Chapter 1: Midnight
There was always a storm brewing in the mountains. Alejandro Vasquez took a long drag from his cigarette and watched lightening skitter across the sky as white smoke uncurled around his face. He didn’t move from where he leaned against the sand-crusted pink walls of Porky’s Diner. While the storms may rage and hammer against the mountains, they never tread into the valley.
Ale took another drag, then tossed the cigarette on the ground and crushed it under his foot. He walked through the diner’s back entrance and tied a faded, stained apron around his waist. He could feel Red Harvest’s level glare prickling the back of his neck.
“What is it now?” Ale asked, turning to stare into the line cook’s eyes.
“Smoke breaks are only supposed to be fifteen minutes every two hours. Not five times an hour.” Red said shortly as he tossed plates of bacon and eggs on the line, plates clattering. “The campers in the corner want more coffee. I know that because they asked me.” His lip curled in derision.
Ale tried his best to look chagrined as he balanced the plates on his arm and grabbed a coffee pot. Red Harvest hated talking to customers – well, people in general – and kept to the back of the house.
“What table are these for again?”
“Table 9.” Red turned his attention back to the stove.
Ale delivered the plates to an old couple sitting at Table 9, apologized for the wait, and poured coffee in the waiting mugs of four college students obviously on a road trip.
Porky’s sat on a two-lane interstate, a 24-hour diner beside a gas station. Its location was perfect for bleary-eyed travelers to stumble over after filling up their cars at inflated prices. Not much else made up the tiny town of Rose Creek, two hundred miles in either direction from any other place on the map. There was a small grocer’s, a hardware store, and a lemonade stand that only opened every other Tuesday. (When Ale tried some lemonade, it was blue, bubbling, and mysteriously minty. He didn’t drink the rest). The rest were tiny one-store houses made of stucco and clay, cracked and stubborn as the desert itself.
Ale ran his fingers through his hair, tumbling mess of curls on one side and shaved close on the other. He looked over the mostly empty diner then headed to the kitchen. He peeked in the door and reached for a fresh batch of fluffy biscuits.
A hairnet smacked Ale in the face.
“I just wanted a biscuit,” Ale complained but he began to pull the hairnet on anyway.
“My kitchen. Wear a hairnet.” Red’s long hair was pulled high in a bun and beneath a hairnet of his own. When Ale reached for the biscuit again, a second hairnet hit him.
“What? I put one on!”
“Your beard,” Red said flatly.
“No way.” Ale scowled and met Red’s glare.
“No food, then.” Red said.
Ale sighed and tugged the hairnet over his beard, grabbed the biscuits from the tray, and swiped some bacon for good measure. He hopped on the counter, swinging his legs.
“Hey Red,” he said, taking a bite, “has anyone ever done the pour-the-coffeepot-in-the-mouth trick?”
“Once.” Red said, flipping pancakes in the griddle.
“Are you gonna elaborate on that?” Ale asked. “Was it you? Is that why you don’t talk much? Tongue hurts?”
Red scowled at him. “No.”
“No to you not elaborating, or that you did the trick-“
That seemed to be the end of the discussion. Ale jumped off the counter and peeked at the dining room. The old couple were looking around in that specific way to signal their absent waiter for the check. The college students were still slung all over the booth and working on their coffee. Ale swung by, gave the old couple their check, refilled the college student’s coffee pots, and returned to collect the three pennies the couple left as a tip.
Ale hung his apron up at midnight just as the next shift walked through the door, a redhaired high school kid with some tragic story Ale never asked about.
“See ya tomorrow,” Ale called to Red, who just grunted in response. He passed by the kid, who was tucking a silver necklace in his shirt.
“Are you walking home?” The kid asked suddenly.
“Yeah?” Ale wrinkled his brow. “I only live a couple blocks away.”
“Do you have silver?”
The kid held out a silver coin with a hole in the middle. “Here.” He placed it in the pal of Ale’s hand. “Keep this with you.” The kid closed Ale’s fingers around the coin.
“Oh…kay. Thanks?” Ale said, inspecting the coin. The kid nodded and went behind the counter, starting a fresh pot of coffee.
Ale walked outside, the old bell jangling against the glass door and the sign “pork you later!” flapping behind him. Ale pulled a denim jacket on and buttoned it closed.
Night in the desert was surprisingly cool, with the breeze unhindered by buildings and trees. The full moon cut a wide swath across the street, drenching everything in a pallid light. A coyote howled in the distance. Ale heard a shuffling noise behind the hardware store. Probably an opossum or armadillo rummaging through the garage. Nevertheless, Ale clenched the silver coin in his fist and walked faster.
The front door scraped on the tile floor. It always needed convincing to open through years of foundation shifting, but Ale kicked it with a decisive rebuttal and it yielded. He locked the door with a heavy sliding deadbolt and crept past the first bedroom. The lights were out. Ale figured that his landlady and her companions were asleep.
Emma Cullen was nice enough to rent a room to a geology student turned drifter for $200 a month, and Ale didn’t say anything about her, her husband Matt, and their special friend Teddy. It was an arrangement that suited them both.
Ale entered his room, closing the door behind him. He pulled off his button up shirt and binder, taking a deep breath for the first time in eight hours. He put on a loose t-shirt and flopped on a creaky wooden bed with a faded saltillo blanket draped across it. His geology textbooks were collecting an impressive layer of dust in the corner. Ale huffed and lay on his back, opting to stare at the ceiling instead.
He’d been in Rose Creek for about 3 months. He stopped at the gas station after a fourteen hour spur-of-the-moment road trip (coincidentally, right before his final exams) hopped up on energy drinks and anxiety and he just . . . stayed. It was a town where the days just melted into one another, the sun’s haze seeming to blur time itself. It made all of Ale’s responsibilities feel like they existed in a different world, the emails collecting unchecked in his inbox and his half-finished thesis languishing in his laptop.
There was a loud crashing noise outside and a thin shrill howl. Goosebumps prickled on Ale’s arms. That was close. What the hell was it? He didn’t want to know but curiosity prickled at him, crawling under his skin until he crept up to the window and parted the heavy curtains to peer out.
Ale could see for miles in the moonlight, almost to the base of the mountains. While the trees and cacti stood out bright as day, a shifting black shape moved in the distance. It was bigger than a coyote, and it looked like it was eating something on the ground.
It turned and its glowing crimson eyes connected with Ale’s.
Ale yelped and snapped the curtains shut. Something huge slammed against the window, making it shudder dangerously and the curtains tremble. Ale scrambled for his thickest textbook, a brief history of granite, and held it ready in the air, trembling.
The thing slammed against the window again, and it shattered, the curtains blowing aside and glass shards scattering across his bed. The heavy silver cross hung on a nail above the window fell, clattering across the floor. Ale’s window was completely blackened out and all he could see was teeth. Ale screamed and threw his book at the beast’s face.
A gun went off beside him. The beast whimpered and retreated into the night. Emma Cullen stood above him, looking like an avenging angel in her overlarge white t-shirt and holding a smoking double barrel shotgun. She strode over to the window, yanked the curtains shut, picked the heavy silver cross up and hung it back above the window. She turned and Ale felt more terrified than he was a minute ago.
“What did you do?” She asked.
“I just looked out the window!” Ale said. “I heard something out there and-“
“Idiot! That’s an invitation!” She snarled. “Don’t you know anything?”
“No! I’m from the city!” Of course, there were stories his grandmother told him, about the Mexican countryside, of ghosts, witches, and weeping women. But their morals faded away under fluorescent streetlights and endless bustle of the city.
Emma saw his pale face, his skin beaded with sweat, and trembling hands. Her eyes softened a bit. “Let’s get a drink in you.”
Ale had two shots of whiskey when Matt and Teddy returned from cleaning up the glass and covering his window with some cardboard. Emma poured another shot for them both, and then handed the bottle to Matt. Matt wrapped his lips around the bottleneck and took a swig. He passed the bottle to Teddy, who did the same.
“Not drinking out to that again. I hope you two don’t do that to the milk.” Ale said, staring down at his now-empty shotglass. He couldn’t really bring himself to care when Matt and Teddy just shrugged, as the warm whiskey buzz worked into his system. “Is anyone going to tell me what the hell that thing was?’
“That was what you’d call a werewolf,” Matt replied.
Ale snorted. “Yeah, right. Remus Lupin is out there rooting through our trash. Is Dobby going to show up, too?”
“They’re real. They like the desert because they have space to run and hunt,” Emma said, her expression stony. “We’re accustomed to them. Some members of the town are werewolves, too. Whole families of them.”
“Of course, they have no energy and very little memory after they turn back human,” Teddy said. “Have you ever seen anyone show up at the Porky’s looking half-feral and eat everything left in the diner?”
Ale did remember restless customers in rumpled clothing and shifty eyes, devouring whole plates in seconds. They always smelled like sweat and blood, and tipped very well.
“They usually stick to hunting vermin. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, really. That’s why we don’t hunt them down,” Matt said.
“Usually,” Emma said. They fell silent.
“If they only hunt vermin, why’d one go after me?” Ale asked.
“We usually take proper precautions around here,” Matt began, “you know, putting the pets and livestock in shelters, keeping silver at the doors and on our person.”
“- or not making fucking eye contact with one on his hunt,” Emma cut him off. “Idiot, You got his attention and I’m charging you to replace that window.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ale replied, half contrite and half to see Emma’s forehead vein pulse at “ma’am.”
“It’s getting really late,” Teddy intervened, “Sleep on the couch. We’ve locked your room, just in case. But everything should be good for now.”
Ale nodded while Emma grunted her assent, pushed her chair back, and returned the whiskey bottle to the liquor cabinet.
“She doesn’t like being woken up,” Matt said with a wink and stage whisper. “Real grumpy gills.”
Emma chuffed him slightly on the head and pulled him behind her to their bedroom. Teddy laid an extra blanket and pillow on the couch before he followed them.
Ale curled up on the couch, the whiskey blanketing his mind and dulling the edges. However, his mind was abuzz with questions that his brain was too drunk to answer. Apparently, werewolves were real and everyone in Rose Creek knew about and tolerated them. He was almost killed by one tonight. Was that someone from town? Someone he knew? Ale fell into a restless sleep, haunted by glowing eyes, rattling doors, and sharp teeth.
Ale woke up to sawing and banging noises. He grumbled and rolled over, pressing the pillow over his ears. Tragically, that did not block out the noise. With a loud groan of protest, he slowly rose and blinked. He watched two repairmen walk past him, carrying a large pane of glass. They did their best to not stare at the strange man on the couch with wild curls sticking straight out in the air.
Emma works fast, he thought as he shuffled to the bathroom.
When Ale emerged from the bathroom, a bill sat on the kitchen table. Ale dug in his pocket and left some money on the table, then walked over to Porky’s for his next shift.
He barely stepped off the curb when a man on a black motorcycle roared past him, the wind knocking him back. The man sped away. He was helmetless, and there was a Jack Daniels sticker plastered across the motorcycle’s bumper.
“Watch where you’re going! Jackass!” Ale yelled, taking care to look both ways before attempting to cross the street again.
The high school kid looked up when Ale walked in Porky’s. Poor kid looked exhausted, waiting on several tables at once. Three of the tables housed one occupant with multiple plates.
“Hey, sorry I’m late. My alarm didn’t go off . . . because I forgot to set it?” Ale said sheepishly. “Thanks for the tip on the silver. I was attacked by one of those . . .” Ale trailed off, aware of the diners behind him. The diner went silent, the absence of noise louder than any background music.
“You were?” The kid’s eyes widened, his voice hushed.
“Yeah. Mind if I keep it?” Ale touched the silver coin in his pocket, its weight comforting.
