werewolves come down from Canada? I heard about a pack up there, the bane of farmers and ranchers.

  Hooves drum a panicked beat on the dirt below me. I swivel my head to pinpoint the sound, and dive. A stag bounds over a log and crashes through bushes. I swoop so low I can see the fearful gleaming whites of his eyes. Then the stag disappears in the darkness.

  I want to go to bed.

  Flying home feels like a chore. I swoop through my open window, banging my wing on the frame, and curse silently. I have to stop doing this. Starving myself, then doing binge transformations. But I can’t keep my Otherness bridled 24/7, even if my parents and the whole wide world think I should. I return to my girl body and exhale.

  My stomach grumbles loudly enough to resemble seismic activity. I sigh, tug on my clothes, and sneak downstairs to refuel on food. After eating a bagel sandwich, I climb back into my bed, my cocoon.

  My stomach is full, but I still feel hungry. Sleep refuses to come.

  Only werewolves would be stupid enough to hunt so close to a town and risk terrifying humans. You know, werewolves, vampires, and the rest of the bloodborn Others really piss me off sometimes. They just can’t resist biting a lot of people and making new Others, like themselves, who don’t play by the rules. There are laws for a reason. People won’t give a damn about the rights of Others if rogue werewolves insist it’s their birthright to hunt without permits and claim territory already owned by the government.

  I wasn’t bitten. I was born this way. My dad—my real dad—was a pooka, a shapeshifting spirit from Wales. You probably haven’t heard of them. No, they’re not something cute and cuddly, and please don’t ever call me pookie. A few surviving pookas hide in scraps of British wilderness. I don’t know about any other half-breeds like me. Maybe they’re also under the bed, as they say.
Monsters that haven’t come out yet.

  Everybody’s read the stories, but nobody should believe them. Not even that stuff in Paranormal Studies textbooks. They say pookas show up as a dark horse with glowing golden eyes, stalking travelers on murky nights, inviting them on wild rides, throwing them into bogs, over cliffs, trampling them …

  I’ve never done that. It’s just human propaganda against Others. Pookas are also accused of destroying crops and breaking down fences. Blame the livestock, I say. Okay, so I did try making crop circles with a friend. Once.

  But why do I want to shapeshift so often? Is it normal? Ha, as if I can call myself normal. Is something wrong with me? This isn’t the first night I’ve lain awake in bed, the urge to shapeshift boiling over. It seems to be getting worse as I get older. I can’t remember this ever happening when I was a kid.

  Maybe it’s natural, nothing to worry about. I wish I could ask my pooka dad, but I’ve never met him. I’d ask my parents if they ever might possibly be able to help me, but the likelihood of that is a big fat no. They’re humans—I’m not.


  When I wake up, everything’s pleasant—until I move and my muscles ache. Then I remember the new werewolves in town.

  “Bollocks,” I mutter, a choice word I picked up from my mother.

  Deep breaths. I count the stitches in one of the mushroom yarn paintings I thrifted. Some people use labyrinths or mandalas to calm down. I prefer anything gloriously tacky. When my heart stops pounding in my ears, I get out of bed and inspect my room. Hoof prints emboss my carpet. I rub my foot over them to smooth them out. A tawny owl feather rests on the windowsill. I slide open my window.

  “Breakfast!” my dad bellows from the bottom of the stairs. Stepdad, to be exact.

  I jump and toss out the feather. It seesaws down and lands on the lawn. Maybe they’ll think it belongs to a normal owl. When I open my bedroom door, the heavenly aroma of pancakes lures me downstairs.

  My family’s already there. I glance at their faces, but nobody seems worried.

  In the corner of the kitchen, Mum perches on the window seat and cradles a mug of coffee. Her auburn ponytail clings to her staticky sweater. Gazing at the gray blanket of clouds outside, she takes a pensive sip.

  She sighs. “Reminds me of Wales.” You would think she’s about to rhapsodize, but she adds, “It was just as bloody rainy there.”

