Wherein: the basic concept of how monsters come about is explained, and Lia antagonizes her sister. See you next Sunday for the fourth installment!
Around ten o’clock we’re told that training is over and since we’re new, we can go home for the night. This is good news to me because the heeled booties I’d decided to wear today were not what I was intending to work in. Ah well. Blisters are a small price to pay for looking good—and I did look good.
“So, where do we find mystery hottie?” Lia asks after I fill her in.
“Well, he and or his co-conspirators are obviously lurking around liquid courage, so we should keep staking out Chi Kappa Kappa events and Finnegan’s. Seems more than likely we’ll be able to spot him eventually.” I think for a second. “But I’d still like to know more. If he’s a booga baddie, what flavor? Even which pantheon he hails from would be helpful.”
“I feel like it says something that ‘hot, abducts women’ isn’t really that helpful a clue in the puzzle.”
“We don’t know if they’re being abducted. They could be eaten, for example. Or turned or…yeah. I want more information.”
I mull it over, thinking of next steps.
“Well, there’s nothing for it. I think we just need to watch Chelsea’s tape,” I say, flashing the disk I’d managed to lift before leaving.
“And you’re gonna lecture me on stealing?” She scrunches up her face, examining the uniform. “Where the hell did you hide it?”
“Ask no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.”
“No but seriously…”
We enter our room and I go straight to my laptop, preparing to watch the disk from four weeks ago. Ophelia comes and lounges next to me as I fast forward until the Chi Kappa Kappa clique shows up.
“Can you imagine if all of our ‘friends’ went to a bar together?” She asks absently.
“Lord. It’d be end times. Cthulhu would be upon us.”
She looks at me searchingly.
“You…you don’t actually think the elder gods are based on something real…right?”
I shrug noncommittally. “Dude, I have no idea. I ain’t borrowin’ trouble. In the meantime…what do we make of this?” I slow the video back to normal speed as a lean, dark haired man walks up to the woman who appears to be Chelsea. He looks slightly different than the other guy I’d seen, but they could be brothers, or cousins. There’s definitely a resemblance in build, and animal magnetism.
“Daaang! I can feel his pheromones caressing me from four weeks and a camera screen away,” Lia observes.
“Why do you always have to take things to a weird place?”
“Like you wouldn’t do nau—”
“Please, if you ever want to thank me for saving your ass so many times, do not finish that sentence.”
I let the recording run through. “Hmm…”
“See something?” My sister asks. I go back through the footage again.
“Two things seem weird to me. First, look at what happens when he first touches her arm.”
I play the recording again. They’re talking, obviously flirting. He leans in to say something to her, his hand resting chastely against her bicep. From the moment his skin makes contact with hers, she goes limp. Her left hand gravitates to his waist, almost possessively. When he pulls back away, she sways, like he had just planted the world’s best kiss on her.
“Is she drunk?” Lia asks.
“I mean, maybe, but either the booze just hit her all at once, or there’s something else going on.” I watch it a few more times, trying to see if I can see some sort of needle, or spray, or hypnosis—really any sort of tell-tale for what could make her suddenly dissolve into a puddle.
“Hey. You’ve watched that like fifteen times now. If it hasn’t changed the past five times, can you please tell me what the second thing was you found weird?”
“Oh, right.” I let that pot simmer on the back burner a second, and fast forward to the new couple leaving.
“Watch him walk.”
Ophelia tilts her head a little. “Mm-mm.”
“No—come on, horn-dog, get it together. Watch him walk like you’re a detective, not like you wanna be his next vic.”
“Sorry.” I rewind and we go through it again. He’s got swagger, capital “s”, but it doesn’t seem to be just his Brad Pitt-like heat.
“Looks like his shoes don’t fit,” my sister comments.
“Yeah, or something like that,” I agree.
“Do you think it’s relevant to learning his make and model?”
“Since it’s all we’ve got right now, might as well add it to the suspect profile.”
“So, then our inquiry is limited to creatures that can intoxicate and have small or misshapen feet,” she summarizes. We reflect on that a second.
“It’s more than we had before,” Lia continues, watching the video one more time. “I mean, there’s still lots of those. Satyrs, several types of fae, a vampire with broken feet…”
It’s my turn to look at her quizzically.