“I don’t mind.” The kid shrugged with a grin.
“Hey what’s your name?” Ale asked.
The kid blinked, then pointed at his name tag, where he had scrawled “Aiden.”
“Right. Aiden.” Ale looked at the floor, taking in the kid’s ragged jeans and scuffed converse. “Well, get some sleep.”
“Thanks, Alejandro.” Aiden said, handing Ale the apron as he walked outside.
Ale bussed the empty plates, topped off everyone’s coffees, and headed to the kitchen to rustle up some breakfast of his own.
The kitchen changed entirely from the night before. There were fresh flowers in vases, and French music playing on the radio, with boisterous French singing accompanying it. Goodnight Robicheaux’s face was flushed red from the stove’s heat, hair perfectly gelled back, and he beamed at Ale when he walked in. There was no hairnet present.
“Good morning! How are you, monsieur Alejandro?” He asked, honeyed voice lazy and slow as the Mississippi river. “Eat! You’re too skinny.”
“Yes, monsieur,” Ale replied with a grin, grabbing a sausage, pouring picante sauce on it, and wrapping a pancake around it in some ungodly breakfast taco. His mama would be spiting fire if she saw him eating it.
“You really should take better care of yourself, mon cher. You’re a growing boy.”
“I’m 25,” Ale said as he took another bite of the monstrosity.
“You still need to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and always carry silver!” Goodnight shook a ladle at him. “You don’t know who’s going to take a bite out of you!” He bared his teeth.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ale said, stuffing the rest of the “taco” in his mouth and going out to the dining room.
The morning rush just ended when Ale heard a motorcycle roll up to Porky’s. He looked up and groaned when he saw the man on the black motorcycle with the Jack Daniels sticker. The man must’ve circled back just to make Ale’s day worse.
The man cut the engine and swung his leg over the side, black cowboy boots hitting dirt. He wore jeans, a black motorcycle jacket, with a tight red shirt beneath. He had forsaken the helmet for a pair of aviators, the sun reflecting off of them and right into Ale’s eyes. Ale huffed and started scrubbing the counter with a washcloth.
He heard the bell jingle as the man walked in, the heels of his boots clicking against scuffed black-and-white tile, and then a shadow fell across the counter.
“ ‘cuse me, handsome,” the man said, his drawl rough as a burr, cushioned by cottony vowels and laced with a sharp bite of bourbon, “can I use your bathroom?”
“Bathrooms are for paying customers only,” Ale replied, studying at the countertop.
“Well then, coffee and a piece of pie. I’ll take that key now.” The man said, sticking his hand beneath Ale’s nose. Ale grabbed the bathroom key off the hook. When he turned back around, he did his best impersonation of a Largemouth Bass.
Oh, no, he’s hot, Ale thought, gulping as he stared at the man’s blazing red hair, his sunkissed skin, stubbled jawline, and a mouth curled in a smirk so sinful it was cruel. His nose was bruised and slightly crooked, like he’d broken it recently. Finally, the eyes – oh god the eyes – were crinkled around the edges like he just told a joke, with amber flecks in earth surrounding the darkest iris, its gravity pulling Ale deeper and deeper inside.
“I know I’m gorgeous, but I really need that key,” the man said as he took the bathroom key from Ale’s hand.
“Be careful in there,” Ale said, his mouth working faster than his brain, “with your aim, you’d hit the trash can instead.”
“What?” The man asked, his forehead wrinkling.
“You almost ran me down this morning! Seriously, do you wear those ugly glasses because you’re blind?” Ale spit out.
“Oh,” the man grinned. “I remember you. Scared the shit outta me because you stepped out in the middle of a highway right in front of me!”
“The speed limit is 15 through town! And I DID look both ways!” Ale’s voice took an embarrassingly high pitch in the middle of the sentence.
“Whatever you say, Alejandro. When I get back, I’m educating you on the benefits of looking both ways before crossing the street. For now, my name’s Josh, and I take my coffee black and my pie chocolate with meringue.”
Ale gulped. “How did you know my name?”
Josh winked, reached out and tapped Ale’s nametag with a calloused finger. Ale stumbled back at the touch. A husky chuckle escaped Josh’s lips as he smirked, his shoulder brushing Ale’s as he walked to the bathroom. As soon as he was out of sight, Ale sunk to the floor beneath the counter.
For anyone wondering what Ale looks like: http://onexfeatherxleft.tumblr.com/post/163384070166/onexfeatherxleft-a-trash-hipster-vasquez-for-a
Chapter 3: Dusk
“I was wondering where my waiter went,” Goodnight said as he leaned against the counter, “that’s not the way to earn tips, mon cher.”
Ale shushed him. “He’s not out there right now, is he?”
“Who? Is someone trying to serve you court summons? Debt collector?” Goodnight’s grin deepened. “Ex-boyfriend? Lover?”
“No! No! Just tell me if he’s – ”
“There’s no one in the dining room besides us, Alejandro.”
Ale sighed in relief. “Can I hide out in the kitchen while you pretend to be the waiter? Please?”
“I suppose. You’ll owe me a favor.” Goodnight winked at Ale. For a moment, time slowed down. Goodnight’s blue eyes seemed to swirl and turn the bright, acrid purple of grape-flavored cold medicine. He seemed to be much younger and much older at the same time. Some subconscious part of Ale, the part that never whistled at night, the genetic predilection that primitive humans had to carry fire with them, not just for light but to ward off anything that might draw near, screamed not to accept.
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Ale said. Time resumed. The buzzing in his ears stopped and the clock on the wall started ticking again. Goodnight smiled as if he knew the punchline to a particularly complicated joke.
“Go on,” he motioned towards the kitchen and Ale was only too happy to oblige.
Ale tripped over his shoes as he escaped, stumbling inside the stainless steel doors. He steadied himself and discovered he was before a man whose face was made of all sharp edges and eyes pure obsidian, a black hole that devoured everything in its path.
“Sorry – um – customers aren’t allowed in the kitchen,” Ale stuttered.
Those black eyes regarded him. Ale felt like they could see inside his skin. Once Ale was able to tear his gaze away from the eyes he began noticing the other oddities.
“I am not a customer,” the man said, his teeth jagged like a shark. His skin was sallow and sunken, and his ears curved to a slight point. He wore all black.
Ale gulped, throat dry. “Then what are you doing here?” He asked.
The man blinked, as if he was surprised that Ale spoke again. After a long moment, he spoke again. “Visiting.” He picked up a glass off the counter and turned on the tap, filling the glass with cold water. He downed the entire glass in one gulp. Ale stared at the man’s throat, the curve so thin that Ale could see the water moving under the man’s skin.
The man set the glass down in the sink with a clink. Ale found his voice again.
“What are you?”
The man stared at him again. After several minutes, he said, “that’s very rude.”
“Well I just learned that humans aren’t alone in Rose Creek.” Ale gripped the counter, steeling his nerves. “And I don’t think that you are one.”
“You are correct,” the man said. He said nothing more, just strode into the walk-in freezer and closed the door behind him. Ale reached with trembling fingers beneath the counter, finding the hidden bottle of vodka, used sometimes by the staff to spike milkshakes. He poured himself a shot and, finding himself still shaking, poured himself another.
When Josh emerged from the bathroom, Goodnight stood at the bar. A slice of chocolate meringue pie and a steaming cup of coffee sat on the countertop. He had laid out a set of polished silverware atop a cloth napkin with the precision of a proud grandmother displaying her wedding china.
“Where’s Alejandro?” Josh asked, keeping a careful distance.
“He had to leave,” Goodnight replied, his voice smooth as a snake sliding across glass, “He doesn’t want to be associated with . . . certain folk.”
“Him? Or you?” Josh braced himself on the counter, leaning close to Goodnight. Josh’s upper lip curled, revealing sharp canines. “What do you want with him?”
“I have a . . . vested interest in the boy. He’s under the Summer Court’s protection. But you don’t need to know more. Now, are you going to be a good boy?” Goodnight smirked at him. “Sit, boy. Eat. Then leave. Never come back to Rose Creek.”
Josh’s eyes turned a deeper gold as they flickered down, taking in the coffee and pie. The coffee mug had a ring of silver around the edge. The silverware beside the pie was freshly polished, so clear that Josh could see himself reflected on them. He glanced around at the other mugs and utensils in the restaurant, which were a plastic combination.
“Well I appreciate you taking out the fine china for me, but I know when I’m not welcome,” he said with a snarl. “But I want you to know something - you can’t stop him from finding me. And he will. I can guarantee that.” He picked up the coffee mug and poured the mug directly on the counter, maintaining eye contact with Goodnight the whole time. Then, with the precision and showmanship of a tightrope walker, he held the mug out on his palm and tipped it over. The porcelain shattered and its pieces scattered across the black and white tile.
“Asshole.” Goodnight growled. Josh turned on his heel, holding both middle fingers in the air as he kicked the glass door open and stomped outside. Goodnight snapped his fingers and Josh’s motorcycle tipped over just as he was about to climb aboard. A loud and colorful string of expletives erupted from Josh as he righted the bike and checked it over. Goodnight smirked as the mug reassembled itself on the counter, porcelain smooth without a crack. Goodnight wiped down the counter and walked back to the kitchen with a twinkle in his eye and a complicated melody twisting on his tongue.
He walked in the kitchen to find Ale pale-faced with a white knuckled grip on a bottle of vodka.
“What’s wrong, Alejandro?” Goodnight asked, looking around.
“There was a man – well I don’t think he was a man. He’s in there.” Ale pointed at the walk-in freezer.
“Oh, don’t worry yourself. That’s just Billy.”
“Billy?” Ale repeated.
“He’s my husband, l’amour de ma vie, my one and only Billy,” Goodnight replied, walking over to the walk-in and knocking on the door. Billy walked out, eating a popsicle. It didn’t look like it had a flavor, just a block of ice.
“Why does he have black eyes?” Ale asked, and immediately regretted it.
“You can see them?” Goodnight tilted his head. “He’s a siren I found in the Louisiana swamps. Charmed me with a song and stole my heart with a kiss.”
“But . . . we’re in the middle of the desert,” Ale said, feeling dumb. Pointing out the obvious seemed like the only thing he could do at the moment.
“We are. But he goes where I go. He brings me comfort.” Goodnight wrapped his arm around Billy. “I don’t deserve you, my love.” He said, nuzzling Billy’s shoulder.
Billy made a pleased clicking noise deep in his throat and kissed Goodnight’s forehead. He looked back over to Ale. “I am usually glamoured so you can’t see my true form. But you see what is actually there.” His eyes seemed to grow larger, and Ale felt like he could see straight through to his bones. “That is a useful skill to have.”
“Um . . . thank you?” Ale shuffled his feet and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He looked away as Goodnight pulled Billy in a deep kiss with lots of tongue. “I-I have to go check if there’s any customers.” He dashed out of the kitchen.
Ale decided that he deserved a nice stiff drink when he left his shift, Goodnight bidding him “adieu!” with an arm wrapped around his husband. Rose Creek just kept getting weirder, all within the span of one day. Ale discovered that not only werewolves existed, but sirens too, apparently. What else was here? Who else wasn’t human? Ale speculated wildly as he walked out of the diner and headed for the bar. Carlos, the lemonade stand operator? Mamá Esperanza, who walked around town at 8 a.m. with her three cats on leashes?
The bright white heat of day faded to a watercolor of pinks and purples swirled across the sky, carved into slices by a lazy golden sun as it ensconced itself beneath the horizon. The pale moon hung in the sky like a memory, a shade less than full. This was Ale’s favorite time of day, when he didn’t have to squint to see when he went outside, even when he wore sunglasses, and the dancing haze of the desert didn’t play tricks on him. Sometimes tourists wandered off the road, looking for water, a casino, and on one memorable occasion, a gigantic ball of yarn. They always ended up in the gas station parking lot, confused and shoeless.