  I wonder if Mum misses Wales. She left soon after she had a fling with a pooka and discovered she was pregnant. She was more than a wee bit embarrassed—that stuff doesn’t happen in stories. I have to give her credit, though. Her family wanted her to give me up for adoption, or worse. Said I was faerie spawn. Hey, they were right, but luckily Mum doesn’t believe faerie babies are little bundles of evil. Okay, so I’m not sure my grandparents actually said that when I was born, but let’s just say reunions with the Welsh side of the family have ranged from nonexistent to nightmarish.

  Dad pokes at a pancake in a frying pan. “Who wants some flapjacks?” He always calls them that. He sort of looks like a storybook lumberjack, big and shaggy, though he owns a hardware store in Klikamuks.

  “Me!” Megan says, scrambling off the couch.

  I refrain from saying “Me too!” because I hate echoing her.

  Megan drags a textbook to the table. I roll my eyes at my half-sister. She’s all human, unlike me. I’ll spare you the details of her virtuoso cello playing and mathematical prowess, but Megan’s the “gifted” one in the family, while I’m the black sheep. Or should I say, black horse? Okay, not funny.

  I decide it’s time to break the news. “There are werewolves in the forest.”

  “Oh?” Mum says.

  Dad concentrates on scraping a pancake from the pan. “Huh.”

  “What, like that guy at the gas station you thought was an imp?” Megan asks.

  I blush. “That was, like, four years ago. I was a kid.”

  “You were thirteen. And what about the Johanssons last year? The ‘elves’?” Megan waggles her fingers in air quotes.

  “This is serious,” I say. “Didn’t you hear the howls?”

  “Nope,” Megan says blithely.

  I glower at her. “Mum? Dad?”

  “Maybe you were dreaming,” Dad says.

  “Right,” I mutter.

  I shut up and eat my pancakes. No use mentioning why I was up so late, or that I just happened to be flying over the forest.

  After breakfast, I head upstairs. Megan’s bedroom door, opposite mine, is closed. I’m sure she’s studying again. Megan and I are homeschooled, so Mom can keep my powers hidden while cultivating Megan’s talents. But even homeschoolers get summer vacation. Try telling that to Megan, though. She’s quite possibly the nerdiest, stodgiest fourteen-year-old I’ve ever met. It annoys me when people think she’s older than me. I hope it’s just her height (she’s three inches taller), but I suspect it’s her behavior.

  After I power up my laptop, I check my blog for comments. I stay anonymous with the username “blackmagic” so I can rant about anything that needs ranting.

  Yesterday, I reblogged this ridiculous ad for a vampire show on TV and added some pretty scathing comments. People seem to think vampires are either elegantly angsty immortals or vile bloodsucking criminals. Correct answer: depends entirely on the vampire. Granted, I don’t know any personally, but they do have a midnight Vampire Pride Parade every year in Seattle. You see everybody from white-haired old ladies to nerdy teen guys there.

  Sometimes I wish we lived in Seattle, not Klikamuks. It’s way more liberal there, and it seems to have a lot more Others. Of course, people always think there are more Others than the reality. We’re definitely a minority. It’s just that the Others who come out are so … visible. How could you not miss a Sasquatch running for mayor of Seattle? Who cares if he didn’t even get close to winning.

  I got a few sympathetic comments from my friends—most are people I only know online—and another from an anonymous poster.

  Anonymous: i think my ex girlfriend gave me that werewolf disease. i’m starting to feel really screwed up around the full moon. i’m scared. can you help me?

  Lycanthropy can be transmitted via bites, and it’s also an STD. Same with vampirism and all the other bloodborn ways of becoming Other. The first transformations can be brutal on the mind and body. Is some poor clueless guy really asking me for help? I type a quick reply.

  blackmagic: Are you sure it’s lycanthropy? You should check out WereRecovery.com. They have a lot of info. Hope this helps. I know lycanthropy can be hard to deal with sometimes.

  Within a minute, the guy replies.

  Anonymous: so your a werewolf? knew your a bitch. you and your fucked up faerie friends disgust me.

  My face flames, then goes cold. I see a faint golden glow reflected on my laptop screen—my eyes, burning with anger. My fingers rattle the keys.

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