The darkness is so deep it closes in, concealing everything but the water from view. I hate nights like this. Yes, the sliver of the moon peeks between the clouds overhead, casting the ocean in an eerie glow, but it’s not enough.
Where’s a nice, bright, full moon when you need it?
Shivering, I stuff my hands deeper into the pockets of my leather jacket and lean against the wall, ignoring the cold radiating from the stone. Sighing, I remind myself that this is a stakeout, and not all stakeouts can be filled with magic and danger. I can’t help feeling a bit bored, even though I’m the one that chose to sit out in the dark, freezing my ass off like an idiot.
Grabbing my phone to check the time, I glance at the screen. Oh, shoot. It’s been an hour. Time to document again.
Pulling the recorder out of my pocket, I click the button and move it closer to my mouth. “It’s October the fifth, at almost exactly eleven at night. I’m outside the town of Blackwater Falls. I don’t know exactly what I’m tracking, only that on this beach, five tourists have died in the last three months. One tourist reported seeing a creature here late at night. Some kind of beast. Through my research, I’ve determined it must be some kind of siren, luring people to their deaths.”
I hesitate. “This is one of many strange reports I’ve found after determining that this is the birthplace of my biological father.” My words catch in my throat for a moment. “I’ll check in again in an hour.”
Clicking off the recording device, I push it into my pocket. Unexpected thoughts filter into my mind. Doubts, mostly. I’d picked up and left everything behind to rent a house in this small town in the middle of nowhere, all with the hope of finding out about my real parents. About the witch. And the curse.
I hope I wasn’t wrong to come here. But at the very least, I hope it’ll give me some stories for my secret paranormal blog.
There’s something off about this place. I feel it. Now, I need to prove it.
Or maybe I’m grasping at straws again. Following leads that end up being nothing.
“Fuck, don’t think like that,” I mutter to myself.
Movement down the beach draws my eye. A massive, bulky shape rumbles into view. It’s also definitely dragging something.
Everything inside of me tenses. I draw my backpack off my shoulders and grab the bag inside that’s filled with pepper. In an old book, I’d seen a passage that said pepper is like acid to sirens. I hope it was right. But if not…
I pull my dagger from my side, secure my backpack, and wait, bag of pepper in one hand, dagger in the other. Then, scolding myself, I remember the tiny camera around my neck. Clicking it on, I make sure I’m facing the creature. The camera takes pictures every few seconds, so hopefully, I’ll get some good ones.
If I’m right.
Minute by minute, the creature comes closer to my location. Instinctively, I draw back against the rocky wall, knowing I’m in the shadows, but a trickle of fear still dances down my spine.
The more I watch it, the more confused I become, squinting into the darkness. It’s dragging someone, but it doesn’t fit the look of a siren. They’re described as beautiful by some, and monstrous by others, but they aren’t big, hulking beasts. They’re always nimble, lithe creatures.
Oh fuck, what if this isn’t a siren?
I frown at the pepper and dagger. This might not be enough, depending on what it is. And then what? You’re not exactly experienced with this stuff.
It lumbers past me. Enormous. Taller than seven feet and easily three times wider than me. And now I’m freaking confused. Is that a siren? It’s hard to separate truths from myths, but it could be. Its skin is grey. Twigs and leaves stick out of every inch of it, but it could be. Maybe.
But it’s most definitely paranormal! If I wasn’t so nervous, I’d squeal in excitement. I knew there was something off about this town! For the first time in my life, I’ve found something magical, like me. More than clues that something paranormal is going on, or second-hand stories, or an instinct I can’t escape. Actual proof!
My gaze moves to the thing he carries, and my excitement fades away to fear. The person it drags is a man who looks to be unconscious, at the very least. As with all the strange stories I dug up of the tourists who’ve died, he isn’t wearing swimming clothes. And I don’t know if he passed out or was knocked out, but he’s still alive; I can see the rise and fall of his chest in the meager light.
After the creature passes me, it disappears into the inlet beside me. Sliding along the wall, I ease myself around until I can see it again. The ground is wet and sucks at my boots, more and more as I get closer to the hulking brute. The strange mud doesn’t seem to bother it though. It moves around the edge of the wall, avoiding the waves rushing back and forth inside the cove.
