26 of March 2021 – 3:00 AM – The Witching Hour
“Cari!” I rushed to her side and nudged her with my nose. She had crumpled to the ground in a heap of short limbs and dirt-stained pajamas. I nudged her again; her floral-citrus scent was tainted copper by the blood that trickled from her left ring finger. “Cari?”
She didn’t move. I pressed my nose against her cheek; she was chilled from the early morning spring air. I moved to press it against her forehead instead, and I had to fight the urge to jump back. She’s burning up!
With a swift survey of the area, I shifted back into my human form. I barely felt the transformation anymore; it was nowhere near as scary or violent as movies made it out to be. It felt more like I was freeing myself when I became the wolf, and like I was parting ways with a good friend every time I turned back. It’d be alarming to find a naked guy with an unconscious girl, though, so at least the shift is quiet.
I wasn’t certain of what to do next. Sure, I’m pretty handy in tight spots, but this shit was beyond me. I had followed the voice out of curiosity–I had no idea that I’d run into Cari, who seemed to hate me for some unknown reason. And I sure as hell didn’t expect to nearly die at the jaws of a hellhound, a species I had never even heard of before that night.
My eyes caught sight of some sort of denim material beneath Cari’s leg; I delicately shoved her limb aside and picked up the article of clothing, brushing dirt off as I studied it. It appeared to be a jacket with small mirror shards and tiny seashells glued across the chest. I didn’t even need to bring it to my nose to smell the saltwater. What is this thing..?
Suddenly, one of the inner pockets began to buzz; I reached in and pulled out a smartphone. Must be Cari’s…
Someone was calling her. Recognizing the name and the face of the caller, I swiped the green “answer” option and brought the phone to my ear. “Uh, hi, Ax.”
“Jett? Why’re you with Cari?”
“I-It’s a long story,” I deflected, my eyes flitting down to Cari’s still figure. “We need some help, though. Can you come meet us? I don’t think I can take her home by myself.”
“Sure, where are you?”
“Uhhh…” I glanced around. “Like, ten miles northwest? In the woods somewhere?”
I heard the vampire sigh on the other end of the line. “Alright, uh, do you have your phone?”
“Shit. Okay… Uh, the pin for Cari’s phone is four-two-zero-seven,” he whispered. There was a lot of movement as he rushed around to presumably get ready. “Go ahead and send me your location from her Enchat account. Did you shift in order to get to wherever you are?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Okay, just carry her piggyback and shift again, and you should be able to meet me partway. How’s your hearing?”
My face grew warm–I didn’t like to brag. “Uh, good, I guess.”
“If my sister needs help, then now isn’t the time for modesty,” Axel said pointedly. “So? How’s that wolf hearing?”
I cleared my throat. “If I concentrate, then I’ll be able to hear you from here.”
There was a short pause. “Well, damn, dude. That’s better than most wolves these days. Alright, just do the piggyback thing and follow the sound of my voice. I’ll meet you in the middle–just try not to go too fast, or you’ll drop her.”
“I-Is it okay that you gave me her passcode?”
Axel snorted. I could hear the sound of rushing wind in the background. “Shit, I mean, this is kind of an emergency. She’s big on privacy, but she’ll understand. See you in a few.”
Then the line clicked and I was left alone with my tasks. As much as I hated to admit it, Axel was right–I needed to get Cari home, and that meant unlocking her phone. I input the passcode, opened Enchat, and entered her private thread with Axel, which (based on the last few messages) was just the two foster siblings sending memes and reminders to one another.
A bitter smile pulled at my lips as I sent Axel our location. If Jade were still alive, would we talk like that? Or would she be too busy with college to have time for me?
It took less than a second for the “sent” symbol by my message to turn into the “read” eyeball. Okay… Let’s get her jacket on first. It’s too cold.
After a few minutes, I had the young witch dressed, and she was finally warm and hoisted on my back. I made sure to return her phone to the pocket I had found it in, so all that was left was to transform. That was easier said than done–it was like a balancing act, as if any wrong move could send her sliding off.
I’ll just need to be careful. I took a few test steps toward the nearby tree where Cari’s broomstick stood. It was a little awkward, but she remained on my back.
“Hold on, Cari,” I said aloud, hoping desperately that she could hear me. “I’m gonna get you home.”
Then I picked her broom up with my teeth and broke into a run.
26 of March 2021 – 3:16 AM – The Witching Hour
“What do you mean a hellhound?” Axel demanded.
