The office was orderly but the decorations were meant to invoke comfort in the visitors. Posters depicted people climbing mountains, kayaking through rough rapids, and other physical feats of triumph. A man at the top of Everest gave the thumbs up and underneath him read Anything you can believe, you can achieve! The posters never comforted Maris. They felt like a tight grasp on her arm, a tugging reminder of her situation.
The woman across the desk was still looking over the note. Its very unusual for one of…your people…to come here.”
Maris nodded. “I know, but my case worker told me to come in anyway. It says that on the note.” The woman stared at her with piercing blue eyes and she quickly added, “I-I know its unusual but I…I really need this. Please.”
The woman sat back in the chair. “I can assure you, Ms. Cervantes, that this is a safe location. While it is unusual for someone of you…social strata…to request our services, we will not refuse you. We have a variety of animals available but because of your class and situation we’ll have to call in a specific service animal.”
Maris’s heart thundered. “Specific?”
“Yes. They’ll be ordered in right away and should arrive within three day’s time, at the most.” Her eyes darted back to the folder and she added. “We’ll make sure to contact you when they arrive.”
Maris thanked the woman and left the office. Mike was in the waiting room. He was eager to learn the director’s decision but didn’t pressure her. They drove back home in silence. They arrived at their teal Victorian house, now refurbished for three families. Once inside, Maris immediately went to her bedroom. She counted the cracks in the window glass and the thick spider webs outside. Above her, children ran through the rooms while the opening theme to Terry and the Pirates played.
At dinner, Maris and Mike sat in the living room. Dinner eased Maris enough for her to tell him the director’s response. Mike was furious. “Its unfair to make you wait just because of who you are.”
“They’re just cautious.” Maris said, quietly, “You’re the one who told me I’ll have to deal with bureaucracy if I stay here.”
“I know but…” Mike sighed. “You’ve just been through so much, Maris. When was the last time you had a decent sleep?” Maris didn’t answer. “You’re heading for another breakdown if this continues.”
“I’ll be fine.” Maris insisted. “I’ve survived in worse conditions. At least I’m not on the street anymore.”
“If it wasn’t for your mother, you wouldn’t be on the street at all.” He looked down. “I don’t know what put all those ideas in her idea but Yvelisse never used to be like this.”
Maris had taught herself not flinch at the name of her mother, but she increased her grip on her fork. “You know how my father is and his family. Its just their way of doing things.”
Mike’s frown intensified. “I did my best to like your father. At first I didn’t trust him but he loved Yvelisse with all his heart. Even I could tell that.”
Maris shut her eyes and saw her parents staring at her, unified in disgust. She opened them. “He still loves her. He has plucked stars and placed them in her hair. He has slumbered without her and been deviled by her image.” She inhaled sharply and stroked the adder stone that hung from her neck. “He has made garland crowns of her enemies. He has broken teeth for her and shown where the bones of his kin rest in the earth. He has kissed her effigies and blessed them to the moon. Without a doubt he loves and is bound to my mother into—”
“Maris.” Mike said quietly.
Maris looked at him. Her eyes stung and they felt wet. She bit the inside of her mouth so she would not cry.
Mike must see the pain on her face because his voice is gentle; the same tone in which he speaks to victims at the station. “We should get ready.”
Maris nodded and rose from the table. She had wished that time in the city would erase her memorization of the love traditions, but three months was not enough time. She cleared the dinner plates and washed them. She watched the sun dip behind the buildings that crowded around them. Above her, children were arguing. One wanted to listen to Captain Midnight and the other Grand Ole Opry.
Maris shut her eyes and thought of Marigold Heights. The memory seized her easily, taking her from the loud cars and petrol stench of the city and back to secure suburbia. She was a child blowing dandelion puffs and watching them scatter in the wind. She ran through the conservation land, crushing pine nettles under her feet while nanny followed. She caught minnows in the creek and found a steep cliff. Without hesitation, she dropped off it and enjoyed the warm air currents rushing over her body.
