Authors: S. B. Roozenboom
Salt Lake City, Utah
Copyright © 2012 by S. B. Roozenboom
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher.
Cover Design by Rusty Webb
Printed in the United States of America
he harvest moon lingered above the road, resembling a giant, glowing orange. Odd as it sounds, it made me hungry. Of course, everything I stared at made me hungry that evening. I’d been on the go all day, jacked up on a serious caffeine high that was finally dying out. My arms felt heavy, my knees about to buckle.
“Jared! Jared, you loser, come on!” Peter laughed, waving an arm as he crossed the parking lot. Will and Leo were right behind him, snorting as I stared drooling at the sky.
I straightened up and rubbed my eyes. Okay, so the caffeine high wasn’t just dying out—it was dead and gone.
, I thought, knowing there was an hour’s worth of homework waiting on my desk at home. I trudged away from the club’s front doors, ears ringing from the rap music we’d been thrashing around to for the last two hours. Clubbing really hadn’t been my idea, but when I was with the gang it was hard to say no. My boys didn’t like the word “no” when it came to going out, and to be honest I didn’t either.
So we’d gone. And now I was starving, exhausted, and had to somehow pull an essay on the history of Avalon out of my brain before it closed down for the night. I was reconsidering my liking for the word no.
The boys ducked into Peter’s Elantra, muttering things about how high I looked—which I was not. I didn’t believe in frying your brain just for a brief period of delusional joy. Nonetheless I smirked as I reached to open the passenger side door.
That’s when the smell hit me.
I bristled, going from sleepy to alert in a second. It was an odd odor, like grass mixed with hair product. I almost mistook it for elf, but elves never smelled like nail polish (they were highly allergic); maybe it was some kind of large sprite, but neither elves nor sprites tended to reek of wild dog or smoke.
Or fresh kill.
I stood still, eyes darting around the parking lot. An array of colorful cars shined under the glowing orange, everything from old Pontiacs with skull stickers in the windows to shiny, brand new BMW’s that still had the license plates propped up in the back windows. An Otherworlder could easily hide with so many large objects in my line of vision. I closed my eyes, listening hard. To an average human, the sounds of Otherworlder footsteps are never heard. But to me, to any of my kind, they are always loud, and each one of them has a different stepping pattern.
I quickly picked up on our intruder. Two feet, somewhere about twenty yards off my left, somewhere along the wall of vehicles. Uneven steps. Cautious. Hard. Breathing was low, but not low enough to be fey (faeries are notorious for their low breathing in human places, making it difficult to hear them). Plus, fey didn’t make sniffing sounds.
“Dude!” Peter rolled down the passenger side window, totally screwing up my concentration. “What’s up with you, stoner? Can we go?”
“Shut up, man,” I growled.
Peter’s smile dulled. Goose bumps jumped up on his pale arms as he picked up on the scent, too. His dark eyes went darker, and suddenly he was out of the car, scanning the perimeter with me. I refocused, picking up on the footsteps again. They were coming closer. My heart raced. The breathing grew louder, which brought Peter to my side. We were both stiff, fists clenched, staring at an old Buick Regal with duct tape over the back window. I had left my hunting gear at home, but my pocket knife was still in my jeans pocket.
She emerged, a blur at first, a blur of dark hair and golden skin as she raced by the Buick Regal. Peter and I launched forward automatically, giving in to chase. We were barely a few leaps from the Elantra when she halted. We froze, wobbling at our sudden stop. The girl swung her head around, hair swirling around her shoulders. Her eyes, green as the grass I smelled on her, stared straight at us, wide, unreadable, and normal-looking.
I narrowed my eyes. Something cold, like a big snowball, settled in my stomach. She wasn’t a faerie or an elf—I knew that for sure. She wasn’t a nightling or a witch or some type of ghost either. For the first time, I didn’t know what we were up against.
That scared me.
Peter recoiled, taking a step back. I shivered, unable to believe he’d just done that—Peter
backed away from an Otherworlder. He always charged in full force, disregarding danger. I tried not to panic. Before I could decide whether or not to be the brave one and approach her, the girl spun away. That dark hair billowed behind her as she took long, inhumanly fast strides into Loralin Woods. She leaped over a rotting tree stump, disappearing into the night.
Peter and I exhaled. “Shit, man,” Peter muttered. He brushed some blonde hair out of his face, sweat glistening on his temple. “Damn, what was that? Have you ever seen one like that before?”
I shook my head. “No. I’ve never crossed anything like it.”
And I’d met some pretty odd Otherworlders in my seventeen years. Some had even been hostile, tried to kill me in plain daylight. This one hadn’t tried to kill us, yet I knew she was a huntress, some kind of rare creature. Why did that bother me so much? Was it because she got away? It was our job to tag all Otherworlders in the area, and she wasn’t wearing a tracking band on her wrist or ankle. She clearly hadn’t been caught yet.