“You don’t know. We can’t go crossing off theories yet,” she responds defensively.
The next day, we let ourselves sleep in a bit. I’m feeling a bit better rested than I have been in a while—think I even got a REM cycle in there with only a few nightmares. Things are coming up Summer for once.
We decide to go to a diner for breakfast. My first cautious sip of coffee reveals it to have been made by someone who didn’t hate coffee beans. Another score.
“So, dude with weird feet and some sort of soporific, or contact high-like ability,” Lia summarizes as I do a little happy wiggle at my coffee. I even put just the right amount of cream and sugar in. Manna from heaven.
“Yes. Looks like a man, mostly, and aside from the intoxication part, doesn’t seem to change the environment around him very much. That means I think we can safely put the Shinto and Germanic pantheons aside for now.”
She nods. The Shinto pantheon of course have their gods and goddesses, but the kami are forever doing things like pissing rivers into existence, or infecting an entire room with merriment or wrath, or whatever it is they embody. The Germanic pantheon, on the other hand always looks evil, only just managing to appear humanoid: crones and alps and gnomes, oh my.
“So, Nordic, Celtic, Greek…What do we think of the various aboriginal pantheons: Maori, Incan, et cetera?”
“Eesh. Let’s hope not them,” I say. Most of those groups may be a little “smaller” in terms of current influence in these United States, but they make up for it in the amount of gore they produce when they do show up. “But we should also keep Mesopotamian and Hindu on the table. I think we can also put the rest of the African based pantheons to the side on this one…seems unlikely any of these girls have ancestors who may be disappointed in them.” I pause and waffle a bit on that assessment. “Well, not ancestors from that side of the school yard, anyways. And, as there is not a trail of obvious death, it seems likely the various African creator gods didn’t directly intervene. So, yeah. Nordic, Celtic, Greek, Mesopotamian, Hindu seem the five most conspicuous on this pass.”
“You thinking a god or just some sort of lower thing? Or could it be some local talent, maybe?”
I shrug. “I mean, odds are it’s not a god. Four girls in a month is pretty bad, but if it was Zeus or something, I think we’d know. He sort of has a fetish for getting caught.”
“Subtlety is not one of his names,” Lia agrees. “I think I’m with you, but that might be mostly because I hope it’s not a god. That feels over our heads.”
I don’t disagree. It’s one thing to know the stories and modus operandi of the pantheons’ bigwigs, and another to deal with them direct. I’m really hoping not to have to fact check the myths personally for a while yet. The fewer gods in my day, the better, I always say.
“And as far as it being something local, I suppose it could be any of dozens of pantheons, technically. But I’d like to focus our search on big players now and if we bust, we can start digging into more regional pantheons,” I add in response to her second question.
“Look at you, being all rational and sleuth-like,” she teases.
“Shut up and eat your pancakes.” She gives me a wicked smile and purposefully steals the first bite of my omelet. “You really put the ‘ass’ in ‘sass,’” I inform her while she giggles gleefully.
After breakfast, we take care of a few errands and head to the university library to research. We cross reference things on the internet with whatever mythology we can find on the creature we’re contemplating in the shelves. The list we come up with is overwhelming, but it allows us to begin finding most probable types of weapons and rituals to take care of whatever it turns out to be.
It’s Friday, and the Chi Kappa Kappa mixer is this evening. We don’t have to work again until tomorrow, so after getting a couple of meals to go, we head back to the motel room to get ready.
I can imagine a world in which getting ready just means trying on clothes, curling hair, pre-gaming…. It’s a little more intensive for us.
“Lia, what are you doing? Don’t get dressed yet, we have to make a few shot gun shells, and get together spell components and….”
“I was gonna get ready and then spend the rest of the time preparing.”
“Yeah, but then you’re gonna get machine grease all over your clothes,” I remind her.
We gather things, magpie-like, as we travel. We’ll take a job at a machine shop, and gather all the iron shavings as we sweep up. Or, we’ll sell jewelry at a store with a jeweler on premises, and collect the silver dust. We’ll take chicken bones, and goat blood from working at a butcher shop—another job low on my list of favorites—and so on. Ammo is expensive, and a traveling forge is sort of generally impractical, though it would be useful. We have to be frugal in our armaments.
