There were four covens of supernatural creatures. There were the vamps that usually migrated to larger cities. Mom believed they do that so the body count could easily be hidden. Needless to say, my mom hated vamps with a passion that rivals my hatred of reality television. I really couldn’t blame her. She had her reasons. The shifters consisted of any human that can shift into animal form. They were an intensely private group of individuals that usually stayed in the Midwest or places with a high woodland ratio to ord population. Shifters also had a tendency to go buck wild on the full moon. It’s the only time we had problems with them, and it’s also one of two myths that were actually correct. They were severely, um, allergic to silver. And, oh yeah, they hated vamps. Witches made up the third coven. Not the ‘I hug trees and practice Wicca’ witches, but real, blood born users of magic. We all knew never to tick off a witch. Their revenge was a dish best served in your face with a bad case of the pox or a spell that made your hair fall out. Witches also hate vamps, because apparently their blood was like liquid crack to the vamps. The fourth coven is a mash up of every fairytale creature gone bad and then some— fairies, trolls, goblins and any other creatures most likely to try to eat a human. This coven was called other. The name comes from the fact that none of these supes actually belonged in the human realm and were forbidden to enter without express permission from the Panoram. And honestly, no other coven will claim them. Who can blame them? The fey are freakishly annoying little punks. The otherworld was only travelable by others and the Guardians. It was where the fey reined supreme over the rest of the creatures. Humans didn’t travel there. And if they did,
they never made it back. And they probably disliked vamps too if they associated enough with them. The Guardians weren’t a part of any coven. I had no clue what in the holy hell they were guarding—maybe mankind? But Guardians were no joke. They were all of the four covens rolled into one. Each of them was part vamp, shifter, witch and outsider. There are only four Guardians in the world, and that’s enough. They’re big, they’re bad and they’re immortal in every sense of the word. Making a witch angry might be uh-oh spaghettios, but there’s nothing to ticking off a Guardian. The Guardians presence was a bit ambiguous. There were a lot of rules they followed from what I gathered from Sebastian over the years and they rarely interfered in the human world. Operating on the theology ‘Fate is a bitch. Don’t mess with her. Don’t piss her off’. Slugs definitely fell into the other coven. Unlike the fey, slugs were more like trolls or goblins. Not too bright, and someone was always controlling them. My bare feet slapped off the wooden risers on the steps as I hurried downstairs. Sebastian eyed my robe from the tiny foyer. “I hope you’re not going out to do battle in that.” “Not like I have all the time in the world to don my camo.” I hurried past him, tightening the belt on my robe. “Are you sure it’s a slug?” “I think I’d know a slug when I see one.” He followed me to the door, his body throwing off cool air, but I felt ridiculously hot. “You could’ve taken some time to put some clothes on. The slug was at the end of the driveway. It probably hasn’t even made it to the door yet.” Before I could respond, Tommy skated out the wall, into the middle of the foyer with one arm outstretched. “What’s happin’, buds—yikes, The Man is here. Brutal. I’m out.” Sebastian turned toward me, brows raised after Tommy disappeared.
I shook my head. “I don’t get him,” he said. “Why is he so afraid of me?” “You’re a Guardian and you can will him into the afterlife. That scares him.” I crept to the window, pulling back the pale curtain. A dark misshapen form only about three feet tall lumbered around the porch. “Yep, that’s a slug.” “I would never do that, force him to go.” Sebastian stepped beside me, still caught up on Tommy. “Yeah, I know that. But …” But most supes, including ghosts and even most of the Panoram were afraid of the Guardians. It was that whole absolute power thing they wielded over the supernatural and human world. Sebastian was one of the most powerful Guardians. And he was standing entirely too close. Feeling my cheeks heat, I leaned back and stared at his stomach. “Anyway, why do you think a slug is here?” “Slugs are solider life forms in the otherworld. It must be looking for something or someone.” He peered out the curtain, curling his lips. “Question is who sent it?” “Wouldn’t you know?” “I’m not omniscience. No one is.” Well, there went that absolute power thing. “Man, good thing our neighbors can’t see it. There is no way I can explain that.” He grinned at me. “I’ll get the salt.” . I nodded “I’ll get the bleach.” We headed to the kitchen. I grabbed a bottle of bleach while he picked up whole tub of salt from a stacked pile just inside of the laundry room. We took our slug killing tools back to the front door.