Rose Creek had one bar, a one-story stone building situated on the town line with a large sign advertising liquor. It was a vestige of the time where Rose Creek was dry, though the council reversed the laws in the nineties due to the idiocy of walking across the street to buy liquor. Inside, the bar was dark, lit solely by buzzing neon beer signs and a single bare bulb hanging above the pool table. To Ale’s chagrin, Josh was playing pool by himself, one leg balanced on the table to sink a tricky shot. He hurried to the bar and faced away from Josh, hoping he wasn’t noticed.
Maria, the bartender, was deep in conversation with Emma about the finer techniques of shotgun cleaning. Maria nodded at Ale, poured him a shot of tequila and handed him the shot with salt around the rim and a lime slice on the side. Ale gulped the tequila down, biting the lime to alleviate his stinging mouth.
“Long day?” Maria asked.
“It was very . . . revealing,” Ale replied. “Another, please.”
“Don’t worry about the tab. That man said he’d pay for all your drinks before you came in.” Maria nodded at Josh, who just sank his last pool ball. Josh winked at Ale, holding his beer out in a mock toast.
Ale gritted his teeth, his stomach a broiling mess of anger, confusion, and the vodka he already drank earlier. Ale knocked back the second shot of Tequila and stomped over to Josh.
“Now listen here, you – biker motherfucker,” Ale growled, poking Josh hard on the chest, “I don’t know who raised you to almost run over someone and – and flirt with them where they work! That’s not okay! Are you some kid of stalker? Hijo de una hiena! Que te pique un pollo!” He dissolved into Spanish, pushing Josh hard enough to make him stumble back.
Josh caught Ale by his wrists, steadying him. “Whoa there, I don’t speak Mexican. Why don’t you slow down and let’s talk about this, mano-a-mano. Comprende?” He said, his Spanish falling flat on his American tongue.
“I don’t want to talk about anything with you!” Ale spit out. “Don’t bother me again! Don’t you understand? Even a dog understands the word no!” Ale broke away from Josh’s grasp and shoved him hard against the pool table.
Josh caught himself on the table’s edge, bouncing back faster than Ale’s buzzed brain expected. He crowded in Ale’s space, noses so close they were almost touching.
“How about we don’t use insults, eh, com-pa-dre?”Josh leaned in close, eyes narrowed and mean. “Some people might get offended. If it’s a fight you’re lookin’ for, well I reckon you’re about to find one.” He bared his teeth, slightly too sharp and glowing in the neon light. He pushed Ale against the bar. Ale stumbled, clutching to a bar stool for support.
“What’s the matter?” Josh pulled Ale up by his shirt collar. “You talk a big game but can’t fight worth a damn.”
Ale slammed his forehead against Josh’s face, the flash of pain worth it when he heard a crunch and felt blood drip on his hair as Josh’s bruised nose broke. Josh howled in pain, letting Ale go and clutching his face.
“You bastard! I’m gonna kick your ass for that!” Josh yelled.
Before either of them could do anything, a baseball bat hit each of them on their sides, knocking the air out of them as they rolled to the floor.
“No brawlin’ in my bar!” Maria bellowed, standing above them with the bat ready. She seized Ale and Josh by the ears, dragging them outside and slamming the door behind them.
The two of them leaned against the bar’s concrete walls, Ale clutching his stomach and Josh pinching his nose, holding it in the air to thin the blood flow.
“So, about that ass kicking?” Ale wheezed.
“Just lemme catch my breath then I’ll beat ya up,” Josh said, voice both nasally and thick.
“Good for you anyway, when I’m done with you you’ll be wishing all you had was a broken nose,” Ale said, watching the stars blur together.
Josh snorted, shifting beside him. For some reason, the stars and the moon reflected a pale halo off Josh. When Ale reached out, he felt vibrations trembling down his arm, like the aura was made of pure energy.
“Whatcha doin there, weirdo?” Josh asked, looking down at him. His eyes were glowing in the moonlight, standing out against his blood-stained face and shirt.
“Nothin’. Your face is disgusting.” Ale said, drawing back.
“Your mom didn’t mind it this morning,” Josh retorted with a half grin.
“Shut up.” Ale shoved Josh’s arm lightly, finding pure muscle there. What the hell was he thinking earlier? There he went again, picking fights he knew he couldn’t win. It would’ve been awful, like a Yorkshire Terrier facing down a Great Dane.
“Hey.” Ale felt Josh poking his arm. “You tryin’ to quit cigarettes or something?”
Ale flushed, pulling his sleeve down quickly and covering the patch. It must’ve run up in the fight. “N-no, not like that.”
“Like what then? You got a . . . muscle cramp? Can ya treat herpes with a patch now?”
“How did you get to herpes? Never mind.” Ale said. He hated this part, having to deal with stranger’s questions, their judgments, their unwanted advice. He thought he didn’t have to do it anymore now that he grew a beard. “It’s just my testosterone patch.” He mumbled.
Josh didn’t seem to have any trouble hearing him. “But you’re not bald? You’re not making enough testosterone? – oh.” He finished, the rest of his sentence hanging heavy in the air between them. “You’re uh, you know,”
“Transgender,” Ale finished under his breath, examining his fingernails with close scrutiny.
“Well uh my cousin Megan, well she was born in the wrong body too. Just got her surgery last year and she’s real happy. So good for you, man.” Josh said. “Sorry I pressed on ya to answer.”
“It’s fine,” Ale answered, relief blooming warm in his chest, “It’s not a big deal anyway.”
“It’s not,” Josh replied. The pair were silent for a long time after that. Josh began digging in his pocket for a lighter when he felt a weight on his shoulder. He looked down and found Ale deep in drunk sleep.
“Ah fuck, how am I supposed to kick your ass now?” Josh asked, more to himself than anything. “Don’t think that this gets you off free. I’ll come back for you later so we can finish that fight” He sat still until Emma walked out of the bar. She gave him an affronted look but helped Josh carry Ale back to her house.
Chapter 4: Morning
The man stood above a body, finger-sized purple bruises darkening on the body’s pale skin. He could’ve just shot them dead, saved himself the time, but that lacked the personal touch that he prided himself in. The waning moon his sole witness, its cold gaze cast across the empty desert. No animals were nearby, either hiding from the screams, or fled the growing malevolent aura surrounding the man like a thunderstorm about to burst.
The man knelt over the body, smelling the sweat on the rapidly cooling skin, the animal stink of fear, and the excrement released at death. He drank it in like he was sampling wine at a feast, then prepared for the main course. He selected a soft-looking area and bent down. Blood ran down the sides of his mouth as he devoured the body, growing only more ravenous the more he ate.
A dark buzzing cloud gathered above him, a thousand voices chattering, a million eyes watching. Their noise grew louder and numbers larger until they blocked out the moon. Suddenly, the dark clouds converged on him, filling his mouth, his nose, his eyes, and ears until he was consumed. He stood tall above the body, now a shredded carcass with bones glowing white in the moonlight. He tilted his chin at the sky and laughed, then sang of blood, of pain, of worshipping gluttony and conquest and nothing at all.
Ale’s eyes flew open, a high-pitched noise escaping his lungs as he rocketed from a nightmare. He was gasping for air, his whole back was in searing pain, and his skin felt tight on his body. Fuck, he fell asleep with his binder on!
Ale yanked his shirt off and tugged the binder over his head, the restrictive material moving inch by agonizing inch before it finally released him. He took a long, painful breath, his lungs expanding inside his bruised ribcage. He sat like that for a few moments, leaning against the headboard and watching the ceiling fan blades in their frenzied rotation. Dammit, now he’d have to go a few days without binding to give his body a break. While Ale didn’t have the largest chest, it was still annoying to deal with.
Now that his binder was off, other pain began to set in. Namely, his hangover decided to introduce itself. He pulled on the largest, comfiest shirt he owned, with the phrase “Geology Rocks!” scrawled across it, and stumbled to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Ale cut across the living room, stubbing his toe on an end table. Ale cursed under his breath, hopping over to the couch.
However, the couch was already occupied. Josh was tucked beneath a blanket, boots on the floor beside him. His mouth was open mid-snore and drool collecting on the pillow under him. His face was deep purple over his nose and under his eyes, broken nose grossly misshapen. It was the most unattractive sleeping face Ale had ever seen.
Ale groaned and shuffled to the kitchen, finding Emma drinking hot tea at the dining room table, bathed in the early dawn light filtered through the window. She was already dressed in her running clothes.
“You’re up early,” she said, looking over Ale’s hot mess of tangled hair, oversized “Geology Rocks!” shirt, still wearing last night’s jeans and mismatched socks.
Ale held his head in his hands, even Emma’s quiet voice piercing the hangover’s dull, cottony ache.
Emma rose from her chair, reached inside the top cabinet, and took out several small jars with labels scrawled on the sides. She also opened a bottle of what looked and smelled like moonshine. She poured the clear liquid in a mug, added a teabag and some herbs, stirred it together, and handed the concoction to Ale.
Ale looked down at the now dark green liquid dubiously and took a cautious sip.
It was surprisingly warm and tasted like apple cider. Ale took a longer gulp, feeling his hangover receding and the tightness in his chest somewhat relieved.
“What was that?” He asked after he drained the cup.
“Old family recipe. Now, I expect you to deal with that when he wakes up.” Emma gestured in Josh’s general direction.
“Why is he here?”
“Because your dumb ass picked a fight with him, got thrown out of the bar, and passed out. He helped carry you home and crashed here because he had nowhere to stay.” Emma took another sip of her tea. “Now, I rent to you because you’re quiet, clean, and you pay the rent on time. I don’t rent to undesirables.” Her lip curled in disgust at the thought. “Now, have him outta here before noon.”
“Not a problem,” Ale replied.
Josh let out a huge snore, the phlegm sputtering in his throat like a broken car engine.
“You got something in your medicine cabinet that can fix his broken nose?” Ale asked. “I think I messed it up pretty bad. Sounds like he’s got trouble breathing.”
“I don’t. I only manage pain and other stuff. You’ll need a doctor or healer. Doctor’s closed on Sundays and county hospital’s about thirty minutes south.”
“So, I guess . . . a healer? What does he do? Light candles and pray the pain away?”
Emma snorted. “No. That’s a quack. I’m talking about something else.” She stared out the window as if she were deciding on something. Outside, Mamá Esperanza was walking her cats Salt, Pepper, and Cthulhu, Horror of the Deep. She was wearing a robe, her hair in curlers and shuffling on the sidewalk in her house slippers. Salt was exploring around a garbage can, Pepper was content on catching crickets, and Cthulhu, Horror of the Deep, was hacking out a hairball by the fire hydrant.
“You should know,” Emma said, breaking the silence, “most of the folks who reside in Rose Creek aren’t exactly . . . human.”
“You said that whole families of werewolves lived here. Yesterday, a dude at the diner said that he was a siren. What about you? Matt? Teddy? Are you humans?”
“I’m a human. Technically. Teddy’s a human. Matt’s also a human . . . technically.”
“Well, he’s also technically . . . dead.”
“He’s WHAT?” Ale’s eyes bugged out of his head.
Emma shushed him. “It’s not that big of a deal. He was messed up real bad from after some jackass shot him up by the Dairy Queen and left him dead. What’s a girl to do? I found a local vampire to give him the bite so he’d live. Other than needing blood every once in a while, and some febreeze for when he starts to smell musty, he’s just like he used to be.”