The two of us sit on the floor in our scrubby clothes, a tarp over the carpet, and begin loading plastic shells with various scraps of metal, herbs, potent woods, and buckshot. It’s sort of like penicillin for getting rid of monsters: it works for a lot of the things we see, most of the time, and with fairly good results. The rest of the time it’s either useless or pisses the thing off, and then we know we’re really in trouble.
We load up on rings. We’ve been really grateful that knuckle rings and stacking rings have become popular, because it allows us to walk in with what are essentially brass knuckles for monsters without being made by the local civvies. Obviously, getting close enough to punch a monster is less than ideal, but so is jail, or stray bullets in a house made of drywall.
Lia and I double check our spell pouches, and prepare a few wards and identification spells ahead of time. Witchcraft ain’t hard, really. You don’t need special skills or magic powers, but it is a very exacting science. Off brands do not cut it. If it asks you to skin a cricket, a grasshopper will not do, nor will an unskinned cricket. So, we try to do things in bulk that are hard to screw up and are generally applicable, like the basic charms we’re working on now. Once we complete our hexes, we each pick one small gun, one small knife—silver for me, bronze for her—and a fresh bottle of smelling salts. With that out of the way, we are ready to start coordinating outfits.
One of the good things about working at Finnegan’s is that it’s really cut back on the research we have to do to play our role as sorority girls. Having had several hours to observe appropriate local fashion yesterday, Lia cuts up a t shirt that we had been using as a rag for the car. Now a backless, distressed-looking piece of couture, she pairs it with a mini skirt and her combat boots. Her spell pouch and other weaponry go in a purse, flounce the hair, voila. I told you she’s an artist.
I lay out every shirt we own on my bed and stare at them, hoping they’ll do something new if I practice mindfulness at them. When they don’t manifest into something exciting, I sigh.
“Fuck it,” I mutter as I pick a flowy blouse over jeans. Lia charitably comes over with a necklace to help make me look put together, at least. While I probably won’t turn heads in this get up, I am able to strap on another knife under the blouse. I’ll just have to remember that my persona only goes for one armed hugs with the right arm so that no one asks awkward questions. As ready as we’ll ever be, and as fashionably late as we dare push it without risking having the mystery guy get the jump on us, we drive over to the Chi Kappa Kappa house. I surreptitiously leave a small ward against the car so that no one feels like investigating it or really being near it at all. If we need to leave in a hurry, I’d prefer if we didn’t have to explain what honking signifies to drunk college kids.
We join the throng of excited young humans lining up to get into the house. I feel a small sense of relief when I realize that we do in fact “fit in.” I know that shouldn’t really be important to me when we’re chasing something that’s stealing girls, but I can’t help it. I’ve been the weird kid so long, sometimes it’s nice not to have to worry about keeping up appearances. I then remind myself that blending in is also practical. We do still have employment here that does in fact pay pretty well and that I’d like to keep for the immediate future. Also, the less talk about us, the fewer conversations with people who maybe have slightly less favorable stories about our behavior. I am all for that kind of anonymity.
Inside, the rooms and halls painted electric shades of the rainbow are subdued by the seething masses of college kids swarming through them. From our first contact with the sweaty humidity that rushes to greet us, Lia seems to withdraw. The house music is loud, the drunken laughter louder. It all seems to be such a forceful demonstration that everyone’s having fun and living that there doesn’t feel like there is space for us to participate. I grip her shoulder and make a face at her to set her at ease.
“Not here to meet people,” I yell in her ear. “Don’t think about how weird it is, let’s try to find the guy. Do you wanna check the rooms or watch the door?”
“Door.” I give her a thumbs up and a reassuring smile. I make a beeline to the room where the booze lives. I survey it, checking out every guy around to see if he could be the mystery murder creature.
I turn towards the voice and see Katie. “You made it!” She says with a smile, coming in for a hug. I shift uncomfortably to angle my right arm towards her and go in for a dainty, little “don’t touch me” hug.