Maris banished the images and chastised herself. Childhood was over and there was no returning to it. Sunset was not a time for recollection but preparation.
Mike didn’t have fresh frogs today so defrosted would have to do. Three months living here and he was still new at this. He smeared the window sills with frog blood while Maris wrote five pages worth of sigils on lined paper in a composition book. She ripped the pages out, burned it, and then mixed the ashes with sea salt. She scattered the mixture at the front and back doors. Lastly she dusted her bedroom door with red brick dust and added a splashing of vinegar to finalize it.
Mike sat in the living room with his shotgun and turned the TV to late night reality shows while Maris locked herself in the bedroom. She pushed her bed in front of the door and laid on it, far from the east window.
The noise did not begin until well after midnight. It began with scratching, pushing at the property barriers. The scratching increased, from mice at the wall to claws on chalk. The windows vibrated and the spider web cracks spread further. A loud howl broke the property barrier and every window on their floor shattered.
Maris was already curled in a protective ball. She prayed Mike would stay where he was and not open the door like last time. There had been so much blood last time. She dismissed the thought and wrapped her sheets over her head. She could hear and feel the front and back doors rattling on their hinges, straining against the outside force.
The beast moved forward, entering onto the property until they encountered the barrier around the house. Muscular haunches rammed against it but it held. The beast could not cross the threshold so they would break it down.
Maris squeezed her eyes shut and counted backwards in Kemetic and then Spanish.
The metal fence surrounding the yard rattled and a loud yelp cut through the air. The intruders must have hopped the fence and encountered one of Mike’s bear traps. There was a second yelp but the howling was continuing, becoming louder and joined by voices.
Maris Maris Maris
Unseen hands grabbed Maris, attempting to drag her from the bed. She clenched the mattress sheet and refused to budge.
Return Return Return
Hands tugged on her hair, trying to coerce her.
Duty Duty Duty
Hands slapped her across the face. Maris ground her teeth, refusing to cry or yield.
Promise Promise Promisssss
The last words evolved into a scream of rage against her betrayal, followed with another hard slap to her face and back. The connation continued its assault but Maris had faced worse. She wouldn’t move. Leaving the bedroom now would be surrendering.
It continued until dawn erupted. The howling ebbed away and retreated. Maris didn’t uncoil until Mike knocked on the bedroom door to let her know he was still alive. Maris croaked good morning and slid out the bed.
She repaired the windows, scribing sigil under the frame. The scattered glass rose from the ground and melded back into the place. The cracks were now more obvious than before but for now, it would work.
She showered, dressed, and made cheese omelets with hash browns for breakfast. She put the laundry in the basket for the basement washer and dryer. Above her, Yes! We Have No Bananas playedand the children sang along, out of tune and full of joy.
Mike sat at the table and watched her work. His feet tapped to the upstairs tunes. He had lived here long enough to adjust to the idiosyncrasies.
“You don’t have to do this.” he said, “You’re not my maid. You didn’t have to clean like this is in Marigold Heights.”
In Marigold Heights, Maris wouldn’t have to do anything. There were always attendants to clean and cook around the clock. Dutiful nanny followed in her shadows, always on the look for danger. She would sit on the patio, sipping cosmos and talking clan politics with her upper moiety friends. She’d laugh, delighted by her husband’s witty comments. Mother would watch her and nod in smug approval.
Maris shuddered; the thought of husband coupled with laughter turned her stomach. The thought of mother made her want to retch. She left the kitchen for her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. She was yet to repair the windows and chilled September air swept in. She wrapped her arms around herself and struggled to breathe.
She should call her case worker but she didn’t want to bother them. The anxiety attacks were nothing in the grand scheme of everything else that could go wrong. This was still a step up from her previous tradition of just ignoring them. Acknowledge was part of healing.
Thirty minutes later the attack ceased and Maris was exhausted but calmer. She recorded the date, time, and possible trigger of the anxiety attack in her journal. A good third of the book was already filled. She’d have to ask her case worker for a new one.
