They were monsters. We were attacked by monsters. All I can remember is blue and teeth. —Status update, Sumner student
We spend most of the car ride home talking about the escalation of violence, about how FBI agents have shown up in town to help the local police, how people still don’t realize that it’s not a serial killer but a group of paranormal creatures that’s hurting everyone. And because we spend all that time talking about how we can stop them, how we have to do something, but how we feel almost powerless, I kind of repress the fact that I’m about to see Betty. “Should I call first?” I ask as Issie pulls into my driveway. Panic edges into my voice, shrilling it. Betty is not an easy woman. She is tough and awesome and blunt, but not . . . easy. And she was really anti me turning pixie. “Maybe I should call first and warn her.” “Zare, you are already here. Calling is pointless,” Issie says as she puts her car in park. “Agreed,” Cassidy declares. She pats me on the leg. The dress fabric makes slithery noises as I stare at my grandmother’s shingled
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Cape with its cute porch and woods all around it. It looks so calm and happy, not like a weretiger lives there, not like a pixie king once ransacked it. “She’s going to kill me,” I say. Issie turns off the car while murmuring supportive things, and Devyn says, all matter- of-factly, “Absolutely. Do you want us to come in with you?” I think about it for a second. “I do but I don’t. I don’t want you all to witness her yelling at me, but I also don’t want her to tear me apart. You know, literally tear me apart. She does that to pixies.” “Witnessed it.” Issie shudders. I open the car door. Cassidy grabs my wrist, stopping me before I get too far. “You sure, Zara?” I nod. “I’m sure. You guys be safe going home, okay?” “We will,” Issie chirps, all confident and proud. “I’m driving.” I’m about to say something about being extra careful when I smell Astley. He lands on the snow in front of me, tall and steady. If Issie wants to learn how to be confident, she should study him. He’s a textbook case. He cocks his head as I stare and then says, “I expect this might be difficult for you, Zara. Would you like me to accompany you?” “We already offered,” Devyn says out the window, which he’s opened again. His voice is snippy. “Why don’t you leave before you do any more harm? And what’s your mother’s name?” Astley doesn’t even acknowledge that Devyn has spoken. He just keeps his eyes locked on my face. I shake my head. “I’ve got to face her myself,” I say. I lower my voice so the others don’t hear. “Can you follow them? Make sure they stay safe, especially Issie after she drops off the others. Hide, though, so they don’t know, okay?” 30
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He pulls his lips in toward his teeth and then slowly nods in agreement. I wave to Issie. “I’m good, guys. You can go.” She turns the car back on and Devyn yells out the window, “Do not do anything stupid, pixie.” “His name is Astley,” I shout back, but Devyn merely raises an eyebrow as the passenger-side window goes up. Just then the front door of the house opens. Betty stands there. Her dark blue plaid flannel pajamas from L.L.Bean hang off her wide shoulders; her close-cropped gray hair is all askew. My heart whooshes into my spleen. Astley puts out a hand to steady me. “You sure you don’t want me to stay with you?” he asks. His voice is low, husky. “No. Take care of the others, please. I have to do this myself.” I swallow hard and take a step forward. “But thank you.” He lifts up into the sky and disappears into the white snowflakes and darkness. The night seems to have gotten even colder somehow as I trudge through the snow toward our porch. Betty stands there under the yellow light, simply staring. She doesn’t say a word, which makes it even worse, you know? Because Betty is always saying something, imparting wisdom, cracking dirty jokes, whatever. That’s when I realize what I’ve done to her. I’ve made her wait, helpless, while I went off and became a pixie, and then even went to a freaking dance. All that time she had to wait, knowing I could have died and that there was nothing she could do about it. I’ve done this to her because I was so dead-set on not being helpless about Nick, about being proactive, about finally being a hero. Everything inside me seems to freeze and then break into tiny shards of ice. My breath hitches in my chest, but I manage to take 31
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one step forward and then another. My foot hits the wood of the porch. Betty swallows so loudly that I can actually hear it, although that might be because of my new, improved pixie hearing. The snowflakes are wet and sloshy as they fall. “Gram,” I start as I step fully onto the porch, planting both feet. “I’m so sorry. I’m so—” She opens her arms and leaps toward me, crossing the porch in one long, springy step. Right now she is still human, totally human, and clutches me to her—not with weretiger anger, but with love. My face smooshes against the soft flannel. Her hand goes up to my hair and she says, “No words, Zara. Just let me be happy you’re home.” She invites me inside without hesitating and sits me gently on the sofa before slouching next to me. Our legs touch. We talk for a long time. I tell her everything and she growls every once in a while. I know she’s disappointed in me, but she’s proud in a weird way too. After a couple hours we head upstairs to our bedrooms. She kisses me good night and says, “You are just like your father.” I back into the wall, hitting my head on a picture of me when I was three, dressed in a princess ballerina costume. “That’s mean.” “Not your biological father, that pixie.” She spits out the word “pixie” and wipes her hands on her pajama legs like they have cooties on them. Her eyes flash. “You are like your real father, my son. Stubborn. Kind. Always wanting to save everyone. Foolish. Sweet.” “Oh . . .” My stepdad, the dad who raised me, died less than a year ago from a heart attack—maybe brought on by a pixie sighting. That’s part of how I ended up here in Maine, living with his 32
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mom, my grandmother Betty, while my mom fills out the rest of her employment contract in Charleston. Betty straightens the picture I knocked with my head and clucks. “I like it when you smile.” “Even though I’m a pixie.” I regret saying it the moment the words are out of my mouth. She grabs me by the shoulders, suddenly intense and strong. “You will never be a pixie. You will always be my granddaughter, Zara. That is who you are, damn it. Don’t forget it. We are not defined by our species any more than our nationality or our gender. What we do, our choices, that’s what defines us.” I have a hard time meeting her eyes. That’s what I’ve always believed too, but somehow I keep forgetting it now that I’ve turned. It’s like I don’t get the benefit of the life rules I make for everyone else. “Okay,” I whisper. Her breath comes out in tiny spurts as she leans in and kisses my forehead again. I don’t think she’s ever kissed me so much. “You get a good night’s sleep,” she says, “and then in the morning we’re going to get started figuring out how to get the bad pixies out of this town of ours.” The clock chimes the end of an hour and a shudder breaks through me. “What if he’s dead, really dead?” I suck in the air, trying not to give in and cry. “Gone-forever dead, you know? And I changed for nothing.” She raises an eyebrow, probably startled by my big change of topic. The clock downstairs keeps chiming midnight. “You don’t believe that, do you?” I shake my head hard, the way a little kid does when she’s 33
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trying to convince herself of something important. Cassidy used her elf powers to show me Nick alive. He was in a bed and not moving, but he was alive. We all saw that. He was real. Betty’s voice is solid in the air. “Then don’t say it. Saying it gives it power. Good night.” Betty must be annoyed at me, I think, because that’s abrupt even for her. I go into my room and change out of the silly dress-up clothes Issie and Cass made me wear and put on some flannel boxers and a Luka Bloom T-shirt. I pull the covers up to my chin and stare up at the Amnesty International poster on the ceiling. I can hear Betty sniffling downstairs. She’s crying softly, trying not to let me hear it, but I’m a pixie now and I do. I do hear her. I hear and know so many things I’d rather not hear and know . . . the weakness inside people, the soft squish of snowflakes hitting the roof, the ache in my grandmother’s heart, and the ache in my own.
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Published on Nov 4, 2010
The third excerpt from ENTICE (coming December 14, 2010). Zara and Nick are soul mates, meant to be together forever. But that’s not quite h...