“Yeah! Thanks for the invite,” I say before she has time to determine if that was strange. “Everything going okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. We’re sort of on lock down, so I don’t think anyone’s planning on leaving with anyone tonight or anything, and we’ve told all our friends about the guy we think is doing it, so everyone’s sort of keeping an eye out.” She shrugs. “Troubled times…”
“Definitely. It seems smart.” I move up in the line for the keg of—is that Natural Light? Natty comes in kegs? Dear God, why? What, was Walmart out of fruit punch and rubbing alcohol? I sigh inwardly. I guess at least it’s a surefire way to know I won’t get drunk on the job.
“But you haven’t like…seen him tonight, have you?” I ask. She grimaces.
“He’d have to be pretty friggin’ thick to come to a party here. I mean, even campus security is hanging around tonight. This sort of thing looks really bad for the school, too.”
I nod sympathetically. I’m saved from having to make further small talk as she gets pulled into the shriek-y embrace of one of her friends. After I get the fermented seltzer they’re handing out, I circle through the adjacent room. Finding nothing, I bring Lia her consolation prize. She sniffs it.
“What’s it supposed to be?” She asks.
“A potion most foul that makes strong men weak, and wise women regret.”
“Bottoms up, then.” She takes a swig and purses her lips. “I think it’s working. I already regret.”
“Jesus, yes. Saw lots of things. None of them panty-dropping monsters, though.”
“Ah, there it is. I was wondering how long we could go before you would make me uncomfortable.”
“Tits. Butts. Tongues.”
“You’re so childish. Stop naming body parts. Eyes glued to the door. I’m going to finish snooping.” I suppress a shudder as I walk away—I think younger siblings must have some sort of gene that allows them to gross out their older sibs.
The rest of the house is like the first two rooms, in that they are full of morally questionable young adults but there are no inhuman monsters apparent. Sadly, there aren’t even a few hot dudes to ogle while I wait. I wonder if it’s them or if I’m just spoiled by mystery monster? Or worse, what if I’m just too old to see them as anything other than adorable little kids? I knock back some more of the beer at that thought and go to check the situation outside.
The back patio appears to be reserved for smokers and people who are a little closer to consummating the mating dance of our species. We are sickening when we think we’re in love. I make a mental note never to share a chair with a guy at a table with three other couples also pretending that they’re alone. Sadly, it seems that this is where all of the pretty boys went to, and it’s already working for them. Only one of them has the same sort of hair and facial structure as the perp I’m after. He’s sitting, so I can’t see his build. His long legs are hidden by a table, meaning that I also can’t see the feet he almost certainly has. I decide to do a stake-out. I feel my earring, and it’s just a little warmer than the air, which isn’t really a great indicator. This charm is aces for things that mean to come kill me immediately, but it has a fairly limited field of attention, and a broad definition of the meaning of harm. It can tell me if Jack the Ripper has it out for me a block away, loud and clear. But if it’s just something not nice happening to someone else near me, or even if it involves daily danger, like passing someone who’s texting and driving, it gives off a little worried energy. So it’s not worth getting upset over a lukewarm earring.
–Outside. Got a guy who matches the profile. I send the text.
–Need back up? Lia replies almost instantly.
–No, not yet. Just checking, but I don’t think it’s him.
–Okay. Let me know if anything changes.
I send a thumbs up emoji and walk over to the circle of hazy cigarette smoke.
“Hey, got one I can bum?” I ask the first guy I see notice me.
“Yeah, sure.” He flips me a red and offers a lighter.
“Thanks.” I inhale, trying not to let it go to my lungs too much. The last thing I need is an addiction to something as expensive as cigarettes, but damn are they nice. I move slightly so that I can keep an eye on the guy.
“Nice night, huh?” Cigarette guy asks.
“I’m Ben.” Oh, right. Quid pro quo. Damn you, cigarettes.
“Summer.” I shake his hand and move again so that when he inevitably keeps talking, I can pretend to listen and still watch the guy who is getting…wow. “Frisky”, I guess is the euphemism.
“You Chi Kappa Kappa?”
“Uh, yeah. Me and my little are visiting from Idaho.”
I really dislike the beginning phases of the human mating ritual. I try to make it clear that I don’t like his feathers or whatever it is that birds use to distinguish good mates from bad ones, but he is persistent.
