Other, p.4
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       Other, p.4

           Karen Kincy
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  As I talk to Chloe, I twist a strand of hair around my finger, tighter and tighter.

  “Randall mentioned rumors about water sprites,” she murmurs, “but I didn’t believe him.”

  “Well, I’m pretty certain. Considering how I actually saw them and everything.” My sarcasm doesn’t quite mask the wobble in my voice. “And the more I think about it, the more I think it couldn’t have been an accident.”


  “Yes. My parents don’t believe me at all, which I find absolutely insane.”

  Chloe purses her lips. “I didn’t see the bodies, so I can’t be sure.”

  “I just can’t believe they lived right here in Klikamuks! How many Others are there?” I laugh bitterly. “Why can’t I meet any live ones?”

  She gives me a serious stare. “Others have good reason to be secretive. You know that.”

  “Of course,” I sigh.

  Chloe told me how there used to be more Others in the area, ages ago, back before Washington was even a state. She would dance by moonlight with wood wives, sprites who emigrated from the forests of Germany in search of virgin trees. The native Others, whose names Chloe can’t pronounce, would join them on occasion with drumming and dancing of their own. But those days are gone.

  The more humans there are, the fewer Others. A pretty reliable ratio, wherever you are. Though some of the more communal Others have adapted to the urban life—I hear there’s a big population of faeries in New York (you can spot them at operas and posh parties), and gnomes scurry in the subway tunnels. And, of course, vampires always live where there are plenty of humans, their preferred prey.

  “Perhaps your parents are right,” Chloe says softly.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Someone may have dumped a hazardous liquid into the pool rather than disposing of it properly. Death by carelessness.”

  “Maybe.” I growl and rake my fingers through my hair, then wince as they snag a snarl.

  “Gwen. I know you’re upset by this, but there’s no need for excessive stress.” She lays her hand on my knee. “You need to hang loose.”

  Sometimes Chloe gets her decades of slang mixed up. I laugh. “Hang loose?”

  “Archaic already?” she says, sounding faintly surprised.

  “Oh yeah,” I say.

  “By the way …” Chloe lowers her voice. “Did you hear them last night?”

  “What?” I say, my train of thought derailed.

  “I was sleeping in my favorite bigleaf maple when I heard howls.”

  “Oh! Right.” I mime smacking my forehead. “Werewolves?”

  “Perhaps,” Chloe says, her eyes guarded.

  “I wish they hadn’t come here.”

  “You mean that?”

  “Yes,” I say, even though I know she doesn’t want me to.

  Chloe frowns out the window.

  “Well,” I say, “they’re going to stir up a lot of trouble.”

  She purses her lips. “Can you be sure of that?”

  “No, but they’re not exactly a poster child for Others.”

  “Gwen,” Chloe says, “it’s not as if all werewolves are inherently evil.”

  I sigh dramatically. “A bunch of them are criminals who bit other criminals on purpose.”

  “And even more of them are innocent people trying to live as normally as they can with an ostracized, contagious disease.”

  “That’s what all the bloodborn Others are,” I say. “Diseased.”

  “And if you had a disease, would you want people to treat you differently?”

  “Why are you always the voice of maturity?” I mutter. “It’s no fun.”

  Chloe looks twenty-one, but being about two centuries old, she has plenty of words of wisdom. And she’s not afraid to share them.

  “Gwen,” she says. “Just leave the werewolves alone.”

  “So long as they leave me alone.”

  She stares at me. I hate how she can make me squirm. An awkward silence stretches out, like bubblegum between sidewalk and shoe.

  Finally, I say, “You know Zack and me?”


  “I still haven’t told him. About me.”

  “You really should.”

  “I know.” My face warms. “This morning … we got kind of carried away …”

  “Carried away how?”

  The heat in my face intensifies. “It’s not what you’re thinking. I bit him.”

  Chloe’s mouth wavers between a frown and a smile. “Some people like that.”

  “I mean I bit him. Drew blood.” I lower my voice. “I shouldn’t have shapeshifted last night. It really stirred up my pooka side.”

  “Has this happened before?”

  I shake my head.

  Chloe sighs, her forehead furrowed. “Gwen, if you’re not ready to tell him the truth, you’re not ready to sleep with him.”

  “I know!” My voice sounds shrill. I glower at myself.

  Chloe looks me in the eye. “Promise you’ll tell him soon. Okay?”

  “Okay. Sheesh. It’s like I have two mothers.”

  “It’s for your own benefit.” Chloe smiles. “It’s a lovely day outside. You should be out frolicking or something.”

  I punch her lightly on the arm. She laughs, then heads downstairs. I follow.

  Randall hops off the ladder. “Hey, boss. I finished the trim. What next?”

  “Boss?” Chloe sniffs. “I thought I told you not to call me that.”

