Night Shifter – Lucia Ashta

EVERY LİGHT in the living room was on, revealing the droopiness of the well-worn furniture. The grandfather clock on the far wall creaked loudly with each sweep of its pendulum as it prepared to chime three times. My father and brother shared a nervous look with each other before pretending they hadn’t—for my sake. So much of what they’d done the last few days had been to calm my nerves. They’d failed miserably. “Take a seat, Rina. You’re not helping things by wearing a path into the hardwood floor,” Dad said. I met his eyes, always heavy, and then continued my pacing. It wasn’t often that I dared disobey him so blatantly, but I’d earned this one. I couldn’t stay still. “Rina,” Dad said, but the clock’s hands clicked into place and the clock clanged three times. Dumm, dumm, dummmm. I’d always enjoyed the deep toll that was quintessential home. Tonight, it grated on my last nerve; one of my eyelids twitched. Now that it was three in the morning, there was no way I’d be able to take a seat.

Dad seemed to accept the fact, rubbing a hand across his tired face. Three minutes. There were only three minutes left until my fate would be decided for me, and I wouldn’t have a lick of a say as to how things would go down. I chewed at my cuticles and picked up the pace. “It’s going to be okay,” my brother said from his spot on the couch, the one that sagged from so many nights spent together when we’d tried to act as if we were a normal family. I offered Ky a grimace. “Since when do you do empty platitudes?” Under any other circumstances he might have smiled. “Since you won’t stop moving. You’re driving us nuts.” “Yeah, well, you’re just going to have to deal with it.

My entire life is about to be determined in a minute and a half.” No one said anything while a half-minute ticked by. Never had the grandfather clock’s movements been so abrasive. “Either way, it’s going to be fine,” Dad said. “Either you’ll be a shifter like your brother”—and like my mother, though Dad rarely mentioned her unless he had to—“or you’ll be a mage like me.” I snapped my head around to glare at him. “Or I’ll be human. Did you just forget about that possibility?” Dad cleared his throat and cast a fast look at the clock’s hands. “It’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be human when neither of your parents is, uh, was, ah…” He cleared his throat again and I regretted my attitude for a moment. My face softened, until I too glanced at the clock.

“Thirty seconds.” I swallowed loudly enough to be heard across the living room. Never had my throat been this dry. I snapped my fingers from my mouth, clenched them together, and turned to face the clock as if it were a judge about to sentence me to life in prison. Dad and Ky both opened their mouths—to say something soothing, I suppose—but in the end they said nothing and faced the clock. Ky stood and moved to my side; he draped an arm around my shoulders as if he did it every day, but I could tell he was as uncomfortable as I was. We hadn’t touched on purpose since I started fifth grade and decided I was a big girl. Even then I’d believed I was ready to grow up. How wrong I’d been. I’d give anything to have an extension and prolong my eighteenth birthday for at least another year.

Once that minute hand circled to twelve, there was no going back, one way or another. “Twenty-two seconds,” I whispered as a wave of heat flashed across my skin. My birthday marked the beginning of winter, and yet I wanted to strip down to my tank-top. My cheeks flushed and Ky squeezed my shoulder. I didn’t think he even realized he was doing it. “Ten seconds,” he said, and I ceased breathing entirely. Dad rose from the couch and moved to my other side. He placed a hand on my forearm, but the touch was weak, as if he were as much a ghost as the mother who’d died birthing me. “One second.” My voice shook and tears pricked at my eyes.

The temperature in the living room dropped by twenty degrees and I began to shiver. I turned eighteen. Ky squeezed my shoulder so tightly that the tension I carried in my neck released under his touch. Dad removed his hand from me, crossed his arms, and turned to stare at me. “Do you feel anything? And … happy birthday.” I shook my head. My pulse whooshed loudly through my head and my palms had begun to sweat even as I trembled, but I felt like the same Rina I’d always been— awkward and unsure in my skin. Ky stepped back to watch me too. For an entire minute I acted as if their joint stares didn’t unnerve me. Then I snapped.

“Take a picture, why don’t you?” At the last moment, I turned toward Ky so Dad wouldn’t think I’d said it to him too, though I had. “Knock it off, you two,” Dad said preventatively. “I didn’t even say anything,” Ky protested. “Yeah, but you were about to.” “I was not.” Ordinarily, I would have loved to comment how he sounded five, not twenty, but my tongue was in knots along with the rest of me. I scratched my scalp, wondering why it was so itchy, and then flung my hands against my sides with a loud thwap that cut through the thick air of the living room. Usually comfy despite its large size, it felt as sterile as a surgical suite. “Something should’ve happened by now,” I said, my voice a little squeaky. “Right? I’m eighteen.

If I were a shifter or a witch, something should’ve already happened.” “Maybe, maybe not,” Dad said, and I struggled not to roll my eyes for fear I’d roll them so far into my head they’d stay there. “It could take a bit for anything to show.” “It didn’t with Ky.” “You’re different from him.” That was the understatement of the year. He was half a foot taller than me, broad shouldered, and filled with enough confidence that I often wondered if he’d stolen mine. I bit my lip. “It’s supposed to happen at the precise moment you turn eighteen. That’s what all the books say.