“Don’t tell coach about this, okay?” Peter gave me a slap on the back.
“Just what I was thinking. What should we tell the guys?” I glanced over my shoulder. Will and Leo’s red heads stuck out the back window; they were drop-mouthed. The twins had obviously seen it, too.
Peter shrugged, eyeing the twins. “We’ll tell them, uh, what happens in the club parking lot stays in the club parking lot.”
“Do you think they’ll blab?” I asked as we started back toward the car.
It wasn’t that Will and Leo were tattletales or little kids; they were sophomores at the academy while Peter and I were almost seniors. The problem was that the twins were forgetful. They spaced homework, important dates, and promises.
Peter’s face twisted with an evil smile. “Oh, they won’t forget.” He laced his fingers together and pushed them out. His knuckles cracked. “I’ll make sure of that.”
I snorted. “You do that.”
Peter climbed into the driver’s seat, threatening the pair into submission. I stood outside my door, itching to glance back one last time. I did. The woods were quiet. Dark. Somewhere in the distance coyotes called to each other. I heard no footsteps, no breath of the otherworldly.
A flash in the bushes caught my eye—the flash animal eyes make when reflecting light. I tensed but didn’t pursue. Instead, I slid into the car and buckled up. It must have been a deer or a coyote. If it were an Otherworlder, I would’ve known.
here are thousands of mysteries in the world, and hundreds more get added to the list each year. Since the beginning of mankind, there have been stories about the “monsters” or supernatural creatures hiding among us. Entire TV shows are dedicated to the paranormal. Movies like
draw in people like fast food restaurants. Every year, more books are written about them, that people remember long after they go out of print.
Those mysteries and monsters so commonly spoken of and imagined are not accepted. People don’t think they’re real. They’re just for entertainment—stories to scare the kids.
That’s where society is wrong.
Hollywood has done a fine job over the years of “pumping up the monster image” as my defense coach, Davis Fugleman, put it. Generally, the creatures in books and movies are inaccurate. It only takes one flash of the real thing to set off a human mind. One idea builds to the next, then the next, until three or more generations have contributed to the false depiction.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not hating on the human imagination or anything—there
some accounts that are spot-on. Yes, ghosts really are souls that detach from their persons and linger behind on earth (that tends to be a choice, however, and it doesn’t last long before they are whisked away to the afterlife). Yes, some faeries have wings, but not all (there are about as many species of fey as there are birds), and no, elves are
related to faeries. Although elves do have pointed ears and are in tune with the land like fey, scientists have yet to find a genetic link between them. Yes, King Kong was an enormous black primate, but he wasn’t all gentle and crap like that. The part about that young woman being his friend? Not true. She escaped and ran screaming for the hills. Nobody found her. It wasn’t the humans who took him down to prevent a catastrophe because some idiot had brought the beast into the city.
It was people like me, known as
I flicked off my alarm clock, laying in bed as I thought about the past. It sucked in some ways that my kind was rarer than the Otherworlders. While you might find a dozen paranormal beings in a square mile, you’d only have one Finder. This was a problem, since it was our job to seek out and tag every paranormal creature in the vicinity. The only reason humans don’t know anything about the Otherworlders, why they don’t believe in them, is because of us.
I couldn’t get that untagged girl out of my head.
Coach is going to kill us
. I sighed, rolling onto my back. I tried to remember her exact scent, replay the sound of her footsteps as she crossed the parking lot last night. The memories were fuzzy. All I could seem to remember was how orange the moon looked, how fast she moved.
This was bad.
Neither Peter nor I had ever let an Otherworlder get away. A secret section in all governments monitors their activity. It is called the PIU (Paranormal Investigation Unit). Before the PIU can monitor the Otherworlders, they have to get the bracelets or some other tracking device on them. We can’t have Wilds running loose, especially so close to town. There is no such thing as magic “mind-erasing powder” or something like that. Once people see a monster, it sticks with them. Word spreads.
If that girl attacked somebody, made her presence known, it’ll be my fault. I was too chicken to try and catch her, and too stupid to bring backup gear. Just because I was on a night out didn’t mean Wilds took a break, too.
I was still fuming over all of this when someone knocked on my bedroom door. “Jare Bear?” a tiny voice called. “Mommy says get up ’cause she’s not driving you to school again.”
I growled into my pillow. “Coming, Jess,” I replied. Her footsteps trailed away down the hall.
Showered and dressed with a blueberry muffin stuffed in my mouth, I barely caught the bus that morning. It was pathetic; I was seventeen and still didn’t have a license. I’d tried twice in the last few months. Yeah, so what if I missed a stop sign and almost hit a car the first time? Accidents happen every day (car insurance was invented for a reason), and in my defense that stop sign had brambles growing over it. Second time, yeah, okay, so I made the mistake of having a Monster Energy drink. The old bag with the grading chart had no right to tell me to go “sober up” because I couldn’t drive a straight line. I can’t help that my hands shake during a caffeine-high.