She left the bedroom and nodded to Mike. He looked at her with pity and nothing else.
At nine, Maris went to the library. Her case worker decided she needed to occupy her time and pulled strings to have her volunteer there. It took days to reassure Maris that the building was safe, as the adder stone could only do so much.
She nodded to the other librarians, who never made eye contact with her. She went to the young adult section and organized the books. The section expanded every month with the latest sci-fi dystopian or paranormal interspecies romance. Maris looked at the cover of romances she owned.
Or owned until three months ago.
She shut her eyes and breathed slowly. She was safe here. The case worker had made sure of that. Libraries and other government offices were shielded after the influence of the clans, strictly placed in neutrality. None of the local moieties cared about her situation or even knew about it. The case worker had repeated to her time and time again: You’re safe here, Maris. Nothing can harm you. You’re safe here.
For now, and that minor thought sustained Maris’s nightmares.
Maris organized the books on the shelves, rearranging the most popular ones for that week. She had learned library organization and maintenance on her own. No one troubled her, especially the library patrons. On occasion someone would be bold enough to ask her a question; sometimes it was about books but most often it pertained to teeth.
Four adolescents strolled over to her; one female and three bulky males. They were brightly dressed in ragged clothes and dyed hair, with buttons pinned to their jackets. She could smell they were rougarou moiety but the lowest of the low; mere peasants. Maris had nothing to fear but watched them closely.
They moved within a foot of her and stopped. They said nothing, only stared. Maris spoke first with the dignity she had been raised with. “May I help you?”
“Yeah.” The leader of the small pack was a girl with a scarred face. “We’re looking for a book on traitorous bitches? Written by a spoiled dyke hiding in our territory.”
Maris swallowed dryly. She touched the adder stone as a violent tremble went through her. “Ah, I see. I came here months ago but assumed the local moieties were avoiding my presence and…situation.” She shut her eyes. “I have removed myself from the grounds of the inter-clan conflict. I have invoked the right of neutrality and personhood, as protected by these grounds. You have no power over me.” It was a struggle not to stutter. “You have no right to harm me. Please respect my rights. And…and leave. Now.”
“Oh, you know the funny thing about that dumbass neutrality law?” said one man, his face twisted into a nasty smile. “It’s a whole different ball game when you’re in our territory. We city wolves don’t like getting involved in stupid shit but then the clan prince started offering a bounty and no one’s gonna turn that down.”
“So we’re sending your ass back to East Cupcake or wherever the fuck you came from.” said the second male.
“Then I invoke…my right to be left alone.” Maris insisted, though her heart was beating faster. “I have revoked my name, my family, and my moiety. I wish to be left alone.” She raised her voice but the security guard wasn’t present nor was any library patrons.
She tried to walk around them but the fourth and third blocked her way. The third was a broad man with fat arms. “No one here is gonna help you. Not when you’re worth thirty grand. Now come the fuck on.”
Maris opened her mouth but the third grabbed her arm. His grip was sweaty and stunk of weed and gasoline. Tendrils of connation leaked from his arm, threatening to wrap around Maris and enslave her again.
Maris questioned the how but didn’t care to ponder about it. She would have none of this person touching her. She tried to calmly insist that he let her go but it all came out as an enraged wordless howl. Her bones and muscles melted and reconnected into a taut, larger form. Her lips retracted and so did the skin from her fingers and toes, exposing the iron teeth and claws.
She grabbed the fat neck of the third and tossed him into the wall, right under the poster about the summer reading program. The other three acted quickly, changing into their sinewy wolfish selves. They were confidant but had never dealt with a creature like Maris before. Their fear leaked into the air and tasted as delicious as their blood.
When the police arrived, the young adults section was splattered with the blood of three rougarou and Maris was eating the remains of the pack leader. Maris was beyond reasoning so they tranquilized her and brought her downtown.
After the tranquilizers wore off, Maris woke up alone in a holding cell. She wore a lime green spray-on shirt and pants, the same one they put on runaway exiles. She looked around the cell and recognized it as the first place she was taken to in the city.