” “Books aren’t always right,” Dad said, an irony considering he’d spent his adult life compiling the authoritative volume on supernatural creatures, aptly named The Compendium of Supernatural Creatures. “Your magic might be delayed for some reason we aren’t aware of. It could show up later.” I moved away from both of them and stalked to the other side of the living room, where I could stare out the large picture windows at the thick trees that had always soothed me, and pretend my entire world wasn’t crumbling while Dad theorized to excuse my oddness—worse, my lack of powers. With my back facing them, I voiced my worst fear. “I don’t have any powers. I’m not a shifter and I’m not a witch. I’ll be going back to school after winter break.” There was no immediate response. Disappointment thrummed through my chest, though I realized there was nothing comforting they really could say.

At least half the offspring of supernatural creatures carried on some form of their parents’ magic. But the supernatural community was notorious for its prejudices, and most bred within their own kind. Not our parents. Theirs had been a story of true love—or at least that’s how Dad told it on those nights when the nostalgia was too much and he allowed himself to drink in an attempt to soothe his loss. When the parentage was split between races, the odds that the children would carry their parents’ magic plummeted to a quarter or less. Through their love, they’d doomed me to living as a human in the supernatural world—the only one I was familiar with. Sure, I attended Berry Bramble High, where few were aware of the magical creatures that shared the world with them, but I’d never truly been one of the humans. I hadn’t wanted to be, and so I’d never really fit in despite my group of friends, who believed I was just another teenager. “My friends will be excited I won’t be ‘moving’ after all.” I spoke the empty-feeling sarcasm toward the cold window pane.

“It’s no big deal,” I said, and immediately wondered why I’d speak such a blatant lie. Footsteps padded softly across the floor behind me. Even without the socks softening his footfalls, I knew it was Ky and not Dad. Despite his size, my brother moved with the agility of a mountain lion, even when he was in human form. “Don’t touch me,” I whispered when I sensed him behind me. For once I didn’t say it to fight with him. I said it because if he tried to comfort me I might break, and it was taking everything I had not to crumble. “Rina, it’ll be okay, I promise.” His tone was soft and soothing, something I hadn’t heard since hormones raged through him and changed him into a supernatural creature I had no chance at being. “We’ll figure it out.

Together.” I chortled without a speck of mirth. “Together? Really? We haven’t done anything ‘together’ for years. And now that it’s clear I’m not part of our world—your world—there’s no chance at together.” He scoffed, and I heard Dad start across the living room toward me. “That’s not true,” Ky said, even though it was. “I’m not going to just abandon you because you’re human now. Dad won’t abandon you. We’re still like we’ve always been.” My focus went right to the important part of his statement.

I’m human now. “You’re wrong,” I said, uncaring how they received my next words. “We haven’t behaved as a family for a long time. You and Dad have always treated me like I’m the one who killed Mom. Like I’m to blame for our screwed-up family.” Dad halted, but I didn’t regret what I’d said, though I realized it was certain to hurt him. Any reminder of Mom and her absence hurt him. But I’d lived under that shroud all my life. Ky reached for me, but I shook him off. “No.

You know it’s true.” “It’s not.” “It is, and there’s no point denying it. Mom died because of me—” “Your mother died because she was hemorrhaging after she gave birth to you,” Dad said, his voice nearly as silent as the deep night just beyond the window. “I’m the one who should have noticed what was happening to her. I’m the one that could have saved her and didn’t. I am the only one to blame for her death and for the fact that you’ve had to grow up without a mother.” “Dad…” I said, ready to apologize for my selfishness. But he wouldn’t let me. “I raised you the best I could, but it hasn’t been enough, and I realize that.

But I will not abandon you just because you’re human. If you won’t be going to the Menagerie, then you’ll stay here with me. You can help me with my work and contribute to the supernatural community that way.” Great. Just dandy. My life had gone from the possibility of going to study at the most prestigious school for supernatural creatures in the world to staying home with Dad and burying my nose in books that no longer had a thing to do with me. “It will be great, really great.” But Dad’s voice was as empty as my chest, which felt like a big, pitch-black, empty cave where hopes withered and died. “Sounds awesome, Dad,” I said. “Rina…” Ky tried again.

“It’s late. I’m really tired. We should all get some sleep. No point burning the midnight oil anymore.” I laughed, but it sounded more like a death rattle, spiraling hollowly around my throat. I cleared it just as Ky reached for me again. I turned my face away so he wouldn’t see my eyes shining with unshed tears and backpedaled rapidly. I bumped into Dad, sidestepped him without looking, and aimed for the hallway that led to my bedroom. My bare feet squeaked against the teak floor. Ky and Dad called after me, but I took off in a run.

The tears were coming, and after the crappy night I’d already had, I wasn’t about to break down in front of them. I reached the safety of my room when a barely audible knock sounded on the front door. My hand stilled on the doorknob while my heart beat so fast that I found it difficult to breathe. I didn’t dare turn. I didn’t move at all while I worked to tamp down the hope that leapt to life inside me. It was probably just a friend stopping by to wish me happy birthday. I hadn’t been able to keep the dreaded 3:03AM birth time from my friends, since little more had been on my mind for the last month. We were on vacation. One of them might be up and swinging by, knocking timidly in case we were asleep. Yeah, right, Rina.

Then, without my permission, I dared to hope: It might be the Menagerie, coming for you just as they came for Ky. No, if I’d been a shifter, I should have shifted shortly after my birth time. And if I were a witch, my magic would have flared. I was human, human, human … and so the Menagerie had no use for me. My heart thudded erratically as I listened to Ky pad over to the door and swing it open.

.

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