“Where does he get the blo-“ He saw the look on Emma’s face, “Never mind, I don’t want to know. And you’re ‘technically’ human like Matt’s ‘technically’ dead.”
“Yes.” Emma said. “I’m human. I’m also a hedgewitch. I can do small useful, and practical things. But I don’t do highly technical stuff like healing. Mamá Esperanza used to be good with that, but her eyesight ain’t what it used to be. With bones as small as those, it’s not a good idea. For that, you need real magic.” She sighed and rose from her chair, washing out her cup in the sink. “Go to that chef’s place – the one from Louisiana – he can do that stuff. But only for a price.” She turned and looked at Ale in the eyes. “Be prepared to pay in unusual currency, and never – never, owe him a favor.”
“Okay,” Ale said, his stomach sinking as he remembered yesterday’s agreement. “I’ll keep that in mind. Is he -“ he struggled to remember the word in English. “El hada? A fairy?”
“One of the fair folk, yes. Be very careful.” She said as she pulled on some tennis shoes. “I’m going now. Remember, have him out of here by noon.”
“Yeah, I got it. Hey, what about Teddy? You said he’s a human. Is he a human, technically?”
“He’s a lawyer.” Emma smirked, then put on her headphones. “So yes.”
Ale flicked a Cheerio on Josh’s face. There were already a few dozen pieces of cereal scattered across Josh’s slumbering body. Teddy already left for work, wearing a suit and tie and eating a protein bar. Matt hadn’t emerged from the bedroom and was apparently sleeping the day away.
I guess some stereotypes about vampires are true, Ale thought as he flicked another Cheerio on Josh. It landed right into his snoring mouth. Fifty points!
Josh choked on the Cheerio, rolling over and hacking it out, upending the other Cheerios in a miniature cereal-shower.
“What the fuck, dude?” Josh glared at Ale, his voice rusty and haggard.
“About damn time you woke up. C’mon we’re going to go fix your face, you ugly bastard.” Ale said, getting up. “Not that it’ll help you much.”
“Ha, ha,” Josh replied, stumbling over to the bathroom, unzipping his pants, and pissing in the toilet without shutting the door. Ale rolled his eyes with a disgusted noise.
“I actually am a bastard, ya know.” Josh said, strolling back in the living room and pulling on his boots. “Not that I’m pissed. Just letting you know,” He grinned at Ale. “So where are we going?”
“To the line cook’s, actually. Apparently he can ‘heal’ you,” Ale said with quotation marks. “I’m not sure how that’s going to work but I guess anything’s possible now. I just accept whatever at this point.”
“Your . . . cook?” Josh paused. “No thanks. It’ll heal on its own.”
Ale rolled his eyes. “C’mon. I messed up your face and I want to fix it.”
“No I’m good I’ll just –“ Ale cut Josh off by grabbing his chin and staring deep into Josh’s eyes. Josh gulped, adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.
“You. Are. Coming. With. Me. To. Heal. Your. Face.” Ale said shortly. He could smell Josh’s breath, musty, laced with whiskey and blood. Ale’s hair tumbled down from behind his ear, black curls tracing soft spirals across Josh’s cheek. Josh’s pupils grew larger, flecks of golden seeming to spin around the pupil.
“Yes, sir.” Josh said quietly.
It was already 107 degrees outside, the asphalt street seeming to sizzle in the sunlight. Ale flipped on his bright green sunglasses and headed out to the red car he parked around the side. It was the trusty car he arrived to Rose Creek in, not that he’s driven it much lately. Ale was pretty sure that Goodnight’s home was a couple miles out, and there was no way he was walking all that way in the heat.
Josh barely squeezed himself through the door of the tiny car, his head hitting the roof as he climbed inside. He groaned, rubbing his head.
“Fuck, this is small. We gotta go back for my motorcycle.”
“It works for me. And I don’t know why you like those things. They’re death machines.”
Ale turned on his car, which puttered to life. The air conditioner blew hot air in full force, roasting their eyeballs, and Tejano music blared out the speakers. Josh groaned and rolled down the window, sticking his head out and panting.
“They’re not death machines,” he yelled out the window, “It’s freedom!”
“It’s what?” Ale turned down the air and actual cool air began filtering out. Josh ducked his head back in, banging his head on the window frame. He cursed again, holding his forehead.
“I said, it’s freedom. You don’t have to wait on traffic, you don’t have to deal with these stupid doors. It’s just you, your bike, the wind, and the road.”
“Sounds like too many passengers. With a car its just you and your car.” Ale rolled his eyes. “Instead of riding on a death machine without a helmet and acting like that makes you cool.”
“Wow, you really got me all figured out, don’t you.” Josh deadpanned. He took a deck of cards out of his pocket and flipped through them idly, his thumb clipping the cards.
“You do card tricks or something?” Ale asked as he looked around for Goodnight’s house. He remembered that there was a weird structure on the back, like a greenhouse or something.
“I’m a gamblin’ man. You cant beat me at cards, whatever game. Hold ‘em, 42, Blackjack, Poker, you name it, I win it.” Josh shuffled the deck, again and again.
“Wow, a drunk, a brawler, a flirt, a terrible driver, and now a gambler. You’re my dream man,” Ale said, using his blinker as he turned down Alien Street.
“Least I don’t drive like a grandma,” Josh snorted. His hands moved faster the closer they got to Goodnight’s house. As Ale pulled into the driveway, his fingers were almost a blur as he performed several tricks in a row.
“Hey, I’m a safe driver!” Ale protested as he turned into the driveway. “Not one accident yet.”
“Boring,” Josh mumbled as he stared out the window. Ale rolled his eyes.
Goodnight’s house was on the town outskirts, a one-story stucco with orange roof tiles and turquoise door and shutters. Behind it, a large greenhouse easily dwarfed the house. The glass panes were completely fogged up, and even the most curious of peeping toms would just see mottled greenery inside.
Ale crunched up the gravel driveway, Josh shuffling a few steps behind. When Ale rang the doorbell, he heard the chime’s haunting melody echoing throughout the house. After a few moments, Goodnight opened the door with a flourish and a large smile.
“Alejandro, what brings you–“ His smile faded when he saw Josh. “What are you doing here?”
“Your waiter picked a fight with me at the bar and messed up my nose,” Josh muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I had no part in it.”
“You had no part in it? Other than the fact that you’re the one who picked the fight with me?” Ale asked, bristling.
“Listen I’m sure that we could get into semantics of who picked a fight with whom, but can we get to why you’re here?” Goodnight crossed his arms, leaning against the doorframe.
“Yeah, uh Emma said that you were a healer? I kinda do want to fix his nose.” Ale said, sticking his hands in his pocket.
“Did Emma say anything else about me?”
“Yeah . . .” Now that Ale looked closer, Goodnight looked blurred around the edges, his eyes were more purple than blue, and his ears were slightly pointed. “That I needed to make a deal with you. And I’m here to make a deal.” Ale met Goodnight’s stare. Goodnight sighed and opened his door wider.
“Come in. Take your nasty boots off, you’ll track the dirt in.”
Chapter 5: Midday Part 1
Goodnight led Josh and Ale through his small but lavishly decorated house, rooms full of luxurious furniture, tapestries, and bookshelves overflowing with richly decorated and mysterious tomes. The rooms blended together in deep blues and greens, windows eclipsed by heavy blue curtains. What light managed to filter through the curtains created deep shadows that stretched long across the plush carpet.
They did not pause in any of the rooms, but proceeded towards a pair of sliding doors in the kitchen. The doors were open, heavy vines draped across the mold-mottled glass. Grass spilled from the open doors into the kitchen, roots embedded in the cracks in the tile. Goodnight led them through the doors and into the greenhouse.
They walked on a worn path, the grass soft and springy beneath their feet. The air was balmy, humidity already causing Josh's curls to frizz upwards. Trees and plants occupied every inch of space, vines hanging in the air, flowers bloomed in dazzling colors that Ale had never seen, and exotic birds flitted from branch to branch in bursts of colorful feathers. A brook ran alongside the path, clear water gurgling over smooth stones and flowing into a large pond in the center of the room. Either Goodnight was obscenely rich, or he really did have magic. Somehow, he transported the Louisiana swamp to the Nevada desert.
“You must have a huge water bill,” Ale remarked as Goodnight held up his hand to stop them. Goodnight left the path and picked his way along the foliage, taking care not to step on any creeping plants.
“We’re located above a natural spring. Just lucky like that,” Goodnight replied as he selected a golden bell-shaped flower and trimmed it carefully from a vine.
Right. “No magic used at all, then?” Ale remarked idly.
Goodnight paused. “A little.” He made his way back to the path.
Goosebumps prickled at the back of Ale’s neck as he felt a heavy stare levied upon him. He turned, finding Billy lounging against a rock. Billy was naked, his upper body pale and lithe, covered in swirling black markings, and the lower half consisting of a long mottled green tail that glimmered in the light. The tail was dipped inside the water, swishing slowly and creating ripples that lapped at the edges of the pond. He was silent, stare fluctuating between Josh and Ale.
“Hey, Billy.” Ale gave him a half-wave. Billy slightly inclined his head.
Josh shifted from side to side, glancing around without focusing on anything. “Ain’t that a sight. You should be gracing a pirate mast,” He grinned at Goodnight, “Well, some type of mast, anyway.”
“I’d appreciate it if you did not speak about my husband that way,” Goodnight hissed as he grabbed Josh’s chin and turned it side to side, eyeing Josh’s broken nose. He took a pinch of dirt from his pocket and flung it into Josh’s face. Josh coughed and rubbed the dirt from his eyes.
“What the fuck –“ Josh began and Goodnight clamped his hand over Josh’s mouth.
“No cursing. That’s one of my terms.” Goodnight smirked, his eyes crinkling around depths of a swirling maelstrom. He wrinkled his nose and yanked his hand off of Josh’s mouth, wiping it on his pants as Josh’s tongue hung out from his shit-eating grin.
“You’ll have muzzle me,” Josh said, grinning at Ale. Ale could just imagine it, a gag shoved inside a mouth that never stops moving, drool dripping from kiss-swollen lips down his chin, unable to talk back for once and just submit. Ale looked down at his feet instead.
“As enticing that would be, I’d prefer you choosing to be an adult for once.” Goodnight said as he pressed one hand against Josh’s chest and pushed him easily into a nearby chair. It was a simple wire patio set with a vines growing up the sides. “Now stay there.” He turned to Ale.
Goodnight reached out and took Ale’s hand, clasping it gently between his own. “As the solicitor, you must pay the cost.”
“All right,” Ale nodded slowly. “Name your price.”
Goodnight smiled and a sickly sticky sensation washed over Ale, like he was being slowly submerged in a tide of grape-flavored champagne. Ale swallowed around a parched throat. Goodnight slipped his hand down Ale’s arm and stomach, his rough fingertips snagging the soft fabric and leaving a warm trail as it traced his hip and slipped into his front pocket.
Ale moved away, sluggish, as everything happening so slowly, so inevitably. Goodnight pulled the silver stone out of Ale’s pocket. He turned it three times in his hand and suddenly a pure silver ring lay in his palm. Goodnight took Ale’s hand again and slipped the ring slowly on the finger of his right hand.
“Buy a dude dinner, first,” Ale croaked.
“Alejandro,” Goodnight placed his finger against Ale’s lips, “promise that you will wear this ring from now on. It will protect you. Also,” he captured one of Ale’s curls in his hand, pulling it straight and then tangling it in between his fingers.” I’ll need a lock of your hair.”
“Hey!” Josh stood up, chair clattering to the floor behind him. “Don’t give him that!”
“What’s the big deal?” Ale asked, glancing over at Josh. His face was screwed up in fury, bright red flush of anger smeared across his cheeks and purpling nose.