“You ready?” he asked, reached for the door knob. “Yeah, let’s go kill some slugs. Woo.” His lips twitched as he nodded and pulled opened the door. The slug was on the first step now. Under the porch light, its grayish skin looked slimy and it rippled like swamp water. Two dark, beady eyes bounced from Sebastian to me. “Ugh,” I whispered, cringing back. It opened its toothless mouth. “Heee whooo hazzz it musss gizzz.” Sebastian sighed. “I don’t speak slug. Do you, Danni?” “No.” I sat the bottled of bleach down and popped off the lid. Whoa, the sharp smell nearly knocked me over. “Think you can tell us why you’re here?” “Musss fiii fooo massa,” it slurred, making it up one more step. “Yeah, I have no idea what that means.” As harmless as a slug was, icicles still formed in my stomach. There was no reason for one to be here unless someone had sent it, and I had no idea why that would happen. “I kind of feel bad killing it, you know? It’s not even doing any—” The slug opened its mouth wider as it reached out toward me. Skin split around its fingertips, revealing razor sharp claws. Jagged, shark-like teeth filled its mouth. Startled, I staggered back against the front door. The edge of one clawed finger caught the sleeve of my robe, tearing through it like it was made of paper. Sebastian sprang forward, grabbing the tub of salt like it weighed nothing and swung it forward. Salt flew out, covering the slug in what looked like a dusting of snow. It opened its mouth in a silent howl as the muddy skin immediately started to fizz and smoke. Swinging the tub forward once more, Sebastian served up a second serving of salt. That did the trick.
The slug melted like the wicked witch from Oz, head swiveling back and forth until it too disappeared into a steaming pile of slug leftover. Sebastian picked up the bottle of bleach, glancing over his shoulder at me. His eyes were brilliant in the dark. “Are you okay?” I blinked, coming up my stupor. “Yes. It just shocked me. I didn’t know slugs could do that.” “They can’t.” He dumped the bottle on what remained of the slug. “Or they shouldn’t be able to do that. This was a different breed of slug. Something I’ve never seen.” Something a Guardian hadn’t seen before? Not good. I hugged my elbows against the damp chill in the early October air. “It didn’t scratch you or anything, right?” He seemed unfazed by the bleach fumes, but I could barely breathe. I shook my head. “I’m going to check on this and see if anyone else has seen a slug like that before.” He frowned at the fizzing mess. “I guess I could’ve just zapped it, but then that would probably have wiped out the electricity in the entire neighborhood.” He sighed. “Then I would had to have wiped the ords memories. So much work.” “Okay.” I shifted from what foot to the next. “That’s the second weird thing tonight.” His brows rose as he turned to me, screwing the lid back onto the bleach. “What’s the other weird thing?” “Well, Derrick and I looked into the whole Homecoming Helen thing that was posted on the boards. It was true. She was sucking out souls of motorists, making it look like they had heart attacks while driving.” He made a go on with it motion with his free hand. “She went fully
corporeal on us. Knocked Derrick over and jumped on him.” “Did you guys post something on this?” I shrugged. “We were planning to tomorrow.” “Tomorrow?” His voice came out deceptively soft. “Look, I have a trig exam to study for. If we posted something on it, Al would’ve gone buck wild.” “Because spirits like Homecoming Helen shouldn’t be able to go corporeal enough to physically assault someone, Danni.” He exhaled slowly. “They only can do that if they’re not really a Casper like Tommy. That is serious.” “I know.” The tips of my cheeks burned under his disapproving tone. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to run though the house screaming and he’d yell at me to slow down seconds before I’d smack my head off a wall or fixed object, which made me feel like an asshat. “Derrick wanted to report it, but I asked him to wait until morning.” “Danni.” “Do you think these two things have anything in common?” I asked, trying to draw the attention of what I’d done wrong. “I don’t know.” He turned around as headlights appeared on our street, slowing down. “Do you ever know anything?” The moment those words left my mouth, I regretted them. But I was embarrassed and well, I said stupid things when I was embarrassed. Sebastian’s spine became unnaturally stiff. He didn’t turn around, didn’t speak to me, but waves of anger rolled off him. I took a step back, swallowing. Sometimes I forgot what Sebastian was, and like my mom had said earlier, he could easily undo my existence. An icky feeling spread in my stomach. I shouldn’t have snapped at him.
