Fury – Rachel Vincent

Rebecca Essig had a stomachache. Truth be told, she’d gotten her period a couple of days ahead of schedule, and that was reason enough to leave Cindy Ruger’s slumber party at one in the morning as the others were digging into bowls of Rocky Road. Cindy’s new friends from the freshman volleyball team were like hyenas, ready to devour the weakest member of the pack, and if they found out Becca’s mom thought fourteen was too young to use tampons, that humiliating bit of trivia would be all over the school before Monday. She’d be ruined, one week into the school year. Best just to go home. Rebecca walked half a mile of neighborhood sidewalks in the dark, humming Belinda Carlisle’s “Mad About You” as she passed in and out of the glow from a series of streetlamps. When she got to her house, she dug her key from beneath her shirt, where it hung from a length of blue yarn around her neck, and let herself in through the front door. All the lights were out, except the soft glow of the night-light from the room her younger sisters shared at the end of the hall. Rebecca kicked her sandals off next to the door, beside her brother’s grimy football cleats, and dropped her overnight bag on the coffee table. Then she fixed herself a bowl of chocolate ice cream by the moonlight shining in through the window over the sink, to make up for the snack she’d missed at the slumber party. As usual, her father was snoring loudly, so as she passed her parents’ room in the dark hallway, carrying the cold bowl in one hand, she pulled their door closed. Two steps later, her bare foot landed in something warm and wet on the carpet. Rebecca groaned, then took a bite of her ice cream and kept walking. She felt no obligation to clean up cat urine. She wasn’t even supposed to be home yet.

In front of her brother’s open bedroom door, she stepped in a second puddle. This time, Rebecca stopped and felt around on the wall for a light switch. The cat was old and had bladder control issues, but she’d never urinated in two different places in one night. Becca’s fingers brushed the switch and she flipped it up. Light flooded the hallway, illuminating not one puddle of cat urine, but an entire trail of wet, brownish footprints. There were so many tracks. As if someone had gone up and down the hall, in and out of every bedroom except Becca’s, spreading the dark stain with every step. Hands shaking, Rebecca knelt in the hall and pressed her fingers into the nearest footprint. They came away smeared with bright red. Blood.

The footprints were blood. Rebecca stood and backed toward the wall. Her bowl thumped to the floor and a scoop of chocolate ice cream rolled onto the soiled carpet, shiny and wet, and already melting into a footprint too big to belong to a child. But her parents were asleep. She could still hear her dad snoring through his bedroom door. If he knew there was blood in the hallway, he would not have gone to bed without finding the source. Her mother wouldn’t have gone to sleep without cleaning it up. And neither of them would have tracked it up and down the hallway. Trembling, Rebecca followed the trail of bloody footprints past the bathroom and her own bedroom to the room shared by her ten-and six-year-old sisters. She took a deep breath, then flipped the light switch on.

Laura’s bed was unmade but empty, one corner of the covers thrown back. Against the opposite wall, six-year-old Erica was asleep in her bed, her chubby left cheek pressed into the brightly striped pillowcase, her chest rising and falling with every breath. Rebecca exhaled and started to turn off the light—until she noticed a set of small, bloody footprints leading to her youngest sister’s bed from the hallway. Erica had walked through the blood on the way to her bed. Heart pounding, Rebecca turned off the light and closed the door. Careful not to step in any of the stains, she headed for her brother’s room, where the concentration of blood was so heavy she couldn’t distinguish individual footprints. Unwilling to go in, she reached around the door frame and fumbled with the switch. Light flared from overhead. Rebecca choked on shock, a scream trapped in her throat. Her arms fell slack at her sides, and for one interminable moment, her brain refused to process the carnage as anything more than a tableau of meaningless crimson arcs and pools, and a tangle of pale limbs splayed out on the carpet.

Then she found Laura’s face, her mouth open, her eyes staring blankly at the far wall, and the entire scene came into horrifying clarity. Beyond her sister’s body, her brother’s bed was— Don’t look at the bed. Don’t look at the bed. Terrified, Rebecca spun toward her parents’ room—then froze again. She could still hear her father snoring through the door. The footprints leading beneath it were still wet. As little sense as it made—as unthinkable as it was—the conclusion was obvious. Rebecca raced down the bloody hall into the last room, where she threw back the covers and scooped her little sister up in both arms. Erica’s eyes fluttered open, then focused on her. “Becca?” “Shh…” She carried her only living sibling down the hall and across the living room and didn’t set her on her tiny, bare feet until they were out front on the sidewalk.