At the very rear of the inlet, it drops the man’s legs, then turns and scoops him up into his arms. The man’s eyes open as he’s being lifted. He takes one look at the monstrous being and screams, kicking and thrashing. Not that the creature cares. It steps away from the rock wall, sinking further and further into the ground with each step. When they’re in the middle of the strange, sucking mud, deep enough that it’s at its waist, it drops the man in front of him.
The mud glows red as the man continues to scream, trying to rise and escape.
His efforts are futile as the muck pulls at him, swallowing the man as he struggles. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Not what I expected. But it doesn’t matter how freaky it is, I need to help, before it’s too late.
It’s now or never!
I leap out. “Stop or prepare to suffer the consequences!”
Ugh. I’d thought that made the perfect catchphrase, but saying it aloud has me rethinking it. I’m going to scrap Catchphrase Idea Number Fifty-Six.
Both the creature and the man look at me. I flash my dagger, then weave it around in front of me impressively. It slips from my grasp and hits the ground. Fuck! Not so impressive.
I scramble to grab it, then thrust it out in front of me again, heart pounding as I rise. That was… not smooth. Not smooth at all.
The man’s eyes widen. “What’s going on? Where am I? What is this?” He seems to have calmed a little now that I’m here.
“Don’t worry!” I say, trying to sound like a masked hero. “I’ve got this under control!”
The creature stares at me for another long second, then leans and pushes the man into the sticky mud again.
“Hey!” Why isn’t it afraid of me? Why isn’t it reacting at all? “Stop that.”
Now only the man’s face sticks out of the sinking sand. He screams again, but I can’t see his body thrashing anymore beneath the strange, glowing mud.
Continuing to move along the edge of the wall, avoiding the dangerous center, I finally reach the back of the cove and leap out behind the creature.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
It releases the man and turns to face me, its movements slow and deliberate.
Taking a deep breath, I let loose a battle cry and throw the pepper in its face. I’m grinning like a fool at my triumph, but my grin fades. The beast simply blinks its eyes. Ineffective pepper coats its eyelids, blank white eyes, and face, including some weird etching in its forehead.
Uh oh. That didn’t work.
Without hesitating, I do the only thing I can think of. I drive the dagger into its chest.
The motionless creature stares at me then looks at the dagger sticking out of its chest.
“Fuck!” This is no siren.
It grabs me, moving faster than it has yet. Its hold onto my upper arms is like iron as I try to escape. And fail.
“Let go!” I shout, starting to get more angry than freaked out.
Yeah, angry, not scared out of my mind.
Grabbing the dagger, I yank it out of his chest. Not a single drop of blood coats the blade.
“What the hell are you?”
It doesn’t answer. Instead, holding me by my arms, it turns and holds me over the glowing mud.
It drops me on top of the man. I can feel his body beneath the strange mud. He’s screaming near my ear. He’s going to be completely submerged in seconds.
And then I’ll really start to sink.
I fight my panic and try to find the creature’s weakness. It leans over me. I kick its crotch, simultaneously driving the dagger into its eye. But nothing. It doesn’t react. Almost like it isn’t a living thing.
The man beneath me stops screaming. The silence is deafening. Shit.
I’ve screwed up before. A lot. But this, this is the first time I might die.
The moonlight catches on the symbols on the creature’s forehead, and like a dam breaking in my mind, I know what to do. Reaching up, I take my hand and smear the symbols.
It falls forward, lifeless, crushing me and the man further into the mud.
Fucking mouse in a trap! I thought figuring out what the creature was and stopping it was enough. Instead, I’ve doomed me and the man suffocating beneath me to death.
Suddenly, cold water washes over the top of my head.
I’m shocked for a minute by the chill. Each time the waves crash over me, they cover more of me. My face. My chest.
Hell. I’m either going to suffocate in this mud or drown in the damn sea!
Struggling, I manage to sit up, shoving the beast to the side of me with one massive pulse of strength.
The red mud plucks at me like the tentacles of an octopus. The feeling is creepy and unsettling.
Ignoring the creepy-ass mud, I grab the creature beside me and use it to pull onto its back, using its body like a raft. Then, taking a deep breath, I reach into the mud, grab what I hope is the man, and start pulling.
I get his gasping face up with a hell of a lot of effort, and immediately the water rushes over him. When it pulls back, he’s pale and scared. He’s not screaming anymore. He’s in shock.