I had followed his voice until the two of us had nearly collided in a wooded area off the highway. The vampire wasted no time taking his foster sister, cradling her in his arms as one would an infant or small child. I remember thinking that that might have just been muscle memory–if the rumors about Axel having been with Cari’s coven since before she was born were true, then that meant that he was around all her life.
That revelation made his icy glare all the more intimidating as he had asked, “What happened to my sister?”
I shifted back into my human form and told him everything–well, everything I knew. I had no idea why Cari was out that late, nor why she had chosen a secluded pond out in Middleton for her impulsive night trip, but I did know that I recognized her scent and followed her out of curiosity… And by the time I arrived, Cari was erecting a barrier and standing her ground against a giant canine beast with eyes that shone like the moon.
“That’s what Cari said she was,” I revealed. “And I got the impression that she had it out for Cari–she only fought me because I came between them, and she told her that I wouldn’t always be there to protect her.”
Axel’s frown deepened. “That doesn’t make sense. Hellhounds only go after mortals indebted to demons–they have no business going after a witch, especially a kid.”
I glanced around again, ears perked and eyes peeled. “I don’t know, man. I think Cari would know what she’s talking about.”
The vampire let out a sigh and held her tighter. “Yeah, she would. I’ll ask her more about it tomorrow–for now, keep this between us, okay?”
“Sure thing,” I nodded. I was about to shift back into beast mode when Axel added:
“Oh and, uh, why are you naked?”
… Huh? “Well, ‘cause I had to transform, and I can’t do that with clothes, right?”
As if the ensuing silence was not awkward enough, the vampire’s amused smirk deepened my embarrassment. “Dude, you’re a magickal being with the ability to shift between man and beast–of fuckin’ course you can transform with clothes.”
“Seriously?” My shoulders slumped. “Twilight and Teen Wolf did me dirty.”
He snickered. “Hey, I’m not complaining.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t Sage have something to say about this?”
I couldn’t tell if he blushed or not at the mention of the nonbinary witch–maybe because of the poor lighting, or maybe it was due to his undead nature–but Axel’s smirk deepened as he turned, averting his gaze. “Touché. Get home safe–I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
Handing Cari’s broomstick back to him, I asked, “Don’t you mean Monday? Tomorrow’s Saturday.”
The vampire’s eyebrows furrowed as he accepted the broom in the hand under Cari’s legs. “Your pack didn’t explain clubs to you?”
When my only response was to ogle with my mouth slightly agape, he chuckled. “Never mind, I’m sure Whit or Zander will explain it to you. Just be sure to cross the portal like normal at midnight.”
He had turned away and taken a few steps before tossing over his shoulder, “Thanks for looking out for her again.”
Then the vampire sped off into the night with the witch and her broomstick, leaving me to shift back into the beast and return home.
26 of March 2021 – 3:25 AM – The Witching Hour
It took less time for me to return home than it did for me to meet Axel. No detours or pit stops–I ran straight back to Marblehead, shifted and dressed in the woods, and was sneaking back into my bedroom before three-thirty. That gave me about three and a half hours before I had to wake up to attend Sacred Heart–and considering how exhausted I was, I knew that all it would take to get to sleep was for my head to hit the pillow.
So imagine how startled I was when I climbed in through one of my bedroom windows, shut it silently, and spun around in time for the light to flip on. A familiar figure was seated in the accent chair by my door, his posture relaxed as he regarded me with an indecipherable expression.
“This explains why you wanted to move into the basement,” said Zander, a knowing lilt in his voice.
Shit. My eyes darted to the door as I listened for our parents. “Uh…”
Catching where my eyes had flitted, Zander added, “They’re asleep–they can’t hear us.”
I nodded slowly. “Right. So… Would you believe that I was with a girl?”
My stepbrother didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Is that true?”
“I mean, technically?” I admitted with a shrug.
The tension mounted as I waited for Zander to say something–anything–to ease it. I’m not sure what I expected; it’s not like I ever saw the guy raise his voice or even show an ounce of emotion. He was stone-cold, detached.
He’s gonna sell me out the first chance he gets–!
My panicked thoughts were interrupted as Zander stood from his seat with a sigh. “I’ll move down here on Saturday. From now on, try to limit your ‘outings’ to just a few nights a week–and let me know beforehand when you’re leaving so I can cover for you.”
In retrospect, I should have thanked him–but at that moment, all I could do was blink and blurt out the first question that came to mind. “Why are you helping me?”
As laid-back as ever, my stepbrother shrugged and met my gaze head-on. “Because doing otherwise is of no benefit to me.”
Then he walked out of my bedroom, leaving me with even more questions.