“Come on.” She took Erica’s hand and tugged her toward the nearest neighbor. “Where are we going? I’m sleepy, Becca.” Erica’s eyes were only half-open. Her hand was limp in her sister’s grip. And when Rebecca turned back toward the house, she could see a faint trace of her sister’s small footprints trailing behind them in the light from the streetlamp, in what was left of the blood on the soles of her feet. “We’re going to Mrs. Madsen’s house, to use the phone.” “What’s wrong with our phone?” “It’s in our house,” Rebecca muttered as she reached over the neighbor’s waist-high white picket gate, to unlock it. The gate closed behind them as she tugged Erica up the steps onto the neighbor’s front porch.

Her vision unsteady from the race of her pulse, Rebecca poked the doorbell three times, and when she got no reply, she began banging on the door. A light flickered on to her right, and Rebecca glanced at her own house to see that the front porch was lit up. Her father stepped out of the house. “Erica? Rebecca?” he called, and even from next door, Becca could see the dark stains on his shirt and pajama pants. Terror glued her tongue to the roof of her mouth. Rebecca pounded on Mrs. Madsen’s door again. “Becca?” Erica tugged on her sister’s hand. “Daddy’s calling us.” “Shh…” Rebecca poked the doorbell again, and finally a light came on inside the house, spilling onto the porch through the transom windows on either side of the door.

“Rebecca?” Her father jogged down the front steps, shielding his face from the glare of the streetlight with one hand. “Is Erica with you? What are you doing?” “Please, open up,” Rebecca whispered as she poked the doorbell again. “Please, please…” And finally, through the transom window, she saw Mrs. Madsen make her way down the stairs from the second floor, thin, furry goat legs and narrow hooves peeking from beneath a purple robe tied around her waist. Light from the foyer fixture shined on two short horns curving out from her cropped gray curls. “Becca?” a new voice called from next door. “Mom?” Rebecca let go of her sister’s hand and jogged down Mrs. Madsen’s front steps, relief rushing through her veins with every heartbeat. “Mom, I thought you were… Get out of the house! Something’s wrong with—” She bit off the rest of her warning when she saw that her mother’s pink satin robe was soaked with a dark stain. “Becca, come home,” her mother called.

“We need to talk.” Rebecca turned back to Mrs. Madsen’s door as her elderly neighbor finally made it off the stairs and clomped into the foyer, limping from pain in her knees. “Mrs. Madsen! Open the door! Please!” “Rebecca!” Her father marched down the sidewalk, barefoot. “Come home this instant!” Mrs. Madsen’s door opened. “Rebecca? What’s wrong, dear?” Rebecca pushed past her neighbor into the house, dragging Erica with her and knocking the elderly satyr off balance. She grabbed Mrs. Madsen’s arm before she could fall, then slammed the front door shut, just as her father pushed through the white picket front gate.

“Call the police.” Rebecca threw the bolt on Mrs. Madsen’s front door. “I think my parents killed Laura and John.” Delilah “Trust your instincts!” a digitally amplified voice called out from about a block down, where a small crowd had gathered in front of a family-run pizzeria I was too cautious to patronize, even though the baby and I had been craving pizza for a month. “Humans and cryptids were not meant to coexist!” “Well, that’s new.” Lenore leaned forward to stare out the windshield between the two front seats at the small town about a half hour away from our hidden cabin. “Not the sentiment. The…crowd.” Zyanya slowed the van as we approached the gathering on the broad stretch of sidewalk in front of the town hall.