  He grins. “Okay, but you are my boss. Right?”

  I waggle my eyebrows suggestively at Chloe. She steps on my toes as she passes.

  “Come out in the garden,” she tells Randall. “I need help with some trellises.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “And don’t call me ma’am, either.”

  “Yes, ma—”

  She stops him with a glare, though she’s smiling.

  Randall looks at her with puppy-dog eyes. “What am I supposed to call you?”

  “Chloe,” she says. “Just Chloe.”

  I hum a James Bond theme song and stroll outside, feeling much better.


  “Gwen!” Mum calls. “Come see the news!”

  I close all webpages and jog downstairs.

  On the TV, an unblinking woman with fakey blonde hair delivers the eleven o’clock news. “… Family on the outskirts of Klikamuks saw two near their home.”

  “Two what?” I say.

  Megan sits on the couch, her wide eyes full of reflected light. “Werewolves!”

  She says it like it’s something exciting, straight out of a movie, and I can’t pretend that a thrill didn’t just skitter down my spine. Sure, there might be a lot of bloodborn in the world, but that doesn’t mean you see them too often.

  “I knew it,” I mutter.

  It switches to a shot of a family standing in the rain. The pasty-faced dad points to a forest behind a chain-link fence. “They were right there, behind the fence. God, I hope it’s tall enough to keep them out.”

  “It used to be so safe around here,” the mom says.

  A little girl with white-blonde pigtails pipes up. “I saw them. They were huge. The boy one pee-peed on the fence.”

  The dad nods. “Do you think they’re claiming this as their territory?”

  We never get to hear an answer, because it cuts back to the newswoman. “Sheriff Royle has some comments as well.”

  Sheriff Royle leans against the door of his police cruiser. He hooks his fingers in his belt and stares into the camera with half-closed eyes. “Local law enforcement is well aware of the threat. We’re doing everything we can to keep the people of Snohomish County safe.”

  “And have werewolves perpetrated any crimes?” asks a newsman.

  Sheriff Royle squints. “Why, of course. Killing game outside of hunting season. We can’t prove anything else till we catch them, though there’s been a surge in vandalism. And a masked man robbe
d an espresso stand two weeks ago, remember?”

  “An espresso stand?” Dad says. “I didn’t know werewolves like coffee.”

  “Nicholas,” Mum says. “This is serious.”

  “Wonder if they crave caffeine on the full moon?”

  “Dad,” I groan. I can’t believe my own parents sometimes.

  “Wait, what’s this?” Megan says, turning back to the TV.

  The fakey blonde newswoman returns. “Late last night, a clerk discovered the body of a female vampire in the alley behind the 7-Eleven in Klikamuks. Her wounds were most likely inflicted by an iron stake, and her fangs had been removed. Police are working to identify the body.” She speaks so calmly that I shiver.

  “Vampire?” Dad says. “Sounds like clan rivalry.”

  Mum frowns. “I didn’t think there were any vampire clans in the area.”

  Dad shrugs. “Vampires roam.”

  I stare at my parents. I can’t believe how calmly they’re talking.

  “Vampires and werewolves are mortal enemies, right?” Megan says.

  I snort. “That’s Hollywood for you.”

  Megan sighs and shakes her head, as if she’s so much more mature than me.

  I stalk upstairs. My collection of fish toys stares at me from a big glass fishbowl on my nightstand. I hug a ratty old shark to my chest, feeling small and childish. I slide open my window and lean into the darkness rushing past like a river. The rich smell of rain-soaked earth fills my nostrils.

  Werewolves. I hope they aren’t as dangerous as some of the stories make them sound. As I told Chloe, I’ve heard that a bunch of them were criminals who got bitten and hid out in the woods, away from law enforcement, occasionally skulking into town to steal and rough up anybody who got in their way. Nothing more than thuggish brutes. How big is the pack? Why did they come here? Would they be friend or foe to an Other like me?

  My legs tense, seized by a sudden urge to run. Not away from the werewolves, but toward them.

  Wait a minute. Reality check, Gwen. Just because the werewolves and I are both Other doesn’t mean we’ll hold hands and skip in a circle together, best friends forever. They’re probably just as bloodthirsty and beastly as everyone thinks. Not that I’ve ever gotten close enough to a werewolf to interview one. That might be interesting … though I doubt we’d have anything in common at all. I inhale slowly and shut the window.


  The morning dawns overcast, with a mizzle drifting down from the blank white sky. That’s a cross between mist and drizzle, for those who are rain challenged. Dad bursts into my bedroom just as I’m getting dressed.

  “Daaad!” I wail.

  He shuts the door. “Sorry, Gwen!” he says cheerfully. “Feel like driving today?”

  “Driving where?” I ask, somewhat suspicious.

  “Into town. So you can practice for your license. Oh, and I want to buy cashews at Safeway. Your mother forgot to get some.”