The door opened and Mike came in. His uniform was marked with bloody splotches and the lines of aging on his face were more evident. He reeked of anxiety. Instead of speaking, he handed over a button with a smirking smiley on it. A drop of blood was smeared across it.
“We found this pinned to one of the rougarou punks when they grabbed you.” said Mike. “Our resident xenocultural expert isn’t sure what they mean.”
“That’s because they only have meaning for me.” Maris sighed, staring at the pin, “In middle school, it was all the fashion to collect buttons. I had the most buttons ever and I used to trade them with the other children. It made me realized I had a knack for bartering and discussion, putting my learned political charms to good use. It has significant meaning to me. I thought I destroyed everything that had meaning but apparently not.” It explained how peasants were able to invoke connation, but who had given them the buttons? And how many were left? She frowned, feeling a headache’s approach.
“We confiscated one but there’s no telling how many are floating around. We’ve put some witches to the task of collecting the illegal personals.” He noticed Maris staring at his shirt and added, “Oh, the blood isn’t from this. We’ve been hunting down a penanggalan for three weeks now and just located it. Had to bring her in for questions about some disappearances in her area, along with some health code violations concerning the restaurant she works at.”
Maris’s growing appetite soured at the image of a penanggalan serving anyone their meals. “They told me there’s a bounty for my return now. More people will be coming after me now.”
“A bounty? Why would they do that? Isn’t your hus—I mean, isn’t Enkidu the prince of the werewolf clan and upper moiety? Can’t he order people to do what he wants?”
Maris looked at her hands. Her iron claws were yet to fully retract back into her fingers. She hadn’t transformed in that long. “It doesn’t mean people will hop to it. A clan is huge, full of different moieties with different loyalties and beliefs. The werewolf clan isn’t made up of just the rougarou. It includes reynardines, lycaons, hundings, beowulfs, grendels…they have to be persuaded to be involved in what would be considered a small feud.”
Or it would have been until I escalated it by seeking human protection, Maris quietly realized.
Mike shook his head. He didn’t have the patience for clan politics. “Maris, this can’t go on. You hardly sleep and now they’re harassing you during the day. I know I’m just a regular guy but I’m still your grandfather. What they’re doing to you isn’t right. There has to be something else we can do.”
“Like a restraining order?” That had been futile. Her situation was unusual and currently being tossed back and forth in the courts.
“Like a gun with quicksilver slugs. I know she’s my daughter but this is her doing as well. Two bullets would solve this problem.”
“You wouldn’t shoot your own daughter,” Maris said, “and you’d cause a political incident. My father may become vampire clan prince, my mother married into the asanbosam upper moiety, and you’re a police officer. They’d say you were a violent criminal and the courts would have to surrender my parents.”
Mike sighed and let the topic drop. “You’re free toe come back home. The library officials aren’t pressing charges about the incident. The security guard who let this happen was fired.”
“What about the people that attacked me?”
“Well, two of them are dead. You sucked out all their blood and ate most of them.” Mike sighed.
Maris didn’t flinch. Her bestial nature was one of the few things that didn’t make her flinch these days. An asanbosam couldn’t ignore their true self for long.
“And the other two?”
Mike shrugged. “You bit off the third’s limbs. They’ll regenerate but until then they’re at the hospital. The fourth has a broken neck. We’ve spoken with the marquess of the local rougarou and she denies having anything to do with this.”
“She’s playing dumb to save her political skin. Werewolf culture is obsessed with revenge. Friends, lovers, rivals…they’ll avenge the dead.”
“Maybe you should spend the night at the station. It’s the safest place right now.”
“No place is safe from a werewolf’s anger.” She stood slowly. Her legs ached. “I just want to go to bed. I’m exhausted.”
Mike nodded and offered to drive her home. Maris hadn’t learned to trust the other police officers. They seemed like an okay bunch but like the librarians, they were always avoiding eye contact. They left the cell, filled out discharge paperwork, and went to the reception area.