Taking a deep breath, I continue trying to haul him out, but the mud wants him. Every time I gain an inch, he’s tugged right back down. As time passes, I realize the creature I’m sitting on is also starting to sink.
And the man isn’t any closer to being free.
Oh, and then there’s the water. It’s rising. If we escape the mud, the water is likely to push us back into it.
“I can’t do this!” I finally gasp. My muscles are sore, my arms trembling. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to leave this man, but I don’t know what else to do. “I need help.”
He looks at me then, this stranger with dark eyes and a pale face. “It’s okay. Let me go.”
I shake my head. I can’t look at him and tell him I’m going to leave him here to die. “We’ll figure something out.”
His gaze drifts far away. “It’s okay. I deserve this. When I made that deal with the woman, I thought it was a joke. I was drunk. I was complaining about being poor. She asked me if I’d trade my life for five years of wealth. Of having everything I could ever want. And I said yes.”
The hairs on my arms stand on end. Another wave hits us, engulfing me, leaving me sputtering out cold water as the water draws back again.
He coughs as he closes his eyes, then talks. “I won the lottery the next day. I thought it was luck, a coincidence. I laughed about that woman in the bar. I said fairy godmothers don’t sit around in The Seaside Shack.”
The water comes again, and with shaking arms I pull at him, gaining a little traction, freeing his neck.
“But it’s been five years exactly. Five years and that thing came for me.” He looks at me. “You didn’t make the deal. I did. Get out of here.” He gasped. “While you can.”
My mind spins. “There has to be a way.”
And then, I feel it. The familiar tingling. No. Not now. Any time but now.
He gives me a toothy grin, and a chill moves down my spine. “I did some very bad things with that money. Very bad. Believe me, the world is better off without me.”
The tingling starts again, and my muscles spasm. “It can’t be that bad.”
“I’ve killed,” he murmurs so softly I barely hear him. “I’ve sold people to the witches. I’ve—”
“Witches?” My heart races.
The water hits us again, and this time not all of it pulls back. The water reaches his chin and my knees. I look at the body of the creature. The mud will reach me soon too.
Another shiver wracks my body. “Come on! Get out! Fight for your life!”
He smiles, and it’s creepy. “If this doesn’t kill me, she’ll find another way. Better to get it over with.”
I open my mouth to answer, and it happens. My body shudders and shakes as it starts to change. I try to shout, but nothing comes out. My shrinking body cracks and fur sprouts from my flesh.
The water washes over us again, and I hear an angry hiss.
And then I’m leaping an impossible distance to the rear of the inlet, my little camera dangling from my neck like a collar. My cat-self looks back at the glowing mud, my clothes sinking into it.
When the water pulls back, the man is gone.
My heart thumps in my furry chest. Did I see someone die? And that thing, it wasn’t a siren. It had to have been a golem. Someone had to make it out of clay and give it a task. Someone like a witch. Like the woman he described.
Is it possible? Is it possible that I’ve found a place with real witches, not rumors about them?
The water rushes in again. My cat hisses, backing up as it comes too close.
This time when the water pulls back, my cat rushes along the side of the inlet, leaping over the mud that sucks at her paws. Within seconds, she’s on the open beach, but she keeps running. She jumps up the rock wall, then stops and looks to where we’d left.
For a minute, the mud glows red, the outline of the golem’s body still visible, my clothes, backpack, and supplies on top of it. The water rushes over it all again, and when it pulls back, nothing. The mud looks normal. There are no bodies. No evidence of anything unusual happening.
My cat-self stares for a long time, our heartbeat racing in my ears.
I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life, but now that I’m safe, reality sinks in.
There is something in this town. Maybe the paranormal creatures I’ve been researching and hunting my whole life. Maybe the answers to who my parents are and who killed them.
Either way, there’s something here.
Now I need to wait for this man’s body to wash up on the shore. Then I can find out who he is and who might have made such a terrible deal with him.
Flashes come into my mind. Old, disjointed memories of the ancient witch killing my parents.
My cat turns away from the scene below us and races along the rocky wall that rises from the small beach. I want to head home, but right now I don’t have the energy to even attempt to battle for control over our body. I rarely win that fight. So we run along, tasting the night air, the wind running through our fur.