I get roped into a long conversation about the differences between Idaho and Virginia, mostly because Brett…no, Bryan. Ben! Ben is getting suspicious at how much I’m staring past him towards the frisky couple. More than I don’t want him to figure out what I’m doing, I don’t want him to think I want to occupy the next available chair with him.
Eventually Girl Frisker comes up for air and—whoa. She’s actually pretty pretty. Good for them. I recover from seeing a Megan Fox clone and try to see his face. I’m in luck, getting a full visual when she goes to whisper in his ear. He nods and stands up, his hands never leaving her. He shivers for the millisecond it takes for his arm to gap wide enough to put around her shoulders. Man. I hope he can keep it loaded ‘til go time. Standing, I can tell that he’s not our guy. He’s taller, and while he’s hulky, he’s not all sharp lines like the guy on the security camera. I confirm my judgment that this was a false alarm when my suspect starts walking with a shuffling gait that speaks to long years spent trying not to seem his real height.
Well, that was a bust. I think for a second about the Megan Fox girl. Yep. That was a bust.
“Well, thanks for the smoke, Brent,” I say, cutting him off.
“Oh uh…yeah. Sure. Do you wanna maybe meet up later or…?”
“That’s sweet, but we’re not in town that long and I gotta go meet my little so…” I grind the rest of the cigarette under my foot and run inside before he can think of something else asinine to say. I should feel bad for treating him like that, but I really don’t. Unwanted, prolonged chitchat is just the pits. Maybe I’ll take another shower when we get back to the motel to wash the awkward off.
Inside, Lia is doing her best impression of a coat stand, miserably sipping her drink and scowling at the door. Her relief is palpable when she sees me.
“Nah, the dude wasn’t our dude. But not a bad specimen. He left with a Megan Fox.”
“Ugh, the Megan Foxes get all the specimens. We can go?” She asks hopefully.
“Please.” We start moving for the door, pushing past the throngs of Chi Kappa Kappa’s dearest, most trusted hundred or so friends.
“This feels…wrong, somehow,” I say once we get back to the safety of our car.
“The baddie’s taken a girl a week for the past month. What, is he full? Mischief managed?”
“Maybe he didn’t see anyone his type tonight. Maybe he was at another party.” Her shoulders slump as she brakes for a stop sign. “No, please don’t make us,” she pleads.
“You said it, not me.” I put down my window and listen for shouting or the heavy bass drum of house music. “Woooo!” Someone yells in the distance.
“Turn left,” I direct, pointing towards the sound.
We spend the rest of the night going to consecutively sloppier parties, and making a few friends along the way to help us locate any other gatherings.
At the fourth such event, the thought I’d been playing with solidifies.
“What?” Lia asks, stifling a yawn. It’s after two A.M. and we’ve had exactly zero luck finding lean, dark men.
“Her boots bother me.”
“Whose boots?” My sister asks, looking around. “No one here is wearing boots.”
“Exactly. No one is wearing high-heeled boots.”
“Summer, I’m tired, overstimulated, covered in other people’s fluids and cranky about it. What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Megan Fox wannabe was wearing heeled boots.”
“No, like late nineties, fashionably sophisticated boots.”
“And that…bothers you.”
“Well, yeah. Listen, you and I are off the grid most days, right? And even we can stay in this century. Where would you even buy boots like that now? Why would someone that hot not know about shoes?”
“Maybe honey badger don’t give a fuck, Summer. Maybe she’s cool being her. Maybe she didn’t feel like shaving. It took you three hours of obsessing to realize she’d pulled a faux pas—maybe she didn’t think anyone would notice. Maybe the dude she was with was less shallow than you.”
“Ouch. Okay, grumpy. I’m fresh out of candy bars, so I’ll try putting you down for a nap. Let’s head back to the motel.”
“Aha, an accord,” she says tiredly, heaving herself back into our car and gratefully settling in.
I don’t mention it again, but the boot thing is still nagging at me.
“Hey, Summer?” Lia breaks the silence as I park.
“Sorry about the shallow thing. I don’t actually think that.”
I get out of the car, still trying to figure out why this seems so important to me. I stop in my tracks. I arch my feet until I’m standing on my tippy toes, and mimic how the girl from before was walking.
“What are you doing now?”
I look at my sister, panic flooding through me. “We missed something big.”