Station reception was crowded with people. There was a cluster of woodland spirits complaining about garbage on the highway and moist finfolk reporting another corpse found floating in their water. A huli-jing demanded to see an incarcerated relative. A tengu was being dragged through the door in cuffs, tittering about their non-human rights and a phone call.
Sitting in a chair was a large dark skinned person, at least seven feet tall. When Maris walked in the reception area, they stood and looked at her with bright amber eyes. The sides of their head were shaven and on top of their head was a mass of golden curls.
“You Maris?” they asked. Their voice was deep and their body muscular, so it was impossible to tell their gender.
Mike immediately moved in front of Maris. “May we help you?”
“Yeah.” They hefted a dirty backpack over their shoulders. “Oh shit. Wait a minute.” They searched in their jacket pockets, dropping crumpled papers and dirt on the floor. Finally they pulled out a laminated card and handed it to Mike.
Mike stared at the card and then handed it to Maris. The card read:
Registered Service Supernatural Animal
This supernatural civilian is registered as a Service Animal and/or Emotional Support Animal with the Service Animal Registry of Massachusetts.
Next to the small paragraph was a picture of Jordan squinting at the camera.
Maris looked at Jordan who muttered, “Flash got in my eye. It was distracting so it’s not a very good picture.”
“The agency said it would take a while for you to arrive.” Maris said.
“Yeah, well, I was on the list and they just sorta called me up and I was like ‘Holy shit? Really?’.” Jordan shrugged. “A lot of people usually don’t want anything too big or um, ‘unfamiliar’ as they say?”
“I thought werehyenas didn’t leave Africa?”
Jordan shrugged again. “Well, I did.”
Mike gave Maris a look between questioning and pleading that this large stranger wouldn’t enter their home. Maris decided to have a positive outlook on the unusual development. “Why come all the way here?”
Jordan stared at her. “Have you seen Africa lately? It was either stay there or end up in a witchdoctor’s potion. I’m not fucking dealing with that shit. I’ll risk getting spat at by white people.” They looked at Mike. “Uh, no offense to you, bro. You seem cool.”
“I’m Puerto-Rican and its Mr. Cervantes to you.” Mike said, coolly.
Jordan’s cheeks colored and their dark freckles stood out. “Well, shit then.” they muttered.
“We don’t really have a place for you to stay and tonight might be…intense. There may be retaliation from rougarou and their friends.”
The promise of danger only excited Jordan. “Really? Intense? Awesome! I’m ready to go right now!”
Jordan was impossible to discourage from coming along. Maris wasn’t sure of them. The card had the official markings on it but this could still be a trick. A werehyena working as a service animal sounded too outlandish. Service animal jobs were for exiles that needed a place to stay besides the shelters. Maris had expected something small and calm, not a hyperactive giant of unsure gender.
They arrived home an hour from sunset. Once the car stopped, Jordan rushed out the car and sniffed the air.
They grinned. “Two layers of barriers, one at the street and another surrounding the house. Barrier is against your typical intruders, particularly those of the werewolf clan. And…” They looked up at the second and third floors. “What’s up there? I don’t recognize the smell.”
“The second floor is deadzoned; full of ghosts and not a place for the living.” says Mike, “Living on the third floor is a registered witch who keeps the ghosts from causing trouble. I’ve never seen him face to face but he’s always sending messages.”
The third floor window opened and an origami crane flew out. Mike held out his hand for it and unfolded it. He looked at Maris. “Mr. Estrada wants to know about our guest and how long they’ll be staying.”
“Tell him I’m not sure.” Maris said, quietly, and watched Jordan smell around the border of the yard. They moved to the barbed wire covered fence. “Careful! There are traps around there.”
“I can smell the blood on them.” Jordan smiled. “Let’s see the back!”
They let Jordan into the house and closely followed them as they sniffed and touched objects (action which were interspersed with Mike urging them to put said object down) and moved to the back porch. On the back porch, Jordan stripped out of their plaid jacket and jeans. Maris observed the scars and bite marks along Jordan’s back and thighs. Even naked, she still couldn’t tell their gender. She had heard unusual things about werehyenas but had dismissed them as gossip. It seemed that they were true after all.