“What’s the big deal? He’ll own a part of you!” Josh railed, gestures getting larger, “He can use that against you!”
Goodnight snorted, mustache trembling with the rush of air. “What I do with it is my business. Those are the terms of my deal.”
“Fine. Do it.” Ale said. Josh squawked in the background. Goodnight smiled.
“Billy? Would you do the honors?”
Billy rose from the water, his tail untwisting and turning into two strong legs. He walked barefoot across the grass, pulling a sharp scale from beneath his skin.
“Hold still,” Billy said, pulling one of Ale’s curls out severing it with a decisive swipe. Billy handed the strand to Goodnight, who tucked it into his front pocket. Goodnight turned to Josh, who looked like he captured a storm inside his chest. Ale moved towards him, but Billy blocked his path, face impassive and body immobile.
“Now for you,” Goodnight said as he pushed Josh into a chair and leaned over him. His back concealed everything from Ale’s view.
“Hey, can I see?” Ale asked Billy, craning to look over his shoulder. Someone’s actually doing magic in front of him! Ever since he was a skinny 11-year old with thick glasses devouring the Harry Potter series, he’d always had a secret yearning for magic.
“No,” Billy said.
“Pleaseeeee,” Ale whined, moving to go around Billy.
“You will stay here,” Billy said. His voice transformed, twisting and flowing. The sound sank inside Ale’s skin like he was slowly being submerged into a warm bath. Ale’s eyelids drooped, heavy, as his body grew limp.
“What’re you doin’?” Ale mumbled, his tongue too thick and heavy in his mouth. What he could see outside his eyelashes was swirling and fuzzy.
“Relax,” Billy hummed an ancient tune, one that sent men swaying in a primordial dance, transfixed by blood and moonlight, throwing themselves into the frothing sea as a sacrifice. Ale didn’t know how long it lasted, but when the music stopped, Ale’s consciousness emerged as if from a deep sleep. He blinked, vision slowly coming into focus.
“Dude, not cool,” he mumbled as he rubbed his eyes. Billy had moved, settled next to the water and amphibious again. Goodnight was standing beside Josh, his hand cupped around the back of Josh’s neck. Josh’s face was pale, with sweat beading on his forehead, but beside the earlier notch on his nose, his face was completely healed. Ale walked over, leaning close to examine Josh’s face. Josh wrinkled his nose and leaned away.
“No way.” Ale blinked and grinned. “Real magic.”
“Yeah. Real magic. It’s a bitch.” Josh stumbled to his feet, swaying. Ale caught him, bracing him against his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Ale turned to Goodnight. Goodnight nodded slightly with that inscrutable smile.
“No thanks necessary. The contract has been completed.” He gestured towards the door. “See you at work, Alejandro.”
“Yeah. See ya.” Ale said as he hobbled out the door, bearing most of Josh’s weight.
“You need to lose some weight,” Ale said as he shoved Josh inside the passenger seat.
“Nah, babe. I’m all lean muscle,” Josh grinned.
“Bullshit,” Ale said, leaning over to buckle Josh in, his ring brushing around Josh’s midsection. Josh seized up, yelping.
“What’s wrong with you? Sit still. Safety first.” Ale said.
“Don’t touch me.” Josh snarled, shoving him away. Ale stumbled back.
“Asshole, don’t forget that I’m taking care of you!” Ale said, slamming the passenger door shut and stomping over to the driver’s side. He got in, turning on the engine. “Now where do you want to go, your highness?” He growled.
“Just take me back to my bike.” Josh said, pressing against the door, as far away from Ale as he could get.
“What’s the magic word?”
“Now.” He glared at Ale.
“Fuck that,” Ale said. He crossed his arms and stared back.
“Fine then,” Josh said, unbuckling himself and pushing his door open, tripping over the lagging seatbelt as he stumbled out of the car.
“What the hell are you doing? Bar’s a mile away,” Ale said, “you’ll faint in your condition. Just get back in the car.”
“No. I don’t need your help.” Josh looked around, sniffed hard, and then began strolling in the opposite direction.
“You don’t need my help?” Ale scowled as he turned off the engine and followed him. “I just fixed your damn face so you don’t look like a troll! You’re welcome!”
“I didn’t ask you to take me to the local witch doctor and barter for me! I can take care of myself! Now if you don’t mind, your smug ass can go along feeling wonderful about your good deed of the day and leave me alone!” Josh stumbled against a rock, pitching toward the ground.
Ale dove, catching him before he hit the dirt. “You can’t even stand!”
Josh shoved him off. “I said don’t touch me!”
“Why won’t you just tell me what the hell crawled up your asshole so we can talk instead of you being a dick?” Ale retorted, clenching his fists.
He didn’t see the punch coming before knuckles connected under his chin, sending him sprawling into the dirt. Josh loomed above him, blotting out the sun.
“That’ll teach you to quit picking fights you can’t finish,” he said.
Ale pushed himself off the ground and slapped Josh hard across the face, his ring hitting bone. Josh cried out in pain, reeling back and clutching his face. Between his fingers, it looked like red welts were rising on his tan skin. Ale’s anger flared and fought with the guilt sinking in his stomach.
“Don't! Touch! Me!” Josh yelled as he lunged forward, throwing Ale to the ground. Ale hit the ground rolling, sweeping his legs to catch Josh behind the ankles and sending him careening down as well. He landed with a solid thud. Ale climbed on top of Josh, sitting on his chest and pinning his hands above his head and against the dirt.
“Now are you going to tell me why you’re being such an asshole or are we going to sit here all day?” Ale spit out. He tried to sound tough and cover up his ragged breath from the scuffle.
Josh opened his mouth, but it moved curiously, working alongside the seams as the corners of his lips moved up and down, liked it was being controlled by something outside his will. His lips pressed together, and he was, for the first time since Ale knew him, silent.
“Fine.” Ale stayed on Josh’s chest, crossing his arms as he stared down at him. “I’ve got nowhere to be today.”
Josh’s eyes darted around, staring at different objects – the mailbox, a cactus, Ale’s car – before he looked back to Ale.
“You know, I like a man on top,” he finally said, “but unless you’re gonna ride my dick, you might as well get off. I need to leave town.”
“I got somewhere to be.” Josh licked his lips. “I didn’t mean to stay here overnight, anyway. I’m already late.”
“Late for what?” Ale raised his eyebrow.
“I don’t have to tell you.” Josh turned his face to look away. A red rash bloomed across his cheek where Ale hit him, much darker than a slap print, though much lighter than the welts he saw just a minute ago. Josh’s wrist, which Ale held in his right hand, had a similar red rash creeping from his wrist down his forearm.
Ale let his wrist go. A bright red welt bulged from Josh’s wrist, about the same size as Ale’s ring. Ale glanced down at the ring, examining it in the sunlight. He didn’t see anything in it but his own reflection, stretched and warped by the silver.
“Well, I’m not your father,” Ale said, rising brushing the dust off of his knees. “Do what you want.”
Josh groaned as he rolled over and crawled on all fours, stumbling slowly to his feet from that position.
“Are you okay?” Ale asked.
“Yeah.” Josh replied as he readjusted his shirt.
“Your arm –“
“I’m allergic to silver,” Josh said, brusque, “can’t stand touching it. It’ll go away soon.”
“Sorry,” Ale said.
“It’s fine. But like I said, I have to go now.” Josh picked up his head and stared at Ale for a few seconds. He then strode forward, cupped Ale’s cheek in his hands, and kissed him hard.
Ale barely registered the kiss while it lasted. It was wet and insistent, Josh's lips molded against Ale's, firm but growing softer before Josh pulled away. Ale blinked, mouth open as he stood stunned in place.
“You should see the look on your nanny’s face,” Josh said with a grin.
“My nanny?” Ale turned to see Goodnight watching from his window, brow furrowed and lips drawn downward into a displeased frown. Ale saw curtains in several other houses twitch as busybodies closed their curtains to disguise their curiosity. Great, now he's the neighborhood spectacle. The last thing he wanted.
“I don’t know what he’s got against you, but – ” Ale said, turning back. But Josh was gone.
Chapter 6: Midday Part 2
Hey everyone! Sorry for the extremely late updates. Right now I finished with my school program and I'm figuring out my update schedule, but I'm back!
Ever since he stepped in that house, Josh felt like long fingers were gently caressing up and down the back of his neck, the nails scraping gently – not enough to puncture, but as a warning that it could pierced if it so chose. This fae magic flowed through the house on honeyed air, the perfume cloying and concealing anything that Goodnight didn’t want outsiders to see.
Josh generally was fine with the fair folk –most of them were harmless enough. They kept to their own usually, dwelling in unpopulated places such as forests, marshes, and mountains. When they decided to contact humans, it was to play games or make a deal. But as humans pioneered, invented iron machines spewing black smoke, and populated cities aglow and raucous at all. So much iron nowadays, found in cheap earrings, furniture, houses, cars, and other machines. If a member of the fair folk ventured into the human population, they would find themselves in a minefield of salt, iron, and fire. But sometimes, more social ones integrate, but never without their own ulterior motives.
And Goodnight definitely had his own motive. Josh saw the way he hovered over Ale, the how he possessively gripped Ale’s shoulder whenever Josh or some other threat was present. Josh knew that Goodnight didn’t like him. He felt the animosity as soon as he crossed the threshold into Goodnight’s realm. Goodnight hated him, and hated that he was asked to heal Josh. Not that Josh was pissing his pants in excitement, either. As he watched Ale bargain on his behalf, watched Goodnight wield the golden flower in his hand as a acupuncturist with a grudge against her client, Josh steeled himself and tried to buoy his quickly sinking stomach. He decided to play the part of a contrite child – maybe Goodnight would have more patience with a silent patient – he wasn’t trying to make any trouble (for once).
However, when Josh heard Ale offer his hair – his hair! – Josh couldn’t keep quiet. He leapt to his feet, knocking the chair to the floor behind him.
“Hey! Don’t give him that!”
“What’s the big deal?” Ale asked, glancing over at Josh with a furrowed brow. Ale had no idea how magic was so connected with the body, how once a wielder possessed access to the owner’s body, they could control every strand of hair, every muscle, and blood cell. The closer to one’s body, the stronger the magic – hair was fairly common, with a relatively strong magic, as it grew from the body itself. Gods forbid, what if Goodnight asked for blood next? Ale would be his slave!
“What’s the big deal? He’ll own a part of you! He can use that against you!” Josh yelled, lunging forward to knock Goodnight’s encroaching hands away.
Goodnight snorted, waving his hands slightly out of Ale’s view. Suddenly, an invisible vise seized around Josh’s body, unseen vines twisting and squeezing tighter as Josh struggled. He tried to open his mouth, but a gag shoved inside his lips, preventing any further protest.
“What I do with it is my business. Those are the terms of my deal.” Goodnight said, turning back to Ale.
“Fine. Do it.” Ale said. Josh yelled against the gag, but all that came out was an undignified squawking noise.
“Billy? Would you do the honors?” Goodnight asked. Billy rose from the water, his scales untwisting into legs. He sauntered over to Ale and blocked Ale from Josh’s view.