At some point, she turns us toward town. A stray cat jumps out and tries to challenge us, but she knocks it down and goes right back to running.
Always so cocky. Only a few cars pass on the street. The street lamps flicker, giving the little town an eerie aura. But none of it matters because I saw a man die.
When we reach our new street, I expect my cat to climb the tree outside of the tall, pale blue home with white shutters. She does, but instead of going into my open bedroom window, she goes to the other branch. I’m confused until I see her angling for the open window of the firehouse next door.
What the hell?
No! I try to tell her. Not in there!
She confidently flicks her tail and continues walking along the branch. When she reaches the end of it, I know she’s going to jump into the window.
No! I tell her again. What will the firefighters do if they find a strange cat in their home?
But the bitchy cat ignores me and leaps inside.
I hope they take you to the pound. I don’t mean it, and she knows it.
She moves through the building, sniffing and inspecting every nook and cranny, but doesn’t find anything to interest her. I get the sense that we’re in a bedroom at first, then in a hall. I smell the kitchen and pass a gym. A minute later there’s a sound.
We freeze as a man emerges from a room. He has a towel wrapped around his waist, and he uses another one to rub his untamed dark hair. If I were in my human form, my mouth would be hanging open. He’s gorgeous. So fucking chiseled that I get an immediate image of myself licking ice cream off his chest.
Oh, I would lick so many foods off his chest! I would nibble every inch of him like my favorite new snack.
But my cat? The bitch. She wants pets.
No! I groan in our mind.
She moves forward and rubs herself against his leg.
“Fuck!” he cries out, leaping back.
His towel almost drops, but it’s not my night, because he snags it before it falls from his waist. Then, his stunning sea-green eyes focus on me.
“Well, you’re a cat!”
He kneels then reaches his hand out. “Come here, sweetie!”
My cat and I move closer to his hand, and he pets us. Oh hell, I don’t think a man this beautiful has ever pet my cat.
Oops. That almost sounds like I’m talking about that cat. Nope, I’ve had my human… cat pet plenty. But this? It isn’t nearly as erotic, but it’s fucking amazing. Like he knows every single sensitive spot in my body.
We start to purr, rubbing harder and harder against him.
“What’s your name?”
And then he’s touching my necklace.
We hiss and jump back. If he gets that, he’ll see my pictures. He’ll know too much. Not even my precocious cat wants that.
He puts his hands up and gives the sexiest half-smile. “Alright, no touching of your weird collar.”
My cat doesn’t move closer, she simply regards him.
His smile widens. “We’ve never had a firehouse cat before, but I think such a pretty cat would do nicely. What do you think?”
My cat likes being called pretty, so she decides to forgive him and let him pet her again.
He hums softly. “If you’re here tomorrow, I don’t care what the guys think, I’m keeping you.”
I let him pet me for a while longer, then he rises and goes to change. I want to follow him. Maybe get a little peek of what he’s hiding under that towel. But my cat has other plans. She continues exploring the firehouse until she wedges herself into a room. It’s dark, and we hear the sound of a man snoring.
Nope. Let’s get out of here, I tell the cat. We’d been lucky with the other guy. Who knew how this one would respond to finding a strange cat in his room?
Instead, my cat leaps onto the bed, moves around, sniffing, then lies beside the man. I finally realize she plans to go to sleep.
Come on, no! Go home.
But she settles in, closing her eyes.
And then I’m left in her dark mind, wondering how the heck I’m going to be able to get out of this place before I shift back. I plead with my cat, but she’s out like a light, no matter how mad and loud I get. I finally have to accept that it isn’t up to me, so I stop worrying about it.
Instead, in the darkness of my mind, I have flashes again of that night. The night my parents were murdered. The one that changed my life forever.
Instead of being a girl with a curse, constantly on the move with my parents, I was homeless. And when I was found, naked and scared, and placed in foster care, things only got worse. Dangerous. Painful.
I spent so much time trying to hide my curse. Hiding the shifting that I couldn’t control, still can’t control, that’s as much a part of me as I am myself.
This is the stuff I don’t like to think about, but something about watching another person die, even one who might be an asshole, brings those painful memories back.
Yes, I found my first real lead to my parents. But I have a weird feeling that the more I investigate, the more death I’ll see, and that’s a hard idea to shake.
I can only hope that tomorrow will be better.