Jordan changed into their secondary form, a bulky spotted hyena with fur the same color as their hair. The hyena sniffed the yard, exploring the area and the bloodied traps. They studied the sides of the house and then returned to Maris and Mike, who.
“You’ve had a break in each night.” said the hyena, “They’re constantly destroying the street barrier but can’t get past the house barrier. They haven’t broken past it but they’re wearing it down. Only a matter of time before it collapses. And all that howling can’t be good for your sanity.”
“You can tell all that?” Maris asked.
“When I’m like this, I can see all the connations, barriers, bindings…” The hyena scratched at their nose. “I can smell your stress level too.” They sat up straighter. “Its amazing the barriers lasted this long. How long have they been invoking you?”
“I got here three months ago but they didn’t start attacking like this until two months ago. Its hard to remember the exact date.” Maris admitted.
“Mr. Estrada has additional bindings on the house.” Mike said, “The ghosts and him have kept us from some really close calls in the past.”
Jordan nodded. “Werewolves will have no part of the dead so that’s definitely an advantage.”
“And what about you?” Maris asked.
“As if the dead would bother a werehyena!” They cackle, snapping their jaw. “Where I’ve been, there are plenty of ghosts. Angry, hungry, vicious ghosts but we eat ‘em right back. What’s there to be scared of?”
Maris didn’t know what that meant. She had never encountered a werehyena before. The vampire and werewolf clan treated the skin-walker clan with a ten foot iron pole.
Jordan paced the back porch and sat after the area was secured. “Do as you normally do. I’ll stay out here and deal with the threats if they come.” They snickered. “Let them come.”
Maris nodded and retreated back inside. They had a quick microwaved dinner and made their preparations. The windows were still badly battered. Maris wasn’t sure if they would be repairable after tonight. Lastly Maris barricaded herself inside of the bedroom and Mike sat in the living room with the gun.
The attack begun as soon as the sky darkened. An angry chorus of howls smashed the street barrier and Maris shook, feeling its destruction. Their voice didn’t carry connation but revenge. In the howling ensemble, Maris could pick apart the different parts of the unified moiety against her. There were the mad howls of the cynocephalics, the dog-headed ones who were stuck between forms and infantile in mind. She heard the angry barks of the beowulfs, peaceful and isolated but always the most dangerous to enrage. She heard the loud snaps and pants of the gévaudan, who were wolf-dog hybrids skinny as shadows with tusks and bulging red eyes.
All of them had come for her in deafening noise. If they broke down the barriers and crossed the threshold, they would tear her apart and drag the remains to the werewolf clan prince.
An unseen hand scraped Maris, moving from her left shoulder down, and leaving red raised welts. Another hand swayed toward her and Maris curled into a ball, protecting her softer parts.
A loud hyena cackle shattered the second hand. The barriers around the house rattled, straining against outside attack. The windows are cracking again, preparing to break. Above her, the children questioned what that racket is and how it was interrupting Captain Midnight.
Higher up, someone chanted and Maris wasn’t sure if it was Mike praying or Mr. Estrada protecting his home.
Maris went to the only place where she could be comforted: her memories, but her mind was on Marigold Heights and the summer solstice party. She had been excited for the party, helping with the decorations and entertainment. She practiced her Mandarin and Kemetic. She researched discussion points so she could talk to the jiangshi marquis about overturning China’s laws forcing non-human citizens into harsh working conditions. She looked forward to speaking to the yaksha archduchess about the genocidal purges in India and the mass migrations.
On the day of the party she dressed her finest and greeted the guests. The joy and confidence in her heart evaporated when Enkidu arrived with the closest members of his moiety. He announced their engagement to the guests and her excitement for the party dried up. While Enkidu mingled and hobnobbed with the aristocracy of the vampire clan, Maris sat on the patio and avoided looking at him.