“Now for you,” Goodnight said, placing his firm hand with long, tapered fingers, against Josh’s chest and pressing him into the chair. His slight push carried a heavier gravity than it appeared, and Josh collapsed like a doll against the chair. Goodnight leaned over him, his shadow eclipsing Josh’s figure, with the white-toothed grin of one who finally managed to crush a cockroach beneath their shoe. He cradled Josh’s face between his hands and dragged his finger across the open wound on Josh’s nose, fingernail scraping inside. Josh grunted, gritting his teeth and bucked up against Goodnight. Goodnight narrowed his eyes and gripped Josh’s hands against the arms of his chair, their weight capturing Josh in place. Goodnight leaned in close, his breath sickly sweet with a tinge of tobacco.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Goodnight whispered, lilting voice turned husky in the hollow of his throat. Goodnight held the bell-shaped flower over Josh’s face, pouring amber liquid from its spout onto Josh’s nose. It sizzled on his skin before it sank in. Everything grew golden behind Josh’s vision as he gasped, the magic searing as it forcibly readjusted his nose. Josh’s bones squirmed beneath his skin in a broiling mass as they rearranged themselves back into shape. Josh gasped for air, unable to cry out or move as what felt like lava ebbed and flowed beneath his skin, burning inside his nose a thousand times worse than the time his teenage self tried to snort tabasco sauce. Eventually, after the pain faded as the scars on his skin evaporated. Josh lay limp against the chair, his body sapped of all energy, with gray spots swirling across his vision as he gasped to fill his parched lungs with air.
“Now, mon cher,” Goodnight pinched Josh’s chin, his bloodstained fingers rubbing together. Josh’s chest seized and he sat straight in the chair. “Leave Rose Creek. Immediately.”
The only reply Josh could muster was a strangled gurgling noise in his throat.
“Wonderful.” Goodnight smiled and leaned back. In the background, Billy stopped humming, releasing Ale from his siren spell. Billy returned to the water, his tail re-emerging and swishing inside the water. Ale stood in place and blinked a few times, as his dilated pupils shrank back to their original size.
“No way.” Ale blinked and grinned as he saw Josh. Josh couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. “Real magic.” He approached Josh, whose vision was slowly stabilizing.
“Yeah. Real magic. It’s a bitch.” Josh said as he stumbled to his feet. The world tilted and swirled again, as the remaining pangs of magic flared across his face like a branding iron. Josh pitched to the side and found himself in Ale’s arms. Normally, he’d be too proud to let someone help him, but there was something comforting about being in Ale’s soft arms. He smelled was an intoxicating mix of warm musk, earth, and cinnamon. The comforting scent allowed Josh to relax and lean against Ale’s shoulder, resting his cheek against the soft cotton t-shirt. Josh dimly heard Ale thank that fae bastard, who in return made some remark about a contract. Josh chose to keep his face buried in Ale’s shoulder and blocked out the saccharine scent of the house and any other fae charms until they stumbled outside. While the white light of the sun baked him, it melted all the remaining magic clinging to their clothes and skin. Josh took a deep breath of the clean air.
“You need to lose some weight,” Ale said as he opened his car door pressing his hand against Josh’s shoulders and side as he guided Josh to the passenger seat.
There’s no way that he was implying Josh was fat. Josh spent hours at the gym, running outside, and working on his muscles. It was a point of pride for him. He’d show Ale – even if he had to take off his shirt and flex for him. “Nah, babe. I’m all lean muscle,” Josh put on his slickest grin, for when he wanted to make women giggle, and fumbled for the hem of his shirt.
“Bullshit,” Ale replied, clearly not falling for it. Josh had never met someone so resistant to his charms. Josh groaned in frustration, resigning himself to winning Ale over with his personality – wait, his personality? Better try for the grin again.
However, before Josh could try again and to his delight, Ale leaned over him, stretching the seatbelt across his chest. Josh took the chance to flex his arms, leaning up to meet his touch – oh fuck what was that?! Something burned across his midsection as Ale’s hand brushed against his hip. Josh jerked away and saw sunlight glinting off of Ale’s finger. That fae bastard fucking gave him a silver ring!
“What’s wrong with you? Sit still. Safety first.” Ale said as he placed the same hand on Josh’s chest. This time, a searing hot needle plunged directly through his ribcage.
“Don’t touch me.” Josh snarled, shoving Ale away. Ale stumbled back.
“Asshole, don’t forget that I’m taking care of you!” Ale said, slamming the passenger door shut and stomping over to the driver’s side. He got in, turning on the engine. “Now where do you want to go, your highness?” He growled.
“Just take me back to my bike.” Josh said, pressing against the door, as far away from Ale as he could get. Now that he was inside the small car, he could smell silver everywhere. Small hives began to bubble up beneath his skin in reaction.
“What’s the magic word?” Ale stared at him, eyebrow cocked up.
“Now.” He glared at Ale, taking short breaths. His lungs constricted, his throat dried up, and he needed to get out of the car as quickly as possible. If Ale would just drive, Josh might make it back to Ale’s house, but if he just sat there, Josh felt like he’d suffocate.
“Fuck that,” Ale said. He crossed his arms and stared back.
“Fine then,” Josh said, unbuckling himself and pushing his door open, unable to remain in the stifling car any longer and tripping over the lagging seatbelt as he climbed out of the car.
“What the hell are you doing? Bar’s a mile away,” Ale said, “you’ll faint in your condition. Just get back in the car.”
“No. I don’t need your help.” Josh took a deep breath, re-orienting himself. The bar was only a few blocks over – he could make it to his bike.
“You don’t need my help?” Josh heard Ale turn off the car and stomp behind him. “I just fixed your damn face so you don’t look like a troll! You’re welcome!”
Fuck, it didn’t look like Ale was going to let go of him. Josh could feel Goodnights eyes peer at him from behind his heavy curtains. It all felt like to much – the weight of Goodnight’s stare, the aches and burns on his body, the small town, this attractive yet annoying guy yelling at him – he needed to get out of Rose Creek. “I didn’t ask you to take me to the local witch doctor and barter for me! I can take care of myself! Now if you don’t mind, your smug ass can go along feeling wonderful about your good deed of the day and leave me alone!” Josh thought this was enough to push Ale away, but as he turned to storm away, he stumbled against a rock and pitched to the ground.
Ale dove, and Josh found himself back in those wonderful soft arms before he kissed the hard dirt. “You can’t even stand!” Ale hauled Josh back into a standing position, his ringed hand supporting Josh’s arm. Once again, the silver burned his skin, searing deeper the longer Ale held him.
“I said don’t touch me!” Josh yelled as he shoved Ale off.
“Why won’t you just tell me what the hell crawled up your asshole so we can talk instead of you being a dick?” Ale retorted, clenching his fists. If he was ready for a fight, face all screwed up in frustration and cheeks flushed in anger, and a fight was the only way to get him off his back, then a fight he’d get. Josh lunged forward and sent a punch beneath Ale’s chin, a twinge of regret panging in his stomach as he felt his knuckles connect with bone. Ale sprawled against the ground, reeling and caught off guard.
As he laid on the dirt, Josh stood over him and spit out his warning, “that’ll teach you to quit picking fights you can’t finish.”
The little guy moved faster than Josh thought he could after taking a punch, pushing himself off the ground and, hand a blur, slapping a stinging blow against Josh’s cheek. The ring hit his cheek hard, ringing against his cheekbone, and Josh felt the ring burn itself deep in his skin. Josh saw white, crying out and clutching his face as everything burned and stung. Fuck, that hurt! That fucking stung! He could feel his entire cheek bubbling up in bright red welts in reaction.
“Josh -” Josh heard Ale’s voice, slightly softer than before. Guilt twisted Josh’s stomach, until he heard Ale move closer, the silver near him again.
“DON’T! TOUCH! ME!” Josh yelled as he stumbled forward, pushing Ale to the ground. Before he knew it, Josh’s feet swept from beneath him and he hit the ground hard, landing with a solid thud. Josh groaned, holding his head.
The sun blotted out and a heavy weight settled along Josh’s midsection. Josh gulped as he felt Ale’s thighs straddling his stomach, and Ale’s arms settling across his chest. If this was another situation, Josh would be in heaven right now.
“Now are you going to tell me why you’re being such an asshole or are we going to sit here all day?” Ale glared down at him.
Fuck it, might as well tell him. Josh opened his mouth, but before he could speak his words seemed to reverse and jump back down his throat. He tried to talk again, but his lips sealed themselves shut and wouldn’t open no matter how he tried to force them open. That fae bastard must have placed another spell on him, just to spite him.
“Fine.” Ale stayed on Josh’s chest, crossing his arms as he stared down at him. “I’ve got nowhere to be today.”
Come on, say something. Nothing about the silver or the spells.
“You know, I like a man on top,” he finally said, “but unless you’re gonna ride my dick, you might as well get off. I need to leave town.”
“I got somewhere to be.” Josh licked his lips. “I didn’t mean to stay here overnight, anyway. I’m already late.”
“Late for what?” Ale raised his eyebrow.
“I don’t have to tell you.” Josh turned his face to look away. He stayed too long anyway – always getting distracted by pretty girls and boys, whiskey, and cards. Morgan doesn’t like to be kept waiting.
Ale signed and shifted, rolling off Josh and standing. “Well, I’m not your father. Do what you want.” Josh missed the weight, and resisted the temptation to make a “daddy” joke. Instead, he focused his energy on rolling on all fours, then slowly standing on his feet.
“Are you okay?” Ale asked.
“Yeah.” Josh replied as he readjusted his shirt.
“Your arm –“
“I’m allergic to silver,” Josh lied as he stared at the ground. “Can’t stand touching it. It’ll go away soon.” Better than the truth.
“Sorry,” Ale said.
“It’s fine. But like I said, I have to go now.” Josh tilted his head up and took a last glance at Ale, his soft dark eyes, his floppy dark hair, and his enviable beard. Over Ale’s shoulder, Josh saw a curtain twitch at Goodnight’s window. Rebellion flared inside him, and he stepped forward, cupped Ale’s cheek in his hand, and leaned down to kiss him.
Ale made a soft surprised sound before he met Josh’s kiss, lips melting against Josh’s. He tasted like honey with a touch of cayenne, but there was something else – something that called Josh’s soul to him, to intertwine and sing together. Josh broke the kiss and pulled away, studying Ale’s face. Ale’s eyes remained close for a few seconds, his lips still pursed and slightly pink, when his eyelashes fluttered open and he gaped at Josh. Goodnight’s gob-smacked expression from between his curtains only made the moment all the sweeter.
“You should see the look on your nanny’s face,” Josh said with a grin.
“My nanny?” Ale turned, and while he was distracted, Josh managed to slip away. Behind a house, he transformed, skin sprouting fur, fangs sharpening, and within two blinks a creature similar to a coyote in the daylight wound around some trash cans and trotted down the street.
Chapter 7: High Noon
I'm back from the dead! These chapters are getting the best of me. Thanks for sticking around, if you're still reading this! If you'd like to hear what I listen to for inspiration to get the feel for this fic, check out the "Silver in Your Eyes" playlist.
The dust settled after Josh disappeared, and life in Rose Creek resumed its usual monotony. The sunbaked desert rarely changed, the only alterations were travelers stopping for gas and a meal at Porky’s. The storms continued to rage in the mountains to the West, but they seemed to darken in color, swelling from its normal grey to a purplish black like a rapidly darkening bruise.
It’s not like Ale missed Josh – he didn’t miss his stupid face and stubbled chin, his temper, his stupid smile, and his melted chocolate eyes – didn’t miss him at all! Ale grumbled to himself, choosing to concentrate instead on a difficult spot on the table below him. What was that - dried cheese? A stain of tomato sauce? Ale scrubbed it with a rag and renowned vigor until he could see his reflection in the laminate-coated tabletop. His refusal to think about a certain roguish idiot did wonders for his cleaning technique. His housemates marveled at the spotless living room, dusted furniture, and sparkling kitchen. The more he concentrated with his hands, the less his mind had to busy itself with insignificant thoughts.
His reflection on the table tilted its chin and winked at him.
Ale blinked. It stared back at him with the same bewildered expression.