  I knew it. Dad needs to satisfy his cashew craving. “Okay,” I say. “But let me eat breakfast first.”

  “You’re the last one down,” Dad says.

  I grunt neutrally and try to tame my hair.

  The drive to Klikamuks is uneventful—except for the old lady in a slow Buick who I get stuck behind and don’t have the guts to pass, and the driver who honks at me because I don’t screech into a roundabout without yielding to traffic, and the panic stop I do for the stupid bike rider who materializes out of nowhere. When I finally park outside the Safeway, the car still intact, I peel my sweaty hands from the wheel.

  I always find grocery stores surreal. Fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, wide aisles tempting me to run, vivid ads tugging my gaze this way and that. It seems so far removed from actually eating. Sometimes I have a strange impulse to climb shelves or rip open packaging and taste everything. But I mustn’t succumb to pooka mischief.

  I follow Dad to the Promised Aisle that contains cashews. He really is addicted.

  We pass various products inspired by Others. There’s unicorn horn soap (they stopped adding horn ages ago, ever since unicorns died out, but still claim it has “added purity”). Vampire toothpaste (which really should be fangpaste) promises to bleach bloodstains. A lot of seafood is supposedly caught in mermaid-safe nets. Marketers prefer “good” Others like mermaids and unicorns.

  A bay centaur noses around the produce, his hooves clicking on the floor. Grocery store employees stare, slack-jacked, and moms tug their kids away. I can’t help staring, too. He’s not wearing anything and has killer abs. I’ve never seen a real centaur before. I had no idea any of them lived outside rural Greece nowadays.

  “Do you see that?” Dad whispers.

  That. As if the centaur isn’t a person.

  “Of course I see him,” I whisper back. “He must be foreign.” Definitely Greek, judging by his dark curly hair.

  The centaur sniffs an apple, then drops it into the basket hooked over his arm. Everyone watches as he ambles to the cabbages, his black tail swishing.

  “Damn,” Dad mutters. “I wish I brought my camera.”

  My face burns. “Dad.” I tug on his arm. “We’d better not stare.”

  “I do not mind,” says the centaur, without glancing at his audience. “I am sure you Americans do not see a centaur every day.”

  My face burns even hotter. I steer my dad from the produce section. Dad rubbernecks on the way out.

  I sigh. “Come on. Cashews.”

  At the checkout, we see the centaur again. He sets his basket on the conveyer belt as a line of gawking shoppers forms behind him. I politely avert my eyes, and my gaze falls upon three strangers at the next checkout.

  Two stubble-jawed guys, maybe brothers, with tousled brown hair. A Native American woman with obsidian hair that falls to her waist. She rubs the inside of her elbow and I glimpse red scratches. They all look scroungy, with moss in their hair, like they’ve been camping. Even from here I can smell woodsmoke.

  The woman wheels their cart through the checkout, and all of them work together to pile food on the conveyer belt. Ground beef, hot dogs, canned stew, and a huge bag of dog kibble. One of the guys hefts the kibble so the checkout lady can scan the bar code. Muscles bulge in his arms and shoulders.

  “What’s its name?” asks the checkout lady.

  “Huh?” says the guy.

  “Your dog. It must be a big breed.”

  “Something like that,” he mumbles, his voice husky.

  The checkout lady’s gaze drifts to the centaur. I keep staring at the three strangers.

  They wheel their cart toward the doors. The Native American woman squints at a paper tacked on the bulletin board. Her eyes—her amber eyes—narrow to hateful slits. She rips the paper down, crumples it into a tight ball, and chucks it into a trash can. The automatic doors swish open. They all stalk out.

  My palms start sweating. As Dad rummages in his wallet, I jog ahead to the doors.

  The three strangers are loading their groceries into the back of a rusty baby-blue pickup. I see a tarp, a cooler, and a tattered tent. They have a Canadian license plate. I turn to the trash can and pluck out the crumpled paper.

  It has a crude clip-art drawing of a wolf. WANTED: WOLF PELTS, it proclaims in bold red letters. $300 reward for an adult. $150 reward for a juvenile. All pelts must meet special paranormal requirements.

  Special paranormal requirements. Werewolf pelts. Remind me not to shapeshift into a wolf anytime soon.

  The baby-blue truck drives away. The sheriff passes them and drives cluelessly on.

  “Ready, Gwen?” Dad stands behind me in the doorway, grocery bags in hand.

  I nod and try to look just as clueless, then follow him to our car. As I pull out of the parking lot, Dad pries open his bulk tin of cashews and starts crunching. He doesn’t say anything, so I don’t either. I drive west, away from the mountains, away from the road the werewolves took. Rain drums on the windshield like the impatient tapping of finger
nails. I shiver, but tell myself it’s from the clouds curdling above.

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