The headlights pulled behind my vintage Volkswagen Bug. Derrick hopped out, his lips slipping from a smile at seeing Sebastian to a frown when he saw me plastered against the front door. In my robe. “Is everything okay?” he said, shutting the car door. “Its dandy,” Sebastian replied evenly. “Your sister was planning on streaking through the neighborhood naked, but I stopped her.” My eyes narrowed on Sebastian’s back. There went the second of searing guilt. Derrick slowed as he approached the porch, catching a whiff of the bleach. “Did you have to disinfect her first?” “Well, you do know your sister.” Sebastian’s grin was easy. There went my temper. “What the hell is that supposed to mean, Sebastian?” “Hmm?” Sebastian cast me sidelong glance. I folded my arms. “Tell me, how many different girlfriends have you had this week?” “What day is it?” Sebastian turned to Derrick who was smiling as he inspected the pile of foaming salt on the porch steps. “Thursday,” he said. “Ah … three I think? Yes, definitely three if I don’t count Tonya. That was kind of Saturday into Sunday. Four if you want to include her.” My chest seized. Had to be indigestion. Yes, definitely indigestion. “Yeah, I’m not the one who needs disinfected, buddy.” Derrick lifted his head. “All right guys, what’s really going on?” “There was a slug here—a slug with claws and teeth,” I answered before Sebastian could come up with anything else to say.
“What?” Derrick raced up the steps, blowing past Sebastian and grasping my elbows. “Are you okay?” “Uh …” I met Sebastian’s curious gaze over Derrick’s shoulder. Overreact much? “Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a slug.” He gave me a brief, fierce hug before stepping back. His skin was pale under the porch light. “Did it say anything?” “Nothing that we could understand,” Sebastian said, and then he launched into a tirade about the Homecoming Helen incident that would’ve made Al proud. Both were distracted, so I slipped back inside undetected. Glancing at the grandfather clock, I saw it was already past ten. What a night. And I still had trig to study. In the hallway upstairs, Tommy’s disembodied voice whispered in my ear. “I saw that.” I smacked at the empty air around me, irritated. “Saw what?” He materialized in front of me, blocking the door. “How mad The Man got outside.” Walking through him, he fizzled out. I opened my bedroom door and Tommy stood before my bed. “Tommy, I need to get dressed and I need to study.” “And I need tickets to Black Sabbath reunion tour.” He followed me to the dresser, where I yanked out pajama bottoms and a tank top. “He was really mad. I could practically taste it. You should be careful, Danni.” I faced him, holding my night clothes to my chest. Tommy’s eyes were wide and he almost looked scared. “Why?” “He’s a Guardian.” He drifted over to me, lowering his voice. “Did you know there used to be a fifth coven of supes?” “Huh?”
Tommy looked like the cat about to swallow the canary. “Dudette, there were five covens one time. A whole race of supes rumored to be gods in their right.” “How do you know this?” Curiosity had gotten the best of me. “Ghost talk, babes. And do you know what happened to them?” He floated to the window, gazing down on the porch roof. “Why they aren’t here anymore?” “No.” I sat my clothes down on the bed. “But you’re going to tell me, huh?” He faced me, his form flickering in and out. “They offended a Guardian, and that Guardian wiped them out of existence. The. Whole. Coven.” My mouth formed a perfect O. “That Guardian was Sebastian. So please stop instigating him. If he kills you then whose Amazon account will I use?” My brows knitted. “Gee, thanks.” “Just looking at for you.” He drifted pass me, out the door. “Play nice.” I closed the door as he flickered out, admittedly a bit stunned. There had been five covens? And Sebastian had wiped them out for simply offending him? That was … scary, but Sebastian? He seemed too laid back for an apocalypse level temper. I went to back pack and dug out the bound journal. Taking it with me, I curled up on the window seat. The thing was older than me, the cover a faded red. It was almost like a witches’ Book of Shadows, filled with rites of exorcisms, protection spells, instructions on how to handle a shifter that couldn’t hold their form and even directions on how to get blood out of clothing. Handy. But I wasn’t in the mood for reading material. Or trig. Flipping to the very middle of the journal, I eased out the two pictures carefully. The first