A smooth voice distracted Maris from her brooding. “You look as bored as I feel.”
The baroness of the lamia moiety crawled toward her, moving on eight serpent tails covered with grey-black scales. Maris politely nodded to her fellow aristocrat and hoped the etiquette was universal. She had never met a lamia before.
Maris politely shook her head. “I’m far from boredom. I’m very glad to be present for this gathering. Its rare to witness the heads of all the different vampire moieties gather, both immortal and undead.”
“Your father is definitely the charismatic one.” the baroness acknowledged, sipping blood from her wine glass. “But its always the same people and issues isn’t it? We don’t age or die so what’s the point of these meetings? Nothing changes until someone dies or retires and neither come easily.”
Maris cautiously looked at the baroness. She was not a beautiful creature. Her four eyes were bright red and her fangs hooked over her soft lips. The feminine curves were only meant to lure in stupid prey. Maris looked at the baroness and felt a dull ache in her chest; an ache she never felt toward her fiancée.
“What is your name?” she whispered.
The baroness smirked and slunk off. “Lamia never give their names to children.”
That was Maris at that moment: young, inexperienced, and afraid of what the queen lamia would offer. She wasn’t incorrect in her observations. Maris was afraid and was everyone’s precious child: the young asanbosam heir who would continue the long era of peace.
She looked at Enkidu and he nodded graciously to her and motioned for her to come to his side. Maris pretended not to see him and retreated inside. She could still the baroness’s hungry crimson eyes watching her and she had no desire to ignore it. Something had to change. She needed to speak with her parents. She wasn’t a coddled child anymore. She had a right to voice her opinions. They loved her more than immortality and life itself. They had to listen to how she felt.
That was the night everything went wrong.
It was silent now. Nothing was slapping or tugging on her. It was unsettling to hear the city at night, undisturbed by an attack. Cars honked and people shouted but there was still a quiet Maris hadn’t heard in months.
Panic seized her.
“Jordan?” she called.
There was no answer. Maris shoved the bed from the door and ran out. She ran to the back door, where Mike was peering out. She looked out but the porch light offered no clue as to what happened. Slowly, a large spotted hyena limped onto the patio. There were bite marks on their hindquarters, bloody rips in their ears, and their muzzle was bloodied. In its mouth was a tail stump ripped off a wolf.
Jordan spat the tail at the back door and affectionately barked. “Did I do a good job?” they asked, cheerily.
Maris opened the door and hugged the werehyena.
Maris helped repair the damage in the living room and clean up. Jordan remained a werehyena and let Maris clean and bandage their wounds. They sat on her bed and for once, Maris did not need to sleep with the door locked and barricaded.
“When was the last time you had a good sleep?” Jordan asked.
Maris looked away but swallowed, pushing away her fears. Talking was part of recovery but the words always got stuck in her throat. “I take catnaps when I can. Sometimes I sleep close to dawn, when the attacks wear out. I slept a lot more at Marigold Heights.”
“Is there were you’re from?”
“What’s it like?”
“Its…nice.” Maris admitted. “It’s a suburb in Connecticut controlled by the vampire clan. Its quiet and I do miss it and its comforts. Its nothing like this place. Its suburban and the people are much friendlier but just as nosy and far more two-faced, I think.”
Jordan scratched behind their ears with a broad paw. “I was told you were a vampire but I didn’t know what moiety.”
“I’m an asanbosam. We’re living vampires and we can interbreed with humans even though it was forbidden for many years. My father was upper moiety, an aristocrat, and he badly wanted my mother. They had connation at first sight, though mother didn’t know what it was, being human. But there was a problem. An upper moiety lycaon named Enkidu was also in love with my mother. At the time, lycaon and asanbosam were on bad terms. The clan princes had declared neutrality…until two sons of the upper moieties vied for the love of the same woman to convert and bear their lineages. People used it as an excuse for conflict that had been brewing for centuries. There was blood, a lot of death, and almost a full-scale inter-clan war…”
Maris cringed. Her parent’s connation flickered over her, like the light lashing of a whip. Jordan’s ears perked up and moved closer to her. Trembling, Maris reached out and scratched the top of her scalp.