“Alejandro!” Maria Perez, manager of Porky’s, called out to him over her shoulder while her hands flew about the cash register in a tan blur. She was almost an exact twin for Maria Mayaguez at the bar, except instead of shoulder-length hair, Maria Perez kept her hair buzzed short. When Ale asked if the two were related, they stared at him in befuddlement until Ale changed the subject to water parks versus theme parks.
“Get your ass over here! I need you bussing tables!” She wove curses with her tongue as grandmother knitting her grandchildren’s Christmas sweaters. The elderly out-of-towner at the register pursed her lips and snatched her change out of Maria’s hand, grasping her husband’s hand with her bony claw as she dragged him outside.
“If you say anything about my ass, you better be saying how great it looks in these jeans.” Ale said as he took the tray and began snatching used dishes off tables, giving them a wipe down with his rag before moving on to the next one. Maria snorted under her breath as she kept the checkout line moving. One customer did that thing where he cleared his throat, made eye contact with Ale, and signaled for the check all at once – just pick one, dude.
“I’ll be right there!” Ale said in his most chipper voice as he ducked in the back with the stack of used plates, dumping them in the sink. Red Harvest, his hair tied up, sweat beading on his bronzed bow, has mastered all six burners on the oven with three omelets, two orders of French toast, and a pan full of bacon. He handled it all in silence, whereas Goodnight has been positively overflowing with camaraderie in the past two weeks, singing French songs at the top of his voice along with the dulcet tones of jazz on the radio. Whenever Ale asked about Josh and what transpired between the two of them, Goodnight only smiled inscrutably and placed his finger against his lips.
“Some things, Alejandro, are best left unsaid.”
Red Harvest certainly believed that. Well, left everything unsaid.
“Need any help back here?” Ale asked.
Red Harvest shook his head, staring at the bubbling eggs.
That was the most response Ale as going to get out of him all day. However, in the wake of the supernatural revelations in Ale’s life two weeks ago, he began noticing more about the oft-silent Red Harvest. He always wore multiple rings on his fingers, in silver, iron, and copper. He also had multiple iron studs in his ears, as well as several tattoos from different cultures that Ale recognized from the pages of one of Emma’s books as protection symbols. His boots, always caked with the calcium-rich clay from his reservation, had steel and silver reinforcements on the toe and heel. Not only did Red Harvest know about Rose Creek’s magical residents, he apparently decided to take no shit from them.
“ALEJANDRO! Where are you with that order??” Maria called from the restaurant.
“Coming!” Ale grabbed the plates Red Harvest shoved at him and hurried outside, distributing the plates and tossing the check to the waiting customer, who now resorted to tapping his watch. He grabbed a coffee pot and went over to where Mamá Esperanza sat in a booth. She held the empty porcelain mug in her wrinkled hands, the folds of her skin soft and overlapping like dunes in the Sahara. Sometimes Ale wished he lived in the sandy deserts instead of the baked clay one, cracked from heat and acid. He had to memorize twenty types of dirt and loam for his soil class, and he found clay the least fascinating, outside of clay pottery.
“Mamá Esperanza, want some more coffee?” He asked.
“Oh, no te precupes, I am fine. Too much coffee and I shake so.” She patted Ale’s arm. “Eres un chico dulce.”
Ale smiled, the small glow in his chest a bit brighter whenever someone referred to him as a man.
Mama Esperanza stared at the bottom of her coffee cup where a few grounds floated in the remaining puddle. She looked up, gazing out the dust-covered window and onto the main street.
“Mira,” she said, taking the corner of Ale’s bright pink apron and tugging it, the other wrinkled finger extending to point to the currently abandoned two-lane highway.
Ale squinted to look. It was bright – too bright, even for noon. The haze shimmering over the asphalt highway simmered and swirled, the rays pulling away from one another before crashing back together again. The shadows twisted against each other, dancing across the ground and the buildings, until they stilled and all stretched together into a center point in the middle of the highway. A small prick of darkness, an impermeable blackness that sucked all the shadows inside it to grow infinitely darker, developed into a hole in the ground.
Ale stared, frozen to the spot. “What’s going on, Mamá Esperanza?” He stuttered as the hole grew wider.
Mamá Esperanza reached into her patchwork handbag and pulled out a rosary, a vial of salt, and a serrated knife.
“Wendigo,” she whispered.
The shadows gathered inside the black spot, contorting into a bulbous mass of broiling bubbles, swelling and settling with wet plops. Thousands of glittering eyes opened and shut in the mass, glittering in the sunlight. The shadows gathered into themselves, twisted into a knot, then into the shape of a man.
A tall white man stood in the street, his skin tight against his bones to give the appearance of a walking skeleton, the shadows stretched across his body into clothing. He wore large gold jewelry, sunlight glinting off of his giant belt buckle, his Rolex, his bolo tie, and the gold rings on each of his fingers. He wore a tan cowboy hat, and took a cigar out of his mouth, the cigar smoke curling from his chapped and bloody lips and nostrils around his head.
“Good afternoon, Rose Creek.” He said, raspy voice somehow clear as if he was standing behind Ale, who still stood in the diner, coffee pot gripped in his hand. All the other patrons seemed to hear the man as well, sitting stiff in their seats or standing still. Maria Perez’s face was pale, her hands gripping the bar counter. Red Harvest was leaning against the kitchen doorway, hand resting against the holster on a belt always obscured by his chef’s apron.
“The name’s Bartholomew Bogue. I’m a man of few words so I’ll be clear – I want this town. Rose Creek is a shithole but it’s located on a fault line between this world and the fae realms. It’s a verifiable gold mine of magical energy. So be out of here by next week. Or else expect a slaughter.”
Ale’s head spun. A type of magical rift was almost too much for his mind to grasp, but at this point he was willing to accept whatever weird thing happened at this point. It would explain all the bizarre happenings in this town. And this man – standing with one hand in his pocket and one on his cigar, nonchalant as if he were waiting in line at the bank – wanting to harness that energy seemed like nothing but trouble.
A muffled howl of rage snapped Ale out of his thoughts. Emma stormed out onto the streets, a gun in one hand and a long thin stick in the other. Matt, dressed in all black and wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, followed on her heels.
“YOU HORSE-FUCKER! I VOWED THE DAY I EVER SAW YOU AGAIN I’D BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF!”
“Emma!” Maria bolted out the door, the heavy bell clanging against the glass and “Pork you later!” sign flapping in the wind. Red followed on her heels, clicking the safety off of his gun.
Ale set the coffee pot down on the table.
“Hijo,” Mamá Esperanza rested her hand on his, stilling him. She gave him a reassuring squeeze and placed an electric flare in her palm. “Calmarse. Don’t be rash.”
Ale nodded down at her and turned to the diner, full of wide-eyed patrons in still-frozen patrons, in varying stages of deciding whether to fight or flee.
“Stay in here,” he said. “Get behind the counters and go out the back door if it gets bad.”
A few nodded, and they generally began moving behind the counter and into the back rooms, chairs squeaking and plates clinking as they moved. Ale held the bell in place as he left the diner so it wouldn’t clatter and draw Bogue’s attention. He stood behind a decorative shrub, gripping the flare in his hand. Why Mamá Esperanza gave it to him, he didn’t know, but he trusted her, and it was the only weapon he had on him right now.
Bogue held his hands up, but it was more mocking than a gesture of surrender. He grinned, cigar clenched between his teeth, as he watched Emma with the rifle and – wand? – like he was watching a cat video instead of a very dangerous and pissed off woman.
“Emma, what a pleasure to meet you again. Is this your husband? He looks much more whole since the last time I saw him.”
“That’s because you shot him! And I swore if I ever saw your face again I’d fill it full of bullets!” Emma cocked her gun and fired it five times, shots echoing down the street. Ale pressed his hands against his ears, eardrums ringing in response.
Bogue brushed the bullets and gunpowder residue off his coat with a mildly inconvenienced expression. “Now, now, let’s not play games. I know you heard my terms with your pretty little ears of yours and it would be a shame to remove them. Although,” he licked his lips, “I like the idea of leaving my mark on your face.”
“Stay away from my wife!” Matt yelled and rushed towards Bogue, moving faster than a human should. Matt struck at Bogue with his fist, and Bogue moved in a blur to dodge it. Metal glinted in the sun and suddenly a long metal stave skewered though Matt, pinning him to the ground. He yelled in pain, writhing on the ground.
Emma screamed, blue light exploding from the wand and surrounding Bogue. From Porky’s, Red pressed behind a truck and fired one shot after another with his handgun, each time waiting for the smoke to part at the right moment to shoot again. Maria ran up and down the street, ushering pedestrians into the safety of the restaurant.
Bogue dodged these attacks with the lazy stroll of a man on a Sunday morning walk with a cup of coffee in hand. He kept his hands tucked in his pockets, only moving to take a drag from his cigar.
As the battle drew down the street, Ale dashed across the road to Matt, who was still struggling with the metal embedded inside his midsection. It was a nasty hole, with dark brown blood already congealed around the edges. A blow like that would have killed a mortal man. It seemed to only inconvenience the vampire.
“Need a hand? There seems to be a lot at stake here,” Ale quipped as he grabbed the rod and pulled. The stake was embedded in the asphalt, but moved slightly. “This must really suck.”
“Ha, ha.” Matt said, dried blood at the corners of his mouth. “I’d appreciate you saving me without the terrible puns.”
“Sorry bro, but with puns I’m a neck and shoulders above the rest. It’s in my blood.” The stake began to move, slowly. “I guess I’m not your type.” With that last heave, the stake suddenly popped out of Matt’s body. Holy shit, you could see straight through his body to the road on the other side. Ale bit back the urge to hurl as he stumbled away.
“You had to mention blood right now. Of which I’ve lost a lot of.” Matt staggered to his feet, clutching his stomach. He was pale, not just the I-haven’t-seen-the-sun pale that he usually was. His pupils dilated, and his tongue darted out to taste visibly longer canines.
“Uh, dude, I’m not sure that I’m a universal donor . . . “Ale held his hands up as he continued to back away.
“Matt!” Teddy ran up, his tie and suit jacket flapping in the wind. He caught Matt by the waist, supporting him on his shoulder. Teddy loosened his tie with his other hand, yanking his perfectly pressed white button down’s collar to expose his neck. Matt growled in his throat and latched onto the juncture between Teddy’s neck and shoulder. Teddy gasped, knees bending as he supported Matt.
Ale looked away from the scene, to the billowing blue-gray smoke in the street, with flashes of light illuminating the scene inside. Red Harvest crouched behind a truck, cleaning his gun and reloading. Ale hurried over, crouching beside him.
“Bullets don’t seem to work,” Ale said. Red Harvest grunted. Ale soldiered on. “Mamá Esperanza said that it was a wendigo.”
“Wendigo. A demon or man consumed by greed, lust, and cannibalism.” Red Harvest said. “Bullets only slow him down. What we need is fire.”
“Fire, huh?” Ale dug the flare out of his pocket and stared at it. “Can you give me cover?”
Red Harvest stared down at his hand, then nodded at Ale, positioning himself against the truck’s hood. Well, time for some idiotic heroics.
Ale ran headfirst into the smoke, bullets whizzing past his shoulder. Emma was panting, sweat beading on her skin and cuts across her arms and neck, as she flung spell after spell at Bogue. Bogue strode forward, ducking around them in a blur, before pinning Emma by the neck against a building. Emma gasped and clawed at his hands, legs kicking at him.
“Hey asshole!” Ale yelled and waved his arms. Bogue turned his head, pinning Ale with an icy glare that promised his dark grave. Ale gulped. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, you moldy string cheese! Leave her alone!”