was one of all of us, before dad disappeared. Derrick and I were six, and it looked like it took an act of God to get us to stand still in front of the Civil Way monument where our picture had been snapped. Mom smiled up at our dad, her hand firmly planted on my shoulder while I made a face at the camera. Attractive. Derrick was doing the same. We were so adorkable. It hurt to look at dad, because each time I took the picture out, it was like looking at a stranger. Whoever said memories didn’t fade was lying, because my memories of dad were. It took effort to remember the sound of his gruff voice. Swallowing the sudden lump in my throat, I slid our family photo back into the journal. The other photo was something entirely different. When my mom first gave me this picture I hadn’t understood why she even took it. I didn’t want a reminder of what happened, but the significance of the photo wasn’t necessarily me or how horrible I looked after the attack a year ago that had almost ended up my life. It was Sebastian. I didn’t remember anything in those days after the attack or the period of time this picture was taken, which sucked, because I would’ve liked to remember when and why Sebastian had been in bed with me. Not that there was anything sexual about the moment captured on film. We were both lying on our sides, facing each other. There had been a hollowness to my face. Shadows had formed under my cheekbone and eye. Faint bruises lined my jaw. My eyes were closed, like I’d been sleeping. Beside me, Sebastian was the same. Eyes closed, his expression perfectly still. He was holding my hand to his chest, above his heart. I was doing the same to his hand, holding it to my heart. Our forehead and knees were pressed together. Our bodies had loosely formed the shape of a heart. But it was the strange halo of light that shined over the bed that had drawn mom to grab
the camera and take a picture. She’d said she’d never seen anything like that before. Neither had I. And as far as I knew, mom had no idea what it meant. Or what Sebastian was doing. Only that the next day, I supposedly woke up and was … fine. I remember that. Days had passed before mom had given me the picture. Years later I considered it one of my most cherished possessions, along with the picture of our family. Every time I looked at the photo I felt something deep in my chest turn over. I had so many questions about what he had been doing, but I refused to talk to him about anything related to the night I ended up a chew toy for a group of vamps. I smoothed my thumb over the picture version of Sebastian. Even so, I couldn’t believe he’d wipe out an entire coven over something so trivial. That wasn’t him. He didn’t like to hurt things, not intentionally. But then again, the night I almost died had been Sebastian’s fault. # As usual, I was running late in the morning. No matter what I did with my hair, it wanted to do the exact opposite. After spending an absurd about of time trying to flatten it and then curl it, I gave up and let it fall down my back in messy waves. My face was small, round and didn’t handle a lot of makeup. Only some mascara and lip gloss. Sometimes I broke out the eyeliner, but I usually ended up with raccoon eyes when I did. Mom said I had a natural beauty, which constituted plain in my book. Plain brown hair. Plain face. Plain body shape one funnel cake away from a crash diet. I wasn’t ugly, but I wasn’t gorgeous like Jules. She literally stopped traffic in the hallways at school. Grabbing my book bag off the floor, I headed toward my brother’s bedroom down the
narrow hall. His door was ajar. He was at his computer desk, his face practically planted in the computer screen. “Hey,” I said. “What you looking at?” Derrick quickly closed the site down and shut the laptop. “Porn.” “Isn’t it a little early for that?” “Never too early for that.” He swiveled around in his chair and grabbed his school bag. His face was drawn tight under the damp brown hair. “Are you okay?” I frowned. “You’re not getting sick are you?” “No, I’m okay.” He smiled, but it felt off. “Really, no need to worry.” Something about that didn’t seem right, but he brushed past me. Shouldering my back, I followed him downstairs and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the kitchen table. His movements seemed jerky, distracted. “Did you post about Homecoming Helen this morning?” I asked, taking a bite of the apple. He nodded, eyes distant. “Two seconds afterward Al called me, bitching up a storm. Wanted to know why we didn’t post something about it last night. He really chewed me out.” Relief poured through me. That explained why he was acting so weird. “I’m sorry. That’s my fault. You shouldn’t have been the one to get bitched at.” “Nah, it’s no biggie.” He ruffled my hair as he passed me by. “What are big brothers for?” “Being born a minute before me doesn’t constitute big brother status.” I grinned. “A minute makes all the difference. It’s why I’m smarter and better looking than you.” I smacked his arm playfully. “Douche.”
Derrick laughed as he grabbed his keys, then he spun around and gave me a brief hug. “Can you drive yourself today? I got something to do after school.” “Yeah, I was planning to anyway. Remember I said I’d go back to Route 40 and looked for the detector.” He stopped at the front door, brows furrowed. “Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot.” I stared at him closely. “Man, Al must’ve really reamed you.” Derrick shrugged and then headed out into the brisk morning air, leaving me in the doorway, wondering what the hell was up with my brother.