“That chill you get when you walk by a stranger?” the lady with the megaphone shouted amid the crowd of angry protesters. “That uncomfortable feeling when someone’s staring at you from across the room? Sometimes that’s nothing. But sometimes it’s your own instinct trying to save you. To tell you you’re in the presence of something wrong. Something that wasn’t meant to walk among us. Something that can’t be trusted. If the employees at the Baltimore aquarium had listened to their instinct, they might still be alive today.” “I call bullshit,” Lenore whispered as we drove past the cluster of about a hundred people, as if anyone could hear us with the windows rolled up. “They can’t blame us every time some psycho walks into a building with a loaded gun.” She and Zy avoided looking directly at the crowd, for fear that they’d be recognized as cryptids, but I was afraid it’d look more suspicious if we all three ignored the crowd.

So I watched from behind the fragile shield of my sunglasses. “Of course they can blame us.” Zy shrugged. “They’ve been doing that since the reaping.” “They’ve been doing it longer than that,” I said. “But it’s only been supported by legislation since then.” Lenore’s image in the rearview mirror nodded. “And if it’s happening here in small numbers, it’s happening elsewhere in bigger numbers.” “It’s coming!” that amplified voice called from behind us as we rolled slowly toward the café. “The government says there’s nothing to worry about, but they’re just trying to cover their own asses! We know what’s going on.

We recognize the symptoms. We remember the reaping. And we will not let it happen again!” A cheer rang out from the crowd and I looked in the sideview mirror to see people pumping their fists in the air. “What do you think that was all about?” Lenore asked as Zy turned right into the café parking lot. I shrugged. “Sounds like there was another shooting.” The news had been consistently horrible since we’d escaped from the Spectacle, but I couldn’t be sure that was any different than it had always been. I hadn’t read much news before I was arrested, but I’d done little else since our escape. My mom always used to say that there were no green cars on the road in Franklin, Oklahoma, until she’d bought one, then all of a sudden they were everywhere. Because all of a sudden she was more likely to notice them.

The recent spate of bad news could easily have been the green car phenomenon at work. But if that were true, based on the angry mob forming in the rearview mirror, I wasn’t the only one driving a metaphorical green car. “How long ago was the reaping?” Zyanya asked, and I glanced at her in surprise. Then I remembered that people who grow up in captivity aren’t taught history. Or anything else. Since our escape, Zy had become a sponge, soaking up knowledge everywhere she found it. And retaining it virtually word for word. But she could only soak up what someone else let leak. “It was in 1986,” I told her. “Four years before I was born.

So, thirty years ago.” My mother had told me many times what the world was like before that, back when humans and cryptids had lived and worked alongside each other. It wasn’t perfect. Humans had feared appearances and abilities they didn’t understand and considered themselves defenseless against. Cryptids had feared the fact that the larger human population kept everyone else underrepresented in government, a predicament that could—and eventually did—lead to the loss of their civil rights and protections. But for the most part, people were people, whether they had two legs or four. Whether they had nails or claws. Young werewolves learned to read and write in school, alongside human boys and girls. Restaurants served families of oracles and dryads at tables next to human families. There was a sort of peace, however tenuous.

But all of that was long over by the time I’d started kindergarten in a room full of human-only classmates nine years after the reaping. At that point, cryptids caught pretending to be human would be arrested and placed in labs, preserves or carnivals. And now, cryptids were more likely to be shot on sight than arrested. Signs in the windows of local businesses reminded people to report any strange or unexplained sightings directly to the Cryptid Containment Bureau—bypassing local law enforcement—at the national hotline number. Flyers handed out at all government buildings and stocked in cardboard stands next to every cash register in town provided “quick lists” of identifiable features for the most common kinds of cryptids, to help citizens accurately report any sightings. And the really scary thing was that our escape from the Savage Spectacle nine months before was only partially responsible for the renewed public panic. Though obviously we made a convenient scapegoat for any tragedy humanity didn’t want to accept the blame for. “Things are extratense this week,” I said as we approached the internet café on the corner. “So we need to be extracareful.” “We’re always careful,” Lenore insisted.

And she was right. But the warning was burning a hole on the end of my tongue, and an even bigger one in my heart. I hardly recognized the world I’d grown up in, and I wasn’t sure whether that was because it had changed or because I had. “It’s my turn to order.” Zyanya pulled our van—the third we’d stolen since our escape from the Spectacle—into an empty spot on the edge of the parking lot. It wasn’t a true panel van, because it had windows down both sides and in the back, but the side windows were covered with a plain white decal you could see out of, but not into, and the rear windows were too deeply tinted to allow nosy passersby to see inside. Stolen though it was, that van and the four-door sedan parked behind our remote cabin were our most valuable possessions, because there was no safer way to travel for those of us who weren’t—or couldn’t pass for—human. We’d been driving it since before we’d found the cabin, and it was probably past time to find another and steal new plates. But we couldn’t afford to do that until we were ready to leave town. And we wouldn’t be ready to leave town until after the baby was born.