Bogue snarled and dropped Emma against the ground. He stepped forward, and suddenly he was right in front of Ale, his breath reeking of smoke and decay. “I’ll make sure that the irritating inhabitants of this town remain silent. By any means necessary.” He pulled out a long knife and brought it down on Ale in a screaming silver blur.
On instinct, Ale reached out and grabbed Bogue’s forearm, the blade stopping an inch shy of Ale’s eye. Ale’s arms trembled under the clash of the blow meeting, but his grip remained tight on Bogue’s arm. Bogue’s eyes widened as he stared down at Ale. The two remained in place, both straining under each other’s weight.
“What are you?” Bogue growled.
“Animal control, bitch.” Ale said as he kneed Bogue right in the balls.
Bogue cried out and tumbled to the ground. Ale twisted the flare’s cap off and scratched the strike surface against the flare’s black button. A large bright jet of red flame shot out, which Ale shoved into Bogue’s face. Bogue shrieked, covering his eyes as he rolled against the ground. Two shots rang out and burrowed into Bogue’s forehead, as Emma brought a large wooden board down onto his head. Bogue exploded into millions of glittering black beetles, swarming into the sewer and street drains.
“Gross, I should’ve said pest control,” Ale said as he brushed himself off.
“He’ll be back.” Emma said as she stared at the sewers. “Bogue never stops until he gets what he wants.”
“What are we going to do?” Ale asked, then immediately regretted the inclusion of “we” in that sentence.
“Why don’t you ask the man who’s been shot, killed, and impaled by Bogue?” Matt and Teddy ambled up, each leaning on each other. Ale tried to ignore the fresh blood on Matt’s lips and the bite on Teddy’s neck.
“Well, what do you think, honey?” Emma walked over, gently touching the slowly healing hole in Matt’s stomach.
Matt gave her a wry smile and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I think that we should kill him.” Emma beamed and kissed him on the lips, and then kissed Teddy.
Ale backed away and entered the diner, surveying the overturned tables and scattered cutlery. Customers were peeking out the side of the counter, and Maria was already back inside, righting the tables and handing out pie. The previously impatient customer approached Ale, holding his receipt.
"Can I get change for a 20?"
The waxing moon roiled in the heat-baked desert night, its underbelly shimmering in the haze of the valley below. Josh wrapped his lips around the chilled lip of the mason jar full to the brim with Texas moonshine home-brewed by his cousins. His lodgings, a wood-hewn cabin directly out of Little House on the Prairie, was nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, tucked between the mossy crag of the mountainside and the clear blanket of stars. The energy was cleaner than the stormy Rockies, with its tempest swirling across its snow caps teeming with claws and teeth.
He almost didn’t hear the velvet pad of paws against the thistle and grass until a raspy voice interrupted the cicada’s high chorus from the trees.
“Joshua.” Morgan spoke as she stepped from the tree line, the whites of her eyes and teeth reflecting Josh’s small fire, while her dark skin blended in the shadows and moved like a memory.
“You here to bitch me out again?” Josh asked as he took another swig of the amber liquid. “ ‘You’re three days late and reeking of the fae! What on earth were you up to? You make your poor mother worry herself sick!’ I already apologized.”
Morgan sighed as she settled herself down on the log beside him. “No, I’m all bitched out. You weren’t at the council tonight. I do need you there. I’m the pack leader and need to know where my children are.” She reached out and squeezed Josh’s shoulder.
“I didn’t feel like listening to territory disagreements tonight. I’ll be there tomorrow.” He said, staring into the crackling embers instead of Morgan’s disappointed eyes. “I’m sorry. Again.” They sat in silence together for a few moments.
“I can sense a weight on your soul. What happened to you during your trip?” Morgan asked.
“Nothing.” Josh grit his jaw to resist Morgan’s motherly intentions, although what he really wanted was to bare his deepest fears and desires to her. But how could he disclose something that he was afraid of, himself?
Morgan was quiet for a while longer, then with a large sigh she looked up at the sliver of the waxing moon as it crested the smog settled within the valley.
“When I lived in Ireland, I used to go for walks along the seaside. Those green cliffs overlooking the steel restless ocean, with a mist of sea-spray rising with each crash against the shore, were so full of magic that I lost myself inside. One day, as I made my way along the rocky shore, I saw a man sunning himself on the rocks, completely naked. He was so white honey, that I was almost blinded in the sun!” She laughed, deep throated, and nudged Josh.
Josh groaned. “Ugh, mom, I don’t want to hear about you meeting naked men.”
“Just listen honey, listen,” she said, and continued. “His hair however, was like the sun came down and lit him on fire. I’ve seen redheads, but his was pure dancing flame as it draped down the rock. I see a soft fabric near me and I toss it at him, shouting, ‘cover yourself, lad!’ It smacked him in the face and he rolled off the side of the rock.” She stopped to chuckle to herself again.
“To my surprise, a gray seal peeked around the edge of the rock. I thought to myself, ‘you’ve done it now, Morgan, you’ve clobbered a selkie.’ But he didn’t seem angry and flopped after me, his blubber bouncing along the sand. He transformed back into a man and told me that by giving him back his pelt I proposed marriage, which he wholeheartedly accepted. I was scared by marriage, however, and I didn’t want to trust my heart to someone that I barely knew. I was scared of being tied down and reduced to just a wife.”
Josh tightened his grip around the mason jar as he listened.
“He won my heart over eventually. He respected who I was and never made me compromise.” Morgan reached out and squeezed his hand. “And eventually you came along.”
Josh cleared his dry throat. “You’ve never talked about my father before.”
“It was too painful. When he died, I lost a part of my heart. I buried him in Ireland and took you and your siblings with me to America to start my own pack.”
“Was . . . was it worth it?” Josh bit his lip and looked over at Morgan.
She smiled gently at him, her chocolate eyes melting in the firelight. “It was. When you bare your soul and share it with another person, there’s always a chance that they will leave you all alone. But if they accept you, and you both feel like you’re immersed in pure sunlight. It’s warm, and welcoming, and you know that you’ll never leave home. Now, he’s gone. I miss him with every beat of my heart. But I know that I need to take care of myself, take care of you, and take care of my pack. The world moves on. The ache does dull after a time, though you never forget it.”
Josh leaned against her shoulder and she wrapped an arm around him, squeezing him tight.
“I’ll see you in the morning.” Morgan kissed his head and got up, shifting as she entered the tree line to blend with the shadows.
Josh stared up at the smattering of stars in their multitude, a star flying in a streak of light, illuminating the heavens in its journey. Josh rose from the log and picked his way towards a tall cactus. He sniffed the air. Greg O’Malley was here recently, as well as Shelley Livingstone and Padraig Braguh. Josh unzipped his pants and took a long piss.
“Alejandro!” Goodnight rushed up to Ale and pulled him into his arms, checking him over. “How are you, mon petit ami? Are you hurt? Where is that bastard?”
“I’m all right.” Ale shrugged out of Goodnight’s embrace. “I’m not hurt. And he’s gone, I guess.”
“He’ll be back.” Billy said from behind him, sipping from a cup of ice water.
“Yeah, Mamá Esperanza said something about a wendigo.” Ale said as Goodnight dabbed a damp wet cloth at a cut on his cheek.
“Those filthy cannibals.” Goodnight spit at the ground. “It’s an infestation.”
“Bogue won’t leave until he gets what he wants,” Billy said.
“We need to be prepared,” Emma said as she checked her gun.
“We’ll send the families and children to safety, and anyone who wants to fight can stay.” Matt replied.
“What about a Hunter?” Teddy asked. “Do you think they’d help?”
“I think one’s already here,” Matt remarked as the steady hum of a motorcycle grew louder.
A black motorcycle cut through the swathe of dust, skidding to a stop in a perfect Akira slide. A rider in all black, with black gloves, and a black motorcycle helmet, sat astride the motorcycle, looking around at the gathered crowd and abandoned battleground. As he removed his helmet, Ale was struck by how much he looked like a young Denzel Washington.
“I imagine you’re our savior?” Emma asked, striding up to the motorcycle.
“I’m not the savior of anybody, ma’am.” The motorcycle rider stated, ignoring Emma’s forehead vein pulse at ‘ma’am’. “The name’s Sam Chisolm. I’m a duly sworn warrant officer of the American Magical Republic, the Central America Spell League, and the Canadian Casting Coalition. I’ve been tracking a scoundrel by the name of Bartholomew Bogue for five years and my radar picked him up here surrounded by a mass of dark energy.”
“I’d say. He has become a wendigo and he demanded Rose Creek to mine for magic energy,” Teddy said. “He’ll be back in a week.”
“We can’t allow that to happen. He’s too powerful already.” Sam said. “I believe that I’ll stay here so I can stop him before he tries his little invasion.” Sam inclined his head towards Goodnight and Billy. “Goodnight. Billy. It’s been a long time since the swamp. I’d never expect to see you in a desert.”
“Sometimes life moves in mysterious ways, old friend,” Goodnight smiled as he stepped forward to shake Sam’s hand and kiss him on the cheek. “And sometimes our business is only our own business.”
“I understand that,” Sam chuckled as he nodded at Billy.
“We’ll pay you if you get rid of him. I’m not giving up my town. I worked hard to build what I have here,” Emma said.
“Well, if Bogue is a wendigo now like you said he is, we will need to set up a line of defense and recruit all the help we can get.” Sam said. “I’m going to put out a call to see if any local werewolf packs are nearby. They can get very territorial and I doubt they’ll want to move out either.”
“I’m more curious about how they crossed that boundary from the mountains. Isn’t Horne supposed to be guarding it?” Matt asked.
“Someone will have to pay a visit,” Emma said, “someone not busy evacuating or setting up the defenses. Someone without magic.” Everyone fell silent and then turned to look at Ale. The weight of their stares sank a pit into Ale’s stomach.
“I uh, I think I’ll phone a friend, Regis.” Ale stammered.
The car engine made an unsettling grinding sound as Ale drove past the “Leaving Rose Creek” sign and towards the stormy mountains. The noise subsided, then Ale was alone on the highway – just him and Journey as he travelled up the two black lanes splitting the boundless desert in two.
Ale glanced over at the small drawstring bag on the passenger seat beside him. The top left a small hole part between the elastic bands, not large enough to peer inside. Ale tried to ignore it, though it budged occasionally. Mamá Esperanza pressed it into his hands right before he left town, saying it was “for Jackie.”
He had no idea why Sam sent him out to see this Horne, how everyone knew Horne but him, and what type of information he was supposed to glean from this meeting. He also had no idea why he was embarking on this trip for a town he’s only lived in about four months, instead of just taking the next exit and driving off to California. California would be nice, but everything would be too expensive, especially for someone with a half-finished Master’s in Geology. Maybe he could go back to his University, and pick up his life there. Ale groaned. That meant facing concerned faculty and family, rescuing his clothes and furniture from the dumpster, salvaging his decimated GPA, and attempting to revive his long-dead plants. Maybe not.
Somehow, he just couldn’t return to life outside Rose Creek, not after he found out that magic existed, and all types of magical peoples did as well. He’d end up doubting everything he saw and everyone he met from then on, even in the bowels of the biggest city. At this point, he might as well roll with it and see what happens. Besides, Ale had questions about himself that he wanted answered. Although, Ale gulped as he drove closer to the swirling maelstrom of clouds ensconcing the mountain, two bolts of lightning striking the peaks, some questions may be better not answered.
I'm sorry for the absence, everybody. I appreciate y'all sticking with me, if you're here. It's been a busy few months. I've lost a few family members, had my heart broken, graduated law school, and am studying my ass off for the Bar. I hope that you enjoy it, and I hope to keep updating. Thank you for your sweet comments and support.