“There was almost a war, but my mother had great secret: she had a child,” Maris said, voice barely above a whisper, “but someone betrayed my mother. Enkidu came to kill me and my mother. My mother was helpless but he looked into my eyes and felt…connation.”
Jordan’s head tilted. “With an infant?”
Maris nodded. “Feelings of connation can happen at any age.” That fact had been repeated to Maris since she was old enough to comprehend words.
“So his connation with you ended the war.”
Maris nodded again. “Yes, and Enkidu was always in my life. I knew one day I would be his mate even though we were from different clans but…things changed. I changed.”
“You grew up. It happens.” Jordan says, gently.
“It does not just happen!” Maris said, tears now falling. “I-I have—had a duty and I rejected it! I tore myself from my family and now t-there may be war and more death! I ran like a coward!”
“Or, you were forced into a situation you had no say in.” Jordan suggested. “What happened to make you leave?”
Maris inhaled and wiped at her tears, leaving a charcoal grey streak on her arm. “I found out that I wasn’t…attracted to men. It didn’t come as a surprise. I always found women more attractive but my parents dismissed my feelings as a phase. So I tried to ignore it…but I realized I couldn’t be married to someone I didn’t love and couldn’t love. My parents didn’t understand. They insisted that the connation was true love and that I was just confused. They wanted to take me to some awful witch, and have me…changed.”
Maris trembled again. That had been the cause of her first big fight with her parents. At the end of it, Maris didn’t scream or cry. She yielded to her parent’s wishes and obediently retreated to her room for her rudeness. In her room, she started a fire and used all her possessions to feed it. When her father came running at the smell of smoke, she transformed and attacked him. She drew his blood, thus severing the ties of protection between them. She broke out of the house, and on leathery wings she flew through the night sky in search of sanctuary.
“I ran to the city because I knew exiles came here all the time.” Maris sobbed, “I went to the humans and they gave me sanctuary. I met my grandfather for the first time. I didn’t even know I had a grandfather.”
Jordan’s cold nose nudged Maris’ cheek but she couldn’t stop the crying. She hated tears. Tears made her think of Mike, the officers, or her ever-busy case worker with their sympathetic stare.
“Maris, you’re very brave. Not everyone can tear themselves from their home and family.” said Jordan.
Maris hiccoughed and scrubbed away her tears. Black iron-laced tears ran down her cheeks, staining her brown skin dark grey.
“What I did was cowardly.” she sniffled.
“Cowardice would be agreeing to a union you hate. Bravery is saying ‘no’ as strongly as you could.” added Jordan, “Be happy, Maris. When you turn seventeen, the vampire clan will recognize your individual adulthood.”
“Great. Two more years and then maybe I can enjoy my life.” Maris sighed. “Or I’ll be pressed into joining another moiety like the lilitu or jiangshi.”
“You could always marry another exile or join the skin-walker clan.”
Jordan sounded eager for the third option but Maris shook her head. “Bowing to foreign rulers is not in my nature.” She smiled. “Its good to speak of options with someone else though.”
“You never talked about this with your case worker?”
Maris sighed. “They’re busy. There are many exiles in this city with greater problems than mine.”
“And Mr. Cervantes?”
“He’s my grandfather and he’s been a helpful and a dear friend but he can’t understand everything. He thinks I should be in school, talking about makeup and movies with other people my age.”
The idea didn’t appeal to Maris. She didn’t share the problems of other fifteen year olds. She didn’t go to the movies and she never wore makeup.
Maris rested against her pillow, shutting her eyes. She didn’t see Marigold Heights; only the dull kaleidoscopic sight of the inner eyelids. She didn’t have to ignore the commotion outside or shield herself. She scratched Jordan behind the ears and emitted a sleepy sigh. “Good hyena.”
Jordan’s rounded ears flickered against her fingers, welcoming her petting.