I eased myself out of the front passenger seat and rounded the vehicle to smile at Zyanya as we headed into the café. It wasn’t her turn to order, but Lenore didn’t mind, and lately it was as much of a risk for me to speak to the barista as for Zyanya to. My face—though thoroughly human—was the most famous from the news coverage of the disaster at the Savage Spectacle. During our escape, the owners had sent in the national guard to bomb the entire compound, killing dozens of innocent cryptids and not-so-innocent guards, whom they’d deemed acceptable collateral damage. The only upside to that slaughter was that the government couldn’t be sure how many of us had actually escaped. Unfortunately, they were fairly certain that Gallagher and I were among the survivors. Thankfully, the authorities seemed to have no idea that I was pregnant, and people were usually more interested in my stomach than my face. Well-meaning strangers often stopped me to ask questions about the baby, which made me feel highly conspicuous yet oddly invisible at the same time. But eventually someone would put two and two together and come up with three—me, Gallagher and the baby. And if we got caught, so would the rest of our fugitive family.

We headed into the café, and while Lenore and I found seats near the window, Zy headed to the counter without asking us what we wanted. We always ordered the same thing. The cheapest thing on the menu: three small coffees. Two regular, one decaf. Coffee was one of the things I’d missed most when I was first sold into captivity, but now that I was free, for however long that lasted, I was abstaining from the good stuff because I’d read that caffeine was bad for the baby. Of course, when I’d made that decision, I’d had no idea that a fear dearg pregnancy could last an entire year. Give or take a month, according to Gallagher. But I chose to believe that after ten and a half months, I was surely getting close to the end since, though the father—and possibly the baby— were redcaps, I was thoroughly human. While I sank into a hard plastic chair at the back of the café, Lenore dragged an extra seat over from another table. She set her slim purse down and picked up a tablet locked into a case that was tethered to the table, and while she began scanning headlines from all the major news networks, I watched Zy order.

In the months since our escape, the cheetah shifter had gotten very good at playing human. As long as she spoke slowly and calmly, she could hold a long conversation without revealing her canines, and despite having grown up with no education at all, the cashier and accounting skills she’d developed when we were secretly running the menagerie far exceeded the experience one needed to order and pay for coffee. The only thing that worried me was her eyes. Like her teeth, Zyanya’s eyes would always look feline, even in human form, and if one of her over-the-counter noncorrective colored contact lenses ever fell out in front of someone, we were all screwed. Blending in was much easier for Lenore. She wore the same kind of contacts to turn her distinctive lilac irises into a nondescript and rather forgettable shade of brown, but she’d grown up passing for human and was much more used to the contact lenses than Zyanya was, thus much less likely to rub her eyes and pop one out. “When is your baby due?” My palms felt damp as I turned to the woman at the table behind me and scrounged up a smile. “Any day now.” With a sixty-day margin of error. “Do you know what you’re having?” she asked as she gathered the empty sweetener packets from her table and dropped them onto a plate that held nothing but crumbs.

A baby, I thought. Though at that point, the little person wiggling around inside me felt more like a toddler. “No,” I said with another forced smile, and she probably had no idea how true my answer was. Neither Gallagher nor I had any idea what to expect from a baby that was part fear dearg, part human. “We like surprises.” The woman glanced at my left hand, where it rested on the upper curve of my swollen belly, and when she found no ring, her smile lost a little of its warmth. I had to swallow bitter laughter. If the knowledge that I wasn’t married made her uncomfortable, I could only imagine how she’d react to finding out how I’d gotten pregnant. Not that I remembered much of the event. “Well, best of luck to you.

” She stood and draped her purse strap over one shoulder. “The Lord never gives us more than we can handle.” Lenore snorted as the woman walked away. “Spoken like someone who’s never lived in a cage,